Jaromir Jagr: 5 Reasons Why the Pittsburgh Penguins Should Sign Him
Jaromir Jagr is 39 years old.
He has not played in the NHL in three years.
He showed no heart in the 2001 playoffs.
Upon his departure from Pittsburgh, many people felt he was the sole reason the team went from perennial playoff contender to cellar dweller. Consequentially, he's one of the main reasons the Penguins nearly migrated to Kansas City.
And there is no doubt that general manager Ray Shero should bring Jagr into Pittsburgh Penguins training camp.
This is the second offseason in which rumors of a Jags return have surfaced. Here are five reasons why Shero should bring No. 68 back to the 'Burgh this time around.
5. Jagr Will Not Be a Distraction
This one is really simple. The fact is general manager Ray Shero would only bring Jaromir Jagr into camp if Jags was willing to play for $1.5 million per year or less.
If Jagr was willing to accept a contract around those dollar figures, then that alone should tell the doubters that he is willing to accept his role as a secondary piece.
Everybody knows his history. The screws started coming loose once Lemieux retired in 1997. The screws completely fell off after the 1998 season when team leader Ron Francis went to Carolina. Locker room tribulations were a frequent story out of Pittsburgh a decade ago.
Ten years is a long time, and this time around he would not be highly paid at all. If for any reason Jagr demands a $3 million contract, then Shero can simply wipe his hands, smile and move on. Moreover, there is no team that will give Jagr a $3 million contract, unless that team is star-deprived and desperate for publicity.
The Penguins would be losing nothing bringing him into camp. There is no reason to look way ahead to April and Lord Stanley's playoffs, or even January for that matter. Bring Jags into training camp, and if he becomes narcissistic, even with a small contract, then cut ties with him.
Lastly, do not doubt the locker room leadership that the Penguins have now. Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik and head coach Dan Bylsma are capable of keeping Jagr’s personality in Czech (correction: check).
4. Many Positives Out of Jagr's New York Ranger Years
After the 2004-2005 lockout, Jagr was clearly the best player and team leader on a struggling New York Rangers squad. The team had missed the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons, and the future was not bright.
Jagr would lead the team to the playoffs in 2006 and break a few records along the way. He finished the campaign with 54 goals and 123 points. He would win the Lester B. Pearson award as the league's most outstanding player. His goal and point marks during that season remain New York Ranger records.
Playing three full seasons wearing the red, white and blue, Jagr would compile 109 goals and 209 points. He also did not miss a game during those three years.
The most important point that can be made out of his stint in New York was Jagr the leader. He led his team to center ice after every home win to salute the crowd, a fairly new tradition that the Rangers continue to this day.
He became captain of the Rangers before the 2006-2007 season. This honor was not given to JJ; it was clearly earned. Rangers fans do not have a bad thing to say about Jagr and the years he was with them.
3. 40 Years Old Is the New 30
Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, Dwayne Roloson, Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, etc., etc.
Players near or over the age of 40 have given their teams significant contributions. None of these players or any recent player that has played late into his 30s and into his 40s has the skill set that Jagr possesses.
The Penguins have their own proof in recent years of aging players providing great shifts and considerable minutes. Bill Guerin had 15 points in 24 playoff games in the 2009 playoffs, the year the Penguins raised their third Stanley Cup banner. Sergei Gonchar and Hal Gill anchored the defense of that 2009 team at ages 36 and 35 respectively.
Jagr's game was never built on speed and swiftness. He was always a big, physical player that had unbelievable stick-handling ability and that playmaking chromosome that so few players have.
Ron Francis was once asked if he was nervous about losing a step as he aged while still playing in the league. Francis responded, "I'm not worried, I never had a step to begin with." Jagr certainly always had more speed than Francis, but his overall game translates nicely to his older body.
(Speaking of players' games based on speed, Teemu Selanne is the exception to the rule, and it is remarkable what he has done late in his career.)
2. Right Wing, Baby Pens and an Obvious Need
The two most frequent words Penguin fans have uttered the last few months have been "concussion" and "winger." Unfortunately, the word winger has been habitually used over the last few YEARS and not just months.
Petr Sykora, Ruslan Fedotenko, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Miroslav Satan are just a few examples of additions that needed to be subtractions due to lack of production. The Evgeni Malkin at winger experiment is done and should never be attempted again. His natural position is center. He gets paid a ridiculous amount of money to play center. He IS a center.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has some intriguing young talent, and Pittsburgh had a close look at some of it this year due to a large number of injuries. Chris Conner, Nick Johnson, Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi all finished the season on the big boys roster. Brett Sterling, Nick Peterson and Tim Wallace lead a talented crew of wingers on the Baby Penguin roster this year.
The big question remains, can any of these players be a top-six winger and score 20 goals next season? Tangradi probably has the biggest upside for next season and the potential of scoring 20 scrappy goals around the net. That projection is not for certain, and he plays left wing anyway. The 2011 Penguins need a right winger as bad as, well ,the 2010 Penguins needed a right winger.
They are just in luck—Jaromir Jagr happens to play right wing. The near-40-year-old scored a hat trick while leading his Czech Republic team to a 4-0 victory over the United States of America in the World Championship semifinals. He was not playing against top-tier NHL talent, but he certainly was playing against NHL players.
Last year for Russia, No. 68 netted 19 goals in 49 games. He was playing against subpar competition but was also playing in a league that sees lower scoring numbers than the NHL.
James Neal has a lot to prove in 2011 as well. He has the pedigree and upside to score a lot of goals in this league. Without Crosby, that production was not there upon his arrival in Pittsburgh. He should be an exciting player for the organization next year, but Neal and Chris Kunitz are not enough at wing.
1. It Does Not Matter What Line He Is on
One of the first topics of conversation when the Jagr return debate starts is what line he would play on. That is an easy answer: the line that he fits best on.
The NHL season is 82 games long, and lines fluctuate all the time. In fact, we have seen lines completely changed in the middle of playoff series before.
Some may say he is too slow to play with Crosby. Could he do worse than some of Sid's former linemates? He has the touch and knack of finding the netting behind goaltenders to score quite a few goals along Crosby.
Would he fit nicely alongside Evgeni Malkin? Possibly. Geno gets a lot of pucks on net, and a big body in front cannot hurt the chances of scoring more. Let's not forget that Malkin led the league in assists two years ago.
Would Jagr be willing to play on the third line? Reverting to reason No. 5, if he takes a small contract, then it's obvious he is willing. With the current state of Penguin wingers, that is not a possibility.
Over the course of training camp and the long season, Coach Bylsma and his staff would certainly find an appropriate fit for Jags. He might even add a pleasant surprise on the power play at wing with Malkin playing the point. To be honest, any positivity on the power play is welcomed in Pittsburgh.
This an obvious case of no risk and possibly major reward. Jagr might have the talent to score 20 goals still and at the same time patch an open wound with the Pittsburgh faithful. There is no harm in bringing him into camp and let him showcase what he has left.
As long as nobody tells Jagr that there is now legal gambling and a casino in Pittsburgh.