A thought about the Flames and Jaromir Jagr nobody is talking about: there is a chance he might actually play for the team again this season.
The truth is the team still doesn’t know what it has in the 45-year-old future hockey hall of famer. And unless the Flames need the roster spot as part of their short-term plans while gunning toward the playoffs, they have nothing to lose but the remainder of Jagr’s $1-million salary and modest bonuses he might pick up by playing.
Despite the chatter about Jagr’s time coming to an end with the team that took a chance on the legend as this season began, the two sides are taking time and leaving doors open as they inch toward a final decision on their future — together or apart.
Because of the way the Flames have performed without him, and a lack of desire to break up any of the top three lines in order to get Jagr enough ice time to avoid insult, the odds still favour some sort of departure. With Garnet Hathaway’s waiver exemption expired, he’ll be sticking for the season. And until his chemistry with Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett dissipates, he’s not about to be demoted to the fourth line.
But that could happen in the future, and the team’s lack of depth on the right side is the reason they inked Jagr in the first place.
Although the team suggested at the time of Jagr’s signing that there were no promises made regarding the veteran’s role, he went from an occasional spin on the top trio, to helping spark the third line before the nagging groin injury started to create other problems that hampered his play and ultimately led to him being placed on injured reserve after Christmas.
A mutual parting of ways is a logical conclusion if this is really the end of a legendary NHL career, but there’s a reason GM Brad Treliving has been cautious about what he says about the situation. It does him no good to divulge the discussions between him, Jagr and his agent, Petr Svoboda.
If Treliving says they’re working on terminating the contract, it all but officially quashes any chance they have of trading Jagr to another organization. Not that they’d get much in return, but maybe a new team could make up for the bonus money Jagr would collect from the Flames even if he was to hit his games played benchmarks with another franchise.
It would also make things really awkward if the team does decide to try him out on the ice in a Flames jersey again when he’s healthy. His health is the key to the entire situation. It always has been.
He sputtered in his start because of his conditioning after skating solo all summer and working out much lighter than usual while wondering whether his NHL career would continue. He was set to join his Czech team before signing with the Flames, but would have taken a full month of training and skating with his teammates before playing. Eager to prove himself with the Flames after inking the one-year deal, he rushed into game action after just a week of practices.
He only skipped the first three games of the season and had a couple of assists in his first five games, but quickly acquired a lower-body injury that knocked him out of the next six contests. He came back for his longest and most productive stretch in November, helping the third line gain some confidence while netting his first goal and four points over three and a half weeks.
The long road trip was embedded in that stretch and the fatigue was evident as he missed the first game back before another short-lived comeback saw him suit up for three games — with one assist. He hasn’t had a point since the end of November and missed five more games before trying yet again to stick in the lineup and push through the injury that was obviously impeding his performance. He played on back-to-back nights and had to rest again for a pair before dressing for his final three games (in four nights) at the end of December.
That brings us to the current situation, which neither side expected when the signing was made. Realistically, even from the small sample size of the brief time Jagr has been anywhere close to healthy, there have been glimpses of his former greatness.
Fellow Flames Nation writer Pat Steinberg broke it down in mid-December before it became obvious the positives on the ice no longer outweighed the negatives from the injuries.
That doesn’t mean it can’t flip the other way again.
If nothing else, allowing Jagr to get completely healthy with a long layoff will give him what he deserves — an exit on his own terms.
That could be as a member of the Flames, happy with filling in wherever needed during a possible playoff run; somewhere else in the league after a trade that allows him to continue on; back in Europe for a hockey swan song following a mutual termination; or when he decides there is no possible return to full health and heads toward the next stage of his rock star life.
Regardless of the way it ends, it’s been a heck of a ride that shouldn’t include regret. The Flames’ locker room has had a few months of an invaluable presence imparting knowledge and wisdom to a young core with plenty to learn about consistency and focus.
Perhaps there is a little more to come than we expect.