On June 29, days before the NHL’s signing season was set to open, Jaromir Jagr took to Twitter to make light of the changes he’s seen in free agency over the course of his career. In 1994, Jagr wrote, every GM gave him a call. This year? Not so much. “I’m trying to call them,” one of Jagr’s Tweets read. “And no one’s picking up.”
The quip from Jagr was worth a laugh. After all, even if he’s old enough that he won two Stanley Cups and two scoring titles even before the draft’s first-overall pick, Nico Hischier, was born, Jagr was still able to show his ability to put points on the board this past season. He scored 16 goals and 46 points and skated in all 82 games for the Florida Panthers, and there was reason to believe he’d be back with the franchise come 2017-18. He had performed well over his two-plus seasons in the Sunshine State, and another one-year deal seemed worthwhile for both sides. But then the Panthers cut ties with Jagr on July 1, leaving the 45-year-old to search for a new home.
The move, said GM Dale Tallon, wasn’t made because the Panthers believed Jagr was no longer able to contribute. Rather, Tallon said the reasoning was simply that the on-ice product needed a change in both style and makeup. “Our core young guys need to take over this team,” Tallon said. “And that was the thought process…It’s just a matter of going in a different direction. We wanted to play a different style of game, get younger and quicker.”
Tallon’s statement — especially the younger and quicker part — had to hit home with another pair of players.
In Arizona, the Coyotes decided to say goodbye to Shane Doan, who had inarguably been the face of the franchise for the better part of his career, more than a week ahead of free agency. The reasoning was much the same. After an impressive 28-goal, 47-point season in 2015-16, Doan, 40, struggled to get anything going offensively for much of the campaign. He scored just six goals and 27 points and found himself closer to the bottom six than the top two units. So, after 1,540 games with the same organization, the Coyotes said it was time for a change.
“The time has come for us to move on and to focus on our young, talented group of players and our very bright future,” Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision given what Shane has done for the Coyotes and his unparalleled importance to the organization. With that said, this is necessary to move us forward as a franchise.”
And much like Jagr and Doan, who have been let walk into free agency with age as a significant factor, Jarome Iginla saw himself on the outs as the Los Angeles Kings strove to inject some youth into the lineup. Iginla, once a bonafide first-line winger, spent much of his time playing bottom-six minutes over the past two seasons, producing 36 goals and 74 points. At one point, that was a season’s work for ‘Iggy.’ So, the goal-starved Kings decided not to re-sign the 40-year-old, instead using what cap space they had to ink their young restricted free agents and bring aboard Mike Cammalleri, 35, for cheap.
That brings us to today, nearly three weeks since the opening of free agency, where each of the three veterans — two of whom are surefire Hall of Famers — are without contracts for the coming campaign. And it’s worth wondering if there are going to be deals for any of Jagr, Doan or Iginla before the season starts. The players themselves seem to be wondering, too.
Speaking with Kamloops This Week, both Doan and Iginla acknowledged the summer has been a difficult one. Doan, who is searching for a one-year deal, said despite speaking with four or five teams, it is “pretty much impossible at this point” to find that right now, and both players noted they want to take family into consideration before making a decision, preferring to find a good situation for their wives and children over one that simply allows the playing days to continue. Said Iginla: “There is a point where we don’t want to keep moving them.”
Adding to the difficulty is landing with a contender. Neither Doan or Iginla has won a Stanley Cup in their careers, and Iginla made clear that he would want to end up in a situation where he can do so, while Doan’s agent said, per Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan, that now would be Doan’s chance to chase a championship. But in today’s NHL, which, as witnessed by the Coyotes’ and Panthers’ desire to get younger, is so quickly turning into a young man’s game, it’s tough to see where the potential landing spots are. Teams in contention are going to be relying on cheaper players on entry-level deals with big potential to hit, and those on the bubble might be the ones who have the most opportunity for the likes of Iginla and Doan to continue.
And it’s for that reason that Jagr might stand the best chance of the three at finding a home for 2017-18. Jagr has done about everything a player could possibly do in his NHL career. As noted, he has the two Stanley Cups and scoring titles, not to mention MVP trophies and even Olympic gold. And, incredibly, even at his age, Jagr stands to bring the most to his new destination. Look at what he did in Florida alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov while in his early 40s. Jagr is the most productive of the three even though he’s got years — four-plus — on both Doan and Iginla.
Of course, all three players deserve to go out on their own terms, and ideally that would be the case. But as the summer winds on and all three remain without deals for the coming season, there’s a possibility all three won’t be afforded such an opportunity.
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