By SNY Devils contributor Dave Turner
I’ve already seen very mixed reactions from fans as to the signing of 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr.
He’s an NHL legend, and he can still play. Though the former Stanley Cup Champion is a bit of a liability in the defensive zone, overall this is a great signing for the Devils. Here’s my take:
1. Jaromir Jagr is a sure-fire hall of famer with years of experience - Points excluded, the wily veteran will bring much more than just on-ice production to this team. He is a tireless worker and someone who spends countless extra hours on the ice perfecting his game.
This is the kind of player that this team needed to bring in after the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk. Nothing is going to faze him. He’s played for so many teams, in so many different situations, that at this point in his career, he can come into any locker room and be an instant leader.
Also, the issue of Jagr playing an 82-game season might not be as bad as people think. Between Europe and the NHL last year, he played 105 games. Considering he was still playing at a high level into the playoffs, it might not be that hard for him to get through a full season, though he will have additional travel and games due to the Olympics.
2. The Czech connection could pay off - Jagr joins Patrik Elias, Marek Zidlicky and Rostislav Olesz as part of the ever-growing Czech contingency on the Devils. There is no doubt that Elias and Jagr will be able to develop some chemistry together. The two have played together on the international level for years, and when you bring two players with the experience and skill that Elias and Jagr have, good things will happen.
Perhaps more importantly is what this might do for Olesz. He was the seventh overall pick in 2004, and he was considered the next big thing in Florida. Long story short, he never lived up to expectations. After a short stint with the Blackhawks last year, he’s in New Jersey with his former coach, Pete Deboer, looking to prove himself.
With veteran players that speak his language and can lead by example as well, I think this maximizes the chance of the Devils getting something productive out of Olesz this season.
3. He fits well into the Devils system offensively - Though he lacks the speed he once had, the former Bruin will be a nice addition to the forecheck-heavy system. He is still an unmovable object with the puck and he has the size to win pucks in the corners against anyone.
His shot is still there, and I still believe that he has a chance to pot 20 goals this season. Most importantly, I think he will help fill some of the void left by Kovalchuk on the power play. He can distribute, and he can put the puck in the net. If Jagr and Elias are able to get some chemistry going, the two of them might be an important part of the power play. With the Devils considered to be an offensively-challenged team heading into the season, results on the power play will go a long way towards winning games.
4. Jagr could be trade bait - If the Devils fall out of contention, they would absolutely be looking to move the future hall of famer. Looking at what Dallas got last year, this could possibly help the Devils move back into the first round. The Bruins surrendered a second-round pick, which became a first rounder based on the Bruins reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. If the market is there, it’s not out of the question for a team to offer a first round pick, considering that the 2014 draft is weaker than this past year’s.
5. The one-year deal is perfect for this team - With a large group of talented free agents likely hitting the free agent market in 2014, it is a good time to have cap space. The one-year deal for Jagr is perfect because it automatically frees up cap space for next year. No long-term commitment means no long-term headache.
Furthermore, if his play slips, it’s not like this team has to worry about what to do with the remaining years of his contract. I think this is why the Devils ultimately went the Jagr route as opposed to signing other free agents. It gives them the flexibility in terms of cap space in 2014 and it poses a far smaller risk for the future.
6. There are still reasons why this could backfire - If the fact that he’s 41-years-old isn’t enough on its own, there are a plethora of issues that could arise. Will he be able to stay healthy enough to make an impact? That remains to be seen, but any time a player gets into his forties, it’s a big gamble.
Also, there is a wall that every player hits eventually. Whether they retire before that point or not, there is a moment where a player simply isn’t effective anymore. Perhaps this is that season for No. 68? It is something to at least consider.
7. Ultimately, this is a win-win situation - This is a very smart deal for the Devils. Any time you can bring in a player with the pedigree of Jaromir Jagr, you have made your team better. He can still play and I expect him to have a nice season in New Jersey. I don’t think fifty points is out of the question at all.
Lou Lamoriello has done a good a job as he possibly could have with this roster in the wake of the stunning departure of Ilya Kovalchuk. With the additions in free agency, and now the signing of Jagr, this team should be competitive. I’m not sure it means that they’re a playoff team, but the signing of the man with the most notorious flow in all of hockey will go a long way towards helping this team reach the postseason once again.