Nearly six weeks into the NHL’s signing season, Jaromir Jagr remains without a job for the upcoming season, but it’s not just fans and pundits who are surprised that Jagr, who contributed 16 goals and 46 points to the Florida Panthers in 2016-17, has remained unsigned.
According to NHL.com’s Michael Langr, Jagr acknowledged Wednesday that he’s as surprised as anyone that he’s having so much difficulty landing an NHL deal. While he said a few teams have inquired about his plans for the upcoming campaign, Jagr specified that he’s waiting for a team to show “serious interest.” And judging by the fact Jagr has yet to sign on with an NHL club for a 24th NHL season, that hasn’t happened yet.
“I didn't expect it would be so hard to get a job in the NHL this year,” Jagr said.
Jagr’s age — he’ll turn 46 before the end of the 2017-18 campaign — and his dwindling speed are no doubt factors in his failure to land a deal, but as a second- or third-line winger, it’d be hard to do much better than Jagr on the free agent market right now. His point total put him 26th among all right wingers in the NHL this past season, and, at the right price, he’d be an outstanding signing. Jagr, who said he understands he’s not the same player he was in his prime, made it clear he’d be open to taking on a lesser role than the top-six minutes he skated in Florida.
"Maybe it would be even better for me if I played on a second or third line,” Jagr said, according to Langr. “Because I would play against worse players and worse defensemen…Even in Florida, I always played against the best, which was always very tough.”
It’s true, too, that putting Jagr out in the middle six or using him as a power play specialist would be the best way to make use of him this late in his career. He scored eight power play goals and had 13 points with the extra man for the Panthers last season, and an impressive 13 power play goals and 24 power play points over the past two seasons combined. Among players at his position, those totals rank 14th and 20th, respectively. The reality is that the only other remaining unrestricted free agent who put up more points than Jagr in 2016-17, and maybe the only one who could put up similar point totals next season, is Thomas Vanek, who notched 17 goals and 48 points this past season.
However, with the trouble Jagr is having finding an NHL job for the coming season, he said Wednesday that he has considered starting the season with Kladno, his hometown team that he happens to own, in the Czech Republic’s second-tier league. Reason being, Jagr quipped, is that the team “has a smart owner who knows what he wants.” All joking aside, though, Jagr had sound reasoning for potentially starting the season in Kladno instead of taking a job in another top European league or possibly the KHL, which he could almost certainly find if he wanted.
If he were to start the season in Kladno, Jagr could then depart the team at the drop of a hat if the NHL were to come calling, especially as he’s the owner of the franchise. So, given his goal is to return to the league next season, it would keep the option open. That might no be the case were he to sign with another European club, though. Jagr pointed out that were he to sign in the top Czech league, the Extraliga, there’s potential for him to be tethered to whichever team he signs with until the season ends. By that time, his chance to jump back to the NHL may have come and gone.
Jagr is going to have to make up his mind as to whether he wants to start his season overseas sooner rather than later, too. The NHL season is still nearly two full months away, but Kladno’s campaign will start in less than one month’s time, on Sept. 9. If he wants to get into the lineup, he’ll have to be preparing to be in game shape earlier than he would if he was dead-set on playing only in the NHL. Kladno might give Jagr the opportunity to tune up his game, though, and he’d almost certainly succeed. He last suited up for the team during the 2012-13 lockout, scoring 24 goals and 57 points in 34 games.
Whether he starts in Kladno or not, though, it’s evident Jagr’s goal is to return to the NHL and give himself the chance to chase down a few more records. If his career were to end today, he would finish 86 points shy of the 2,000-point mark, but given his recent performances, someone, anyone, should give him the chance — or chances — to reach a milestone that only Wayne Gretzky has ever managed to achieve.
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