The Flames signed Jaromir Jagr. It was so, so special.
It may not have gone as planned, but it’s worth remembering what an experience it was.
Jagr to the Flames made so, so much sense. He was a right-winger coming off a 46-point season – 66 points the year before that – and the Flames needed forward depth, particularly on the right side. As a free agent, he was free to acquire; another bonus for he Flames, since they had been trading a lot of draft picks away at that time.
We’ll never know how things really would have turned out, but perhaps the biggest regret is that he was signed in October, not July.
Take a moment to put aside all the negativity from the 2017-18 season. The disappointment surrounding the team was all-consuming, and Jagr’s health was a part of that. But before things went sideways, just recall, strictly from the perspective of someone who likes hockey, how incredible it was to get him at all, to have legitimate Flames jerseys with the name “Jagr” and a #68 across the back.
This was a living legend, one of the greatest players of all time, still going at it, and going north of the border for the first time. He was a healthy scratch for the home opener, and when he was announced as he stepped on the bench, he got probably the loudest cheers of the night. The Saddledome lost it when he was announced in the starting lineup for the first time. The entire building held its breath every single scoring chance he got.
That time a two-on-one for the Flames developed, Johnny Gaudreau and Jagr skating down the ice, and watching it in slow motion as everyone realized that was actually Jagr, and there was no way he was going to miss that – and I swear, watching his only goal of the season from the pressbox, it shook. The building was literally vibrating. It was as loud as a game from the 2004 playoffs. The angst was to come, but in that moment, we got something really, truly, honestly special, and however things may have turned out, that can never, ever be taken away.
And then there are all of the other little moments: assisting on Mark Jankowski’s first NHL goal, saying that Gaudreau had Art Ross potential, the little lessons you could see him giving throughout morning skates as teammates half his age (and younger!) stared at him, enraptured, absorbing every single word. His stall was in the far corner of the locker room, but he was a Presence.
When Jagr signed with his first Canadian team, he remarked that “you cannot bullshit the fans,” and that’s true – but so is the reverse. Every single thing he did got extremely loud appreciation, because those same fans knew just how remarkable it was to have this guy playing in Calgary to begin with. With the bad comes the good, and the good gave us all a chance to appreciate this.
There are ultimately inconsequential moments from pretty much every season worth looking back on fondly, and Jagr’s time in a Flames jersey will be one of them.
2017-18 season summary
Jagr sat out the first couple of games of the season, taking the time to get back up to speed. Maybe he should have been training harder in the offseason, or maybe he should have taken a few more games off to get prepared, but he made his Flames debut in a 4-3 win over Los Angeles, playing 13:38. His first point came two games later, a primary assist on a Gaudreau powerplay goal in a 5-2 win over the Canucks in Vancouver, and a little light went off, like, okay, here we go.
A week later, his first injury struck, and he missed six games – ironically four of which were the Jagr tour, as he’d played for the Stars, Capitals, Penguins, and Devils, who all visited during that stretch – before returning to action. A game later, he scored his first goal as a Flame and assisted on Jankowski’s first goal, period, helping kickstart a line also consisting of Sam Bennett: two players substantially younger and in need of some veteran guidance.
But again, it wasn’t to be. Jagr was bumped up the lineup for lack of any better possible option when Michael Frolik was injured, and he simply physically could not keep up. He continued to miss games, and on Dec. 31, he played 11:49 in what may be the final game of his NHL career: a 4-3 overtime win over the Blackhawks. Jagr stuck around Calgary a little after that, but eventually departed for his own Rytiri Kladno in the Czech tier 2 league, and re-signed with them on May 15.
|Games played||Goals||Assists||Points||TOI/GP||5v5 CF%||5v5 CF% rel||OZS%||PDO|
The worst part is seriously what could have been. The Flames needed forward depth, bringing Jagr into the fold when none of their prospects could win a spot out of camp. If he had been able to play at the level he did in Florida, he would have fit the bill admirably, giving the Flames that extra punch to their lineup. Yes, he was sheltered, and yes, his minutes plummeted – just over 13 minutes a game is the lowest he’s averaged in ice time since the stat has been tracked, and he was averaging 17:00 the year before in Florida – but a healthy Jagr would have been a major boon.
There were three lines it’s easiest to remember him playing on. With Sean Monahan (38:03) and Gaudreau (37:15), he took over on the top line when Micheal Ferland was floundering early in the year, and maybe the foot speed wasn’t there, but the ability to cycle in the offensive zone, and the hands – they were. That isn’t counting the powerplay time he got with them as well, but all three players benefited from one another, and a healthy Jagr could have been the stuff of dreams for the first line.
Then, the rookies: Bennett (136:46) and Jankowski (125:15). When Jagr went down, Garnet Hathaway ended up filling in his spot more often than not, and aside from a brief surge when first joining the line, he was a lesser option. This was another line with potential, and though not as offensively-powered as the top line, probably would have been better in a reduced role; alas, injuries prevented it from being a regular feature.
There was one last line, with Matthew Tkachuk (38:25) and Mikael Backlund (38:19), in which Frolik’s jaw was broken and there really was no better option as long as Jagr was physically able to play. It was his least-sheltered line, near the end of his NHL season, and he visibly could not keep up; playing on that line was his weakest performance of the year.
From top line potential, to helping out the rookies, to slowly bowing out. It’s a shame how it ended – but damn, was it cool to have.
|#5 – Mark Giordano||#7 – TJ Brodie|
|#8 – Chris Stewart||#10 – Kris Versteeg|
|#11 – Mikael Backlund||#13 – Johnny Gaudreau|
|#15 – Tanner Glass||#18 – Matt Stajan|
|#19 – Matthew Tkachuk||#20 – Curtis Lazar|
|#21 – Garnet Hathaway||#23 – Sean Monahan|
|#24 – Travis Hamonic||#25 – Nick Shore|
|#26 – Michael Stone||#27 – Dougie Hamilton|
|#33 – David Rittich||#36 – Troy Brouwer|
|#41 – Mike Smith||#44 – Matt Bartkowski|
|#61 – Brett Kulak||#67 – Michael Frolik|
|#77 – Mark Jankowski||#79 – Micheal Ferland|
|#93 – Sam Bennett|