There is no debating Jaromir Jagr’s all-time greatness. But can the 45-year-old hockey legend give the Flames what they need when it matters most – in the playoffs?
It would not be a stretch to suggest that every time Jaromir Jagr wakes up in the morning, the first thing he does is urinate greatness. Everything about his career has been remarkable. I can’t think of another player in NHL history aside from Gordie Howe who has been both the youngest and oldest player in the league during his career. The Hockey Hall of Fame awaits and if he stays healthy, he will pass Ron Francis, Mark Messier and Howe en route to taking over the No. 1 all-time spot in games played.
There is no debate But is signing Jagr really a great move for the Calgary Flames? It’s certainly not about the money, since Jagr will take up a maximum of $2 million in cap space on a team that has plenty of it. Should Jagr finally break down sometime between his 45th and 46th birthdays this season, the Flames will not have to worry about fulfilling a long-term commitment to him. But there’s this nagging question about fit. It’s more about the team and where it is in its cycle of competitiveness and you have to wonder if Jagr and the Flames are really a great fit.
Can we at least agree that a player who has not scored a playoff goal in more than five years will not help the Flames in the post-season? The past two times he was there, with the Boston Bruins in 2013 and with the Florida Panthers in 2016, it was very, very clear that the chaotic pace of the playoffs was far beyond what Jagr was capable of handling. So what the Flames will get is a 40-45 point scorer who projects as a third-line right winger and can move up the lineup if the Michael Ferland experiment doesn’t work out.
Fair enough. But does Jagr actually make the Flames a better, more dangerous, more feared team in the Western Conference? Well, he didn’t make the Panthers much better. For the 130 points he put up there in two-plus seasons, the Panthers made the playoffs once and bowed out meekly in six games to the New York Islanders. He has outstanding puck-possession numbers and is a great example for young players, but he did not move the needle all that much on a team that was expected to be much better than it has been.
But what I would be concerned about most if I were a Flames supporter is what this signing says. First, it reeks a little of desperation. Second, we’re all going on the assumption that Jagr is going to fill a third-line role with the Flames. Now is that really going to happen? Is one of the greatest players in the history of the game going to be content with playing on the third line and getting 12 minutes of ice time per game? No, chances are we’re going to see Jagr elevated to the top unit with the power-play minutes that come with it. In hockey more than any other sport, what a player has done gives him far more currency than what he’s capable of doing in the future.
Jagr takes up a lot of oxygen wherever he goes. One assumes he’ll have the all-access key to the Flames’ workout facility and will be there in the wee hours of the night when his teammates are kicking up their heels. That’s a good example to set, but isn’t this a team that already knows what it takes to play in the best league in the world? Is Jagr going to teach Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan something they don’t already know? After not being able to do a chin-up at the NHL draft combine, it sure looks as though Sam Bennett now understands what it takes to make it in the big leagues. And even though Matthew Tkachuk is just 19 years old, nobody has ever suggested that he needs coaxing to become a more dedicated NHL player. After all, he wouldn’t have made the NHL as an 18-year-old last season if he didn’t already have a good idea of what he had to do to earn his place.
And even though it appears Mark Jankowski will be on the final roster, there is no way the addition of Jagr does not cut into the NHL development opportunities for him. At the age of 23 with a very successful rookie pro season in the American League under his belt, the Flames’ first-rounder in 2012 is ready to take the next step, a step that will be impeded by the looming presence of Jagr. And at the same age, Spencer Foo was signed as a free agent and will probably be moved down the depth chart and into the minors.
Jagr would be a perfect fit on a team that is perhaps on the playoff bubble and needs a decorated veteran around to show its young players the way. But on a team that has legitimate post-season aspirations, you have to wonder whether it’s the ideal fit.