New Jersey Devils Stop Offseason Bleeding with Jaromir Jagr Signing
The Devils have reportedly signed the future Hall of Fame forward to a one-year contract, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun, becoming the seventh NHL franchise to employ the two-time Stanley Cup champion.
OK 30-sec break from vacation. Jaromir Jagr has agreed to one-year deal with Devils. Likely won't be officially announced until Tuesday...— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) July 22, 2013
Regardless of the finances involved, this was a move that general manager Lou Lamoriello had to make.
After losing superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk to retirement despite being in the prime of his career, in addition to the free-agency departure of top-six winger David Clarkson, the Devils offense had been severely weakened and badly needed to be upgraded in any way possible.
Kovalchuk and Clarkson finished second and third on the team in scoring last year, respectively, while also ranking T-3rd and first in goals scored, respectively. Even with these two players, New Jersey ranked 28th in goals scored and 21st in power-play percentage in the shortened 2013 season.
Jagr cannot be expected to replace their scoring by himself, but he does give head coach Pete DeBoer another top-six winger capable of providing consistent offensive production and excelling on the power play.
Even at 41 years old, Jagr tallied 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 45 games between the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins last season. He would have led the Devils in goals and ranked second in scoring with those totals last year.
Will Jagr score at a near point-per-game rate in 2013-14? The chances of that are slim, but he's still capable of tallying 50-65 points with 15-19 minutes of ice time per game and a prominent role on the power play.
His impressive size and strength allow him to maintain possession of the puck and forces multiple defenders toward him, which creates space for his teammates.
When he sees a passing lane, even a small one, Jagr still has the skill needed to make a precision pass that sets up a fantastic scoring opportunity. This will tremendously benefit a New Jersey team that now lacks playmaking skill with Kovalchuk gone.
While the addition of Jagr is a positive step for New Jersey, it shouldn't be the final move of the summer for Lamoriello if he expects his team to score enough goals to earn a playoff berth from the league's most competitive division (Metropolitan).
The free-agent signings of Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Jagr are good first steps in reconstructing the offense, but the Devils are still without the proper scoring depth and skill required to consistently beat division rivals New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
Will NJ make the playoffs next year with its current roster?
One player who Lamoriello should pursue next is Damien Brunner, a 27-year-old forward who enjoyed a fine rookie campaign with the Detroit Red Wings in 2013.
His ability to excel at center and on the wing would give the Devils offense valuable versatility. He's also a player capable of playing a physical game and providing strong production in the postseason.
As a young player in the prime of his career, Brunner is an ideal fit for New Jersey, but according to Tom Gulitti of The Record, Brunner is not close to finding a new home.
Just talked to Damien Brunner's agent, Neil Sheehy. Wouldn't say which teams he's talked to. Says "nothing imminent" as far as signing.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) July 15, 2013
Per CapGeek, the Devils have $10,129,166 in salary cap space before Jagr's contract. The team also has to re-sign young RFA center Adam Henrique. Depending on how much Jagr signs for, New Jersey would be wise to add another center to the roster, preferably Brunner, with its remaining cap space.
The Devils should get strong goaltending from legend Martin Brodeur and newly-acquired Cory Schneider next season, which will give them an opportunity to win a lot of games. But for New Jersey to avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1986 and 1987, it must acquire another forward.
Signing Jagr is a step in the right direction, but more offensive upgrades are needed for the Devils to contend next year.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.
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