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Is this the end for Jaromir Jagr as he and Flames seek 'exit' from Calgary?

Jaromir Jagr and the Calgary Flames are reportedly heading towards a split, but it's possible there may be no suitors for the 45-year-old legend. Is this the end of the road for Jagr?

Here’s the scenario most pictured when Jaromir Jagr signed his one-year, $1-million contract with the Calgary Flames: the 45-year-old would join the organization, be a welcome influence on the young talent on the roster, contribute a handful of points — he was coming off a 16-goal, 46-point season with the Florida Panthers, after all — and enjoy one final, much celebrated tour of the NHL before hanging up the skates for good. 

The reality of Jagr’s season, however, has been much different.

Over the past few months, Jagr’s performance in Calgary has failed to live up to expectations. That’s no doubt due in part to a lower-body injury that has hampered Jagr for the better part of the past three months. Sidelined with the ailment five games into his tenure with the Flames, Jagr has since missed 16 games, the injury being a rarity for the veteran given he’s missed only 20 of a possible 458 games since returning to the NHL in 2012-13 as a 39-year-old. 

But injury aside, Jagr hasn’t quite been the addition Calgary had in mind. Having scored at about a 50-point pace over the past three seasons, the belief was Jagr could again produce in that range, with even a half-point per game or slightly lower being an acceptable rate of scoring from the veteran. Instead, Jagr has just one goal in 22 games, and that goal is one of his seven points, which sees him scoring at a rate just under one-third of a point per contest. That’s not what the Flames — nor anyone else, for that matter — were envisioning when they held a press conference to introduce the surefire Hall of Famer. And it appears as though Jagr’s underwhelming performance paired with the time he’s missed has made very real the possibility his career could end not with the bang most expected, but a whimper few saw coming.

With injury shelving Jagr for eight of the past 13 games, reports had started to bubble up that he and the Flames could, at some point, decide to split, but it seems as though there’s definitely some fire stirring up that smoke. On Saturday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Flames’ management has given Jagr and his agent, Peter Svoboda, the green light to find an “exit” out of Calgary. But it wouldn’t be altogether surprising were this to mark Jagr’s exit from the league entirely, and the writing may have been on the wall in the off-season.

Consider again Jagr’s summer, which saw him let go by the Panthers despite a successful individual campaign. And beyond his performance in 2016-17, Jagr had been nothing but productive since landing in Florida. Across 181 games with the organization, Jagr netted 49 goals and 130 points, was consistently a part of the Panthers’ top-six and brought the best out of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. That made Florida’s decision not to retain Jagr a head-scratcher, particularly in the wake of losing Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft. Now a free agent, though, it was believed it would only be a matter of time before Jagr was scooped up. One month on the market turned to two, however, and two turned to three before the Flames finally came calling with a firm offer.

That it took so long for Jagr to land an actual deal and not just a tryout agreement seemed to be an indication of where the league’s GMs saw Jagr fitting in. A legend of the game, no doubt, but in an era where each season seems to bring with it more youth, more speed and more skill, there didn’t appear to be much of an appetite for bringing aboard a veteran literally twice the age of some of the league’s youngest stars. It doesn’t appear Jagr’s performance through half a season has helped any of the other 30 teams develop such an appetite, either, as Friedman noted “at this time there isn’t” a fit for the veteran winger elsewhere in the league. 

Unlike the summer, when visions of a successful victory lap danced through the minds of fans, the lack of a landing spot for Jagr makes some sense, too. Which team would realistically benefit from bringing him aboard at this point in the campaign? Bubble teams with scoring issues such as the Carolina Hurricanes or San Jose Sharks likely won’t have much interest in bringing in a depth winger that can’t play a speed game, nor will top teams such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights, Winnipeg Jets or Washington Capitals have much interest in bringing in a winger who has zero goals and 12 points in his past 28 playoff games. That’s especially the case when said player is little more than a month away from his 46th birthday, having a so-so season and battling injury.

The silver lining to all of this, a scenario no one saw coming for a player who has become almost universally adored, is that it doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end for Jagr. There’s still the KHL, Czech League and even the opportunity to play for his hometown team — a team he happens to own — in Kladno. That’s not to mention that leaving the NHL could give Jagr one more shot at a storybook ending. Though he previously retired from the Czech national team, Jagr said prior to signing with the Flames that the Olympics were an option were he not in the NHL come February, so leaving Calgary would give him the chance to suit up for his country one final time in PyeongChang. And while it may not be in the NHL, nor the ending most believed we’d see to the end of a legendary career, an appearance at the Olympics would give Jagr the opportunity for one last goodbye on arguably the grandest stage in the sport, and that’s an opportunity he most certainly deserves.

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