Jaromir Jagr of the Boston Bruins meets the press. 2013 Stanley Cup Finals. - Getty Images
He's a not a Journeyman - He Only Looks That Way
Wandering aside, Jaromir Jagr is a full master, long past the journeyman phase.
He's played for ten professional teams, including six NHL teams, in a hockey career that spans a quarter century and began in North America, auspiciously, in the early nineties where, the same year he was drafted by the Penguins in 1990, he helped them win a Stanley Cup. The next year they made it back to back championships; a feat only repeated once since then.
With all his roaming about, Jagr is a bit like the Where's Waldo of hockey.
He has been a captain of two NHL teams (Penguins and Rangers), is a member (one of only 25) of the triple gold club (Stanley Cup, World Championship and Olympic Gold Medal) and is the owner of the 8th highest point total in the history of the NHL, making him the most successful active player in existence. The list of records stamped with his name is impressive, from one of the youngest and one of the oldest players to play in a Stanley Cup final to the highest number of career game winning goals in NHL history. Jaromir Jagr is, without a doubt, the real deal.
Even my father, a lifetime advocate of North American players for a North American league, would stop whatever kvetching he was doing when Jagr got the puck. "Watch him," he would say, "watch this kid."
Well he (and I) are "kids" no longer. In my line of work all this means is that I know more words, need a thesaurus less and less and can type pretty fast. In his line of work, it means much the same thing ... except for the last bit. He knows more hockey, needs a coach's playbook less and less ... but he's not skating so fast anymore. Still - he's Jaromir Jagr and discounting Selanne and Alfredson, players with impressive but somewhat quieter resumes, at 41 years of age, he is the reigning Grand Old Man of hockey. With a professional career that has, to date, spanned 25 years, most of it spent in the NHL, Jagr is part of that club that includes Howe, Messier, Chelios and Francis. The "How Did They Manage To Play So Long?" club.
To give it some context even a non-hockey fan can understand, Gretzy's career spanned 21 years (1978 to 1999).
Yeah, But What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Jagr didn't score for the Bruins in this year's Stanley Cup final. But to say he had no impact would be completely untrue. He wasn't the Jaromir Jagr of old who could, and often did, own a game all by himself, but he was definitely a factor for the Bruins. He's still who he is - hard as hell to get the puck from, almost harder to keep it from when he wants it and he still has a six foot and three inch, two hundred plus pound body that he doesn't mind using. He knows hockey now at a cellular level, what was once consciously done is now done intuitively. In itself, this is valuable. Added to his history of playing for different teams every few years and gaining the "jump in" experience, Jaromir Jagr is still a bona fide threat. A lack of goals should not cloud over the contribution he did make, because it was significant.
And while you still can't skate around him or get him off the puck, you can skate away from him now. And the longer you skate away from him the less likely it is he will catch you. He may have a young man's heart, but he has old man legs and lungs. He can still set up the plays, but he's having some difficulty in finishing them. In his Free Agency hunt, he will have to narrow down the prospect teams to those needing or wanting an experienced, veteran presence and not those wanting elite point production. He's still got production in him, but his scoring titile and Hart trophy winning days are over. He needs a team that needs a leader.
Where's Waldo Going to Go Next?
There were rumors of Jagr to Montreal, Carolina and LA but the one rumor I have not heard, which surprises me, is Jagr to Ottawa. Seems a natural fit to me. After Alfie absconded to parts unfamiliar and signed with Detroit, the Sens are missing a leader. They have a lot of other impressive pieces, you have to look no further than high scoring, puck moving defensive talent Erik Karlsson and solid, if not spectacular, net minder Craig Anderson. Adding Bobby Ryan to the mix ratcheted up the Senators ability to score exponentially and they are a bona fide contender now. On paper, at least.
But are they rudderless without Alfie? Does the empty leader spot sit like a hole in their prospects? With only two forwards (Spezza and Neil) in their thirties, they are a decidedly young team, the youngest team in the league, in fact. Sure, they have a glut of forwards and their third and fourth lines are bursting at the seams already - but a space could be found for Jagr, I am sure.
The role that experience, of the winning kind, brings to a team should not be discounted. While players like Morrow and Iginla have the years of experience, neither of them has the experience of winning. Jagr has both. And winning experience leaves behind wisdom and knowledge that can't be gained in any way except ... well, by winning.
I think the Sens should take a look at Jagr. Take him for a test run. Kick his tires. What have they got to lose? Certainly not a Stanley Cup chance. What have they got to gain? Maybe a Stanley Cup chance. Jagr is old and a little tired, but he's a contender and he understands winning in a way no one else on that team, especially now that Sergei Gonchar has been sent to Dallas, does. He not only knows the ropes, but in the length of time he has been playing, he's braided a few of them himself.
I'd like to say you can't buy that sort of experience, but this is NHL Free Agency and, in fact, you can. The Senators have, according to CapGeek, some $13 million dollars to spend before they get up close and personal with the salary cap. Jagr would only command a small portion, perhaps 20%, of that and there would be lots left over for in-season fiddling. In fact, the Sens are one of the few teams that could really benefit from Jagr that can actually afford Jagr.
Maybe the loss of Alfredson has a shiny side. Maybe Jagr can do for the Sens what Alfie could not. Maybe. There's a legitimate potential upside and no downside that I can see.