It was one year ago that the Florida Panthers sent a second round pick in 2015 and a conditional third round pick in 2016 to the New Jersey Devils for a 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr. It certainly seemed random at the time, but now, after 77 games over parts of two seasons in Sunrise, it looks like one of the best things that’s ever happened to the franchise.
“Hopefully [he’ll bring] some offence, stability and leadership,” general manager Dale Tallon said after he had pulled the trigger on the Jagr deal. “It’s a good opportunity for him to mentor some of our young guys and show them how hard they have to work to get to his level. It brings stability to our young team and gives us an opportunity in the next 20 games to make a good run to make the playoffs.” And that’s exactly what he’s done.
As we know, they didn’t make the playoffs last season. But this year, the ageless wonder has been instrumental in lifting the Panthers to the top of the Atlantic Division and into consistent relevancy for arguably the first time in their franchise history.
I think it’s fair to say that Jagr has blown just about everybody’s expectations out of the water. We all assume that he’s going to slow down, yet he continues to find new ways to produce and help team win. But how much more does he have left in him? Can we expect him to be back next season with the Panthers and their growing core of young talent?
Through 57 games this season, Jaromir Jagr leads the Panthers in scoring with 20 goals and 44 points. I know, it sounds absurd. It’s like something from a video game, or a really weird fan-fiction. Jaromir Jagr, who just turned 44 years old a few weeks ago, is leading the 2015-16 Florida Panthers in scoring. He also has a 50.8 even strength Corsi For percentage, which is good for second on the team among qualified forwards. And just to top it all off, he does it while making over half of his even strength starts in the defensive zone.
So all of that is really, really impressive on its own, but when you dig a little deeper, you start to see the kind of value Jagr actually has on this young Panthers team. In terms of forwards, his two most common linemates this season have been Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, who are younger when put (42) together than Jagr is himself. In fact, Jagr had already won the Stanley Cup twice and had racked up 220 career points before Huberdeau, the older of the two, was born.
Anyways, in 561 even strength minutes with Jagr on the ice with him, Huberdeau has a decent Corsi For percentage of 48.9, an impressive Goals For percentage of 60.4, and he’s produced 3.42 goals for per hour. But when you take Jagr off his line, Huberdeau’s numbers fall off a cliff. In 271 minutes at even strength without Jagr, Huberdeau has a 42.6 Corsi For percentage, a 42.9 Goals For percentage, and he’s producing just 1.33 goals for per hour.
The difference is even more noticeable with Barkov, though. When on the ice with Jagr, Barkov has a 50.1 Corsi For percentage, 66.7 Goals For percentage, and 3.42 goals for per hour in 561 minutes at even strength. I think by know you can tell where I’m going to be going with this. Pull Jagr away, and Barkov, in 90 minutes of ice time (small sample size, I know) has a horrific 32.3 Corsi For percentage and an even more terrifying 28.6 Goals For percentage. To be fair to Barkov, though, when he isn’t with Jagr, he’s playing in a significantly more defensive oriented role, so we can give him the benefit of the doubt there.
When Dale Tallon said he wanted this savvy old man to come in and teach the youngsters on the team how it’s done, this was probably the absolute best-case scenario he envisioned.
It’s really easy to spell out how good Jagr has been for the Panthers this season. I mean, even without looking at the effect he’s had on Huberdeau and Barkov’s underling stats, the guy is leading the team in scoring and they’re well on their way to winning the Atlantic Division for just the second time ever (and, well, the first time since it became a legitimate division). The difficult part, though, is figuring out how long he’s going to keep going for, and if he does, whether or not it’ll be with the Panthers.
According to an article by Jonas Siegel in the Calgary Sun earlier this week, Tallon said that he would “love to have Jaromir Jagr back next season.” Duh. He’s obviously going to want to have him back, considering how much he’s helped the team over his short tenure. And even if deep down, for whatever reason Tallon didn’t actually want Jagr back, he certainly wouldn’t publicly say it. Siegel goes on to report that the two sides haven’t had any discussions about the future Hall of Famer’s plans for next season, and that it’ll basically come down to Jagr walking into Tallon’s office and saying that he wants to come back.
So that’s pretty much all we have on that front, unfortunately. We all know that the Panthers want Jagr back in Florida with them next season, and that if he does decide to come back, it’ll likely be on another one-year deal, so he can keep making a game-time decision each summer as to whether he wants to play, and where that might be.
Since coming back to the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011, Jagr has signed five different one-year deals. The first was for $3.3 million with the Flyers/ After that, he left them in free agency to sign with the Dallas Stars (I barely have any memory of him playing in Dallas, so I had to include a picture of it happening to convince myself it was real) for $4.55 million. He was traded to the Boston Bruins, and then walked in the summer and signed a $4 million deal with the New Jersey Devils before signing a $5.5 million extension with them before free agency rolled around. Then, as we know, he was dealt to the Panthers, and he signed a $5.405 million deal with them last April. So, if he does play another year, it’ll be in that same ballpark of a $3.5 million salary with performance bonuses that ultimately bring it up to a total cap hit of roughly $5.5 million.
Whether it’s with the Panthers or not, I think we can all agree that we want to see Jagr continue to defy the laws of time. It’s been a treat watching him play through three different decades, producing at a high level over multiple eras of hockey, all the way to the high-flying early 90s with Mario Lemieux, to the clutch-and-grab dead puck era in the early 2000s, to the post-lockout years when every time a defencemen looked at a forward the wrong way it was called a penalty, all the way to now where scoring is down league-wide to levels reminiscent of the pre-lockout days (speaking of lockouts, he’s been through three of them). Regardless of team, teammates, opponents, situation, whatever, Jagr has produced.
In the next few weeks, he’s going to pass Gordie Howe for third all-time in NHL scoring with 1850 points. And when he does that, he’ll then be just 37 points behind Mark Messier for second all-time. So where we stand today, Jagr is 42 points shy of passing Messier and standing alone behind Wayne Gretzky as the second most prolific point-producer this league has ever seen. Hell, if he keeps going, me might be able to start talking about him cracking 2000. Who knows.