There’s a lot of talk out there as of late about how good a fit Jaromir Jagr would be for the Calgary Flames, the latest, to my knowledge, being this Sportsnet piece mentioning it in passing. And the logic is sound: Jagr may be old, but he’s a right wing who continues to produce. That’s something the Flames desperately need, because if they have any weak spot (aside from continuing to be uncertain about the goaltending), it’s the right wing.
And Jagr is probably the best right winger available.
Would Jagr come to Calgary?
Jagr is a fit for Calgary, but is Calgary a fit for Jagr? That’s where things get uncertain. If Jagr wants to continue playing in the NHL (likely) and the Flames are the only team willing to give him a shot (less likely), then it’s a no-brainer.
But let’s assume Jagr has more choice than that. Throughout his 1,711-game career – if he plays just one more full season, he’ll be the NHL’s all-time leader in games played – he has played all of 34 games as a member of a Western Conference team. He has never played for a Canadian team. Perhaps the novelty of going for that could be appealing for a 45-year-old; on the other hand, he’s 45 and may not exactly be excited at the prospect of extra travel towards the end of his career. He’d also be going from Florida in the winter months to Calgary in the winter months, and say what you will about chinooks, but, well…
Jagr has been signing one-year deals since returning to the NHL in 2011, so that clearly isn’t a problem for him. His cap hit in 2016-17 was $4 million; the lowest he’s gone has been a $2 million cap hit in 2013-14. The Flames have just under $10 million in cap space with a number of RFAs to sign, and $2 million is probably about the upper limit of what they can afford to sign a player to. So now we’re asking Jagr to potentially take a pay cut – though it’s possible he’ll have to take a pay cut like that no matter who he ends up playing for.
The Flames aren’t a team someone joins for kicks, though. They’re on the verge of contending, and Jagr hasn’t won a Cup since 1992. It would probably be a nice way to round out a career, and Jagr – he who still produced 46 points last year, and 66 the year before – could be the piece that makes it happen.
Also, and I have no idea if this makes any sort of difference, but the Flames have fellow Kladno native Michael Frolik, who wears #67 in honour of Jagr. There is something of a countryman connection there, should that need to be relevant.
So to sum up this section… maybe? There’s reasons both for and against signing in Calgary in his camp, but none of us really know his mindset.
Would Jagr help Calgary?
Is Jagr still a top line forward? Well, this past season he spent by far the most even strength ice time with Aleksander Barkov, and Jagr is a genetic freak even by professional athlete standards, so it’s entirely possible he is.
He can clearly still score; the only time he’s put up fewer than 40 points since his return to the NHL was in the lockout season, and even then he still scored 35. He’s a possession driver, putting up a 54.94% 5v5 CF in 2016-17 (+6.25% rel) albeit with 35.09% offensive zone starts. Alongside Barkov, they were a 57.0% CF duo, with 56.9% offensive zone starts. Separated, Jagr was 51.3% CF (50.5% offensive zone starts), while Barkov was 41.2% CF (34.1% offensive zone starts).
So Jagr can clearly drive play if he’s put in a position to succeed, and help boost a high-end young teammate do the same. But what of those zone starts?
To put them in perspective, this past season Johnny Gaudreau had 43.35% offensive zone starts, and Sean Monahan had 40.63%, so that’s not exactly an issue. If Jagr is expected to be a top line player, he’d almost certainly be alongside Gaudreau and Monahan – two 60+ point young forwards – and considering the way Glen Gulutzan deploys his forwards, Jagr would undoubtedly be put in a position to succeed. From there, all he’d have to do is keep up with a couple of players in their early 20s, which he’d already been doing during his time in Florida.
Same stuff, different team, another year older. That’s what we’re looking at.
What if it doesn’t work out?
Assuming Jagr agrees to come to Calgary on a cheap one-year deal, then there’s only one real risk he brings: the chance that the 45-year-old finally falls off a cliff. If that happens, then he’s essentially just taking up space, likely being asked to play a role he’s not suited for or potentially sulking in the press box.
And that’s a real risk, and it’s good enough reason to give some pause. But you have to look at his most recent history, and it shows that, even at his age, he’s showing exactly zero signs of slowing down. He scored 20 fewer points in 2016-17 than he did in 2015-16; his shooting percentage also fell from 18.9% to 8.8% over that time, but he was taking more shots this past season (143 vs. 181) and he still put up 16 goals. One could even argue Jagr is in line for a bounce back year.
Jagr is not the typical athlete. He’s beyond that. In terms of raw totals, he’s a top five all-time NHLer. And going into 2017-18, there aren’t any red flags.
He’s as sure a bet as any team in search for a high-level right wing right now could ever make.