Nothing is official yet, but Jaromir Jagr appears set to return for a 24th NHL season. The only question now is whether or not that’s going to mean a third-straight deal with the Florida Panthers.
It was reported Monday by TSN’s Pierre LeBrun that the Panthers and Jagr’s representation have been speaking about the potential for the 45-year-old to return to the Sunshine State next season, but pen has yet to hit paper on a new contract for the surefire Hall of Famer. And according to LeBrun, a possible deal in Florida may have to wait a while. With the upcoming expansion draft, the Panthers would have to use a protection spot on Jagr were he to sign before the Golden Knights combed through NHL rosters to assemble their own team. A deal before that would come with the risk of losing Jagr to the expansion Vegas franchise.
Once the expansion draft passes and a path is cleared for Jagr to return to Florida, though, he’d be free to sign on without the threat of being plucked away. And when he has the chance to ink a new pact with the Panthers, it’d make sense for Jagr to sign on the dotted line.
Over the past two seasons in Florida, Jagr has played some of his most impressive hockey since he made his way back from the KHL. Though he had one rock solid season with New Jersey in 2013-14 — his 24 goals and 67 points were the 27th-most in the league and he led all Devils — it paled in comparison to his 27-goal, 66-point campaign with Florida in 2015-16. Sure, Jagr’s point total was a hair lower, but he turned back the clock and became one of the Panthers’ greatest weapons at even strength, scoring 55 of his points when the teams were evened up. He was so excellent that he earned himself top-10 votes for the Hart and Lady Byng, won the Masterton and even got a vote for the Selke.
Jagr’s play in 2015-16 made him an integral piece of the Panthers’ run to an Atlantic Division title in what was the greatest regular season in franchise history. And though things took a downturn for Jagr this season, he wasn’t the only one. The team as a whole suffered during a tumultuous season with off-ice changes, surprising coaching swaps and a whole host of injuries that decimated the roster for games at a time. Still, Jagr managed 16 goals and 46 points in 2016-17, making him the fourth-highest scorer on a playoff-less Panthers squad. And with numbers like that, Jagr continued to prove he can still fit in Florida’s top six.
That’s especially the case when you consider the bond he’s formed with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau over the past two seasons. The trio, with its two young guns and the wily veteran, has undoubtedly become the go-to grouping for the Panthers when they’re in need of some offensive spark, and Barkov particularly has become incredibly used to playing with Jagr on his wing. Huberdeau missed much of the past season due to injury, and Barkov was sidelined himself for some time, but when the Panthers center was healthy, he was often skating alongside Jagr. In fact, at 5-on-5, Barkov played 751 minutes with and only 98 minutes without Jagr.
The combination has been effective, too. In the brief time the line was healthy and together in the lineup this season, the Jagr-Huberdeau-Barkov trio put up 29 combined points and another 17 while skating together on the power play. However, that’s nothing compared to the whopping 82 even strength points the trio amassed in 2015-16, not to mention another 28 on the power play.
There is one significant hurdle when it comes to Jagr re-signing in Florida, however, and that’s the cost associated with bringing him back. His first deal with the Cats in 2015-16 was a one-year deal that carried a $3.5-million cap hit and nearly $2 million in bonuses. Given Jagr’s performance, it’s no surprise that he hit many of those, accumulating $1.905 million in bonus money throughout the campaign. That led to an even bigger base salary this past season — $4 million — with $1.515 million in bonuses paid out, the majority of which came in games played bonuses. While he can earn something similar this coming season, that may not be advisable for the Panthers.
As it stands, Florida has nearly $10.7 million in cap space, more than enough to ink Jagr when you include the contract lost via expansion and potential rises in the salary cap, but the money gets that much tighter when accounting for the signings of restricted free agents Michael Sgarbossa, Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk. Now, will those three cost so much that signing Jagr is impossible? Absolutely not. But those contracts plus a deal for Jagr will significantly eat into the cap space available to add through free agency. If last season’s post-season miss was any indication, the Panthers could use some additional depth and those pieces will be there to be had on the open market. But that’s only if Florida has the money to sign them.
Given his production over the past two seasons, one would figure Jagr is going to command another deal of at least $3.5 million and each of his past four deals have included upwards of $1.5 million in performance bonuses. Making the contract even more bonus-heavy might be the way to go when it comes to Jagr’s deal. If he makes $3 million and has the chance to rack up another $2 million in bonuses by putting up 25-plus goals and, say, 55-plus points, so be it. The production will have been worth the cost.
Regardless of the terms, though, it’s a deal that’s worth it for both sides to work out. Replacing Jagr’s effectiveness as part of the Panthers’ top trio is going to be hard for Florida to do, and Jagr stands to have more success in the twilight of his career if he continues to play where he’s found a fit.
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