The “will he or won’t he” narrative that surrounded Jaromir Jagr this offseason with regard to his participation for the 2017-18 NHL season was very much a love story. So revered and deified for his quirkiness, his candor, and his unconditional love for the game of hockey, the fixation on Jagr’s latest bout with free agency was because so many just wanted to see the 45-year-old back in the NHL.
Part of what was lost in that narrative is that Jagr is still defying age curves, and is really, really good at being a hockey player.
It’s rare that skaters make it past the age of 40. It’s even rarer that, some 15 years after most players are in their peak years, they’re still very productive at the NHL level.
Few players — really, no one in the history of the NHL — are like Jaromir Jagr.
The Flames didn’t just reportedly add a veteran on Monday, they added a player who actually fits very will into their lineup and helps fill a need for a team that’s very much “in the mix” when it comes to those sniffing near the front of the pack in the Western Conference.
When Jagr officially becomes a member of the Flames, and head Glen Gulutzan and Co. officially decide where he fits in their lineup, it will add clarity to the picture. But at the surface, Jagr instantly becomes the Flames’ top-line right wing, infused into a roster that really needed another top-six forward to help round out that portion of its depth chart.
By deploying Jagr with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, everyone on the right side gets bumped down a peg on the ladder and put in much better positions to succeed. Michael Ferland becomes a second-line winger, and Michael Frolik a third. The Flames’ top nine could look something like this — much better than it did two days ago.
Johnn Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Jaromir Jagr
Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund – Michael Ferland
Kris Versteeg – Sam Bennett – Michael Frolik
Throw in a fourth line that might not just be players who can knock out their opponents teeth but guys like Curtis Lazar, Matt Stajan, and Mark Jankowski, and the Flames forward group looks very formidable. Calgary already had arguably the best blue line in all of hockey, with the goaltending being the one major question mark.
But back to Jagr, who is coming off scoring 46 points in his age-44 season. He finished with 1.75 five-on-five points per 60, which would have been fourth a season ago on the Flames behind Gaudreau, Monahan and Tckachuk. Andrew Berkshire for Sportsnet recently ranked Jagr seventh among all right wingers in the NHL (not a bad add at $1M a few days before the start of the regular season), in large part because he is still a major driving-force for offense and goal scoring.
Jagr remains one of the best generators of on-ice goals at even strength in the NHL, transitions the puck more effectively than almost any winger in the game, and dumps the puck less than any other right-winger. Jagr’s ability to protect the puck and complete a smart play makes his linemates better, and he was almost the sole reason the Panthers weren’t completely in the tank while most of their star players suffered injuries last year.
Jagr could also be a great fit next to the duo of Gaudreau and Monahan. The former excels with the puck on his stick, bobbing and weaving through the offensive zone and tight space. Monahan is an accomplished defensive forward at such a young age (23 next week), who has also proved to be a consistent goal-scorer.
Going back to Berkshire’s analysis, Jagr is going to help keep the puck on his teammates’ sticks when they’re on the ice. Where Ferland was the big, net-front power forward that could retrieve the puck on dump-ins, and then park near the crease, Jagr will be more involved in the run of play, cycling along the wall, or using his hockey IQ to space the ice in a way that will free up real estate for his talented linemates.
That’s all contingent on Jagr playing on that line, of course, but the timeless forward should positively impact the Flames’ lineup where they choose to ignite him. On paper, the Flames all of a sudden look a lot more complete — and potentially able to throw punches with the heavyweights in their conference.
That might seem like a big leap to make from simply adding a forward in his mid-40s who couldn’t get a contract until days before the NHL regular season is set to begin, but that’s the thing about Jagr: He’s not just a feel-good story, but a productive, top-end talent whose cult hero status is grounded in his ability to play the game of hockey at a very high level.