Jaromir Jagr could be the next big thing in Texas.
The unpredictable winger landed in another unexpected destination and the Dallas Stars couldn’t be happier to have him. They plucked the future Hall of Famer off the free-agent market with a US$4.55-million, one-year deal.
“I think this is a bit of a watershed moment,” Stars owner Tom Gagliardi told The Canadian Press on Tuesday night. “I think it’s an important day for our franchise. We’ve always been a destination for great players and players that want to have a chance to win and I think this is really just an endorsement for the direction I think we’re heading in.”
Even at age 40, Jagr arrives with big expectations after putting together a 54-point season in Philadelphia following a three-year hiatus in Russia. He had a number of suitors and was won over by an aggressive pitch from the Stars.
They plan to give No. 68 a prime-time role.
“I don’t think there’s any question he still has (gas) in the tank,” said Dallas general manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “He had a terrific season last year with Philadelphia. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with him yesterday and it was really refreshing to hear his outlook on where he’s at with his game and the passion he still has for it and the work ethic that he has to put into it.
“He’s still a world-class player.”
The six-foot-three Czech has built a career on keeping both opponents and hockey observers guessing.
Many thought Jagr had played his last NHL game when he signed in the KHL with Avangard Omsk in 2008. However, he ended up returning to North America last summer, stunning many by signing with the Flyers after going through a lengthy public courtship with Pittsburgh.
Few, if any, predicted he would end up in Dallas after becoming a free agent again on Sunday.
“He’s a guy that’s up for challenges,” said Nieuwendyk. “He’s done so much in his career that I think he views this as a challenge.”
There are a number of parallels to the situation Jagr just left. After having a chance to play alongside budding NHL star Claude Giroux in Philadelphia, he could now find himself lining up with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson—at least that’s how Nieuwendyk currently has Jagr pencilled in on the depth chart inside his office.
The signing underscores the new lease on life the Stars have enjoyed since Gagliardi purchased the team early this past season. Nieuwendyk described it as a parting of the clouds. The Vancouver-based businessman has given his GM the green light to be aggressive and watched in recent days as he acquired centre Derek Roy in a trade and signed veteran winger Ray Whitney.
Landing Jagr will likely be the last major move of the summer.
“I think I’m going to the lake next week and turning my phone off,” said Nieuwendyk.
Added Gagliardi: “We’ve addressed what we thought was our biggest weakness last year. … One thing we’re going to be is an exciting team to watch.”
The addition of Jagr should certainly help.
A five-time NHL scoring champion, he sits eighth on the all-time points list (1,653) and 11th on the all-time goals list (665). His 19-year NHL career has spanned 1,346 games with Pittsburgh, Washington, the Rangers and Philadelphia.
One of the keys to his longevity is a work ethic that has become the stuff of legend. Jagr was given a key to the Flyers practice facility last season and would routinely let himself in for intense workout sessions in the middle of the night.
“Even at 40, he’s a difficult guy to contain,” said Nieuwendyk. “He’s still as good as anybody in the league at using that big body of his down low. He still keeps himself in tremendous shape. … I think he’s going to be a real good fit with our group.”
Jagr was an extremely popular teammate in Philadelphia and went out of his way to thank Giroux, Max Talbot and Scott Hartnell in posts to his Twitter account on Tuesday.
He also indicated that he’s ready to help the Stars achieve “big things”—exactly the sort of thing the organization is longing for after watching former owner Tom Hicks go into bankruptcy and missing the playoffs the last four years.
“There’s no question that he wants a chance to win,” Gagliardi said of Jagr. “I think it’s a nice step that a sought-after guy chose Dallas, it’s kind of what the franchise is used to seeing but maybe we haven’t seen that in the last couple years.
“I think it’s an exciting day for the Dallas Stars.”