Is Jaromir Jagr the Stars' Cliff Lee?
July, 3, 2012
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com
I'll admit that when I first heard that Jaromir Jagr had signed with the Dallas Stars for $4.55 million, I was stunned. First, why would Jagr want to come to Dallas, a team that hasn't made the playoffs in four seasons? And second, at 40 years old, does he have enough left to be worth that kind of investment?
But it was clear when Joe Nieuwendyk talked with the media Tuesday evening that Jagr sold the Stars as much as they might have sold him. And this is a move that goes beyond what Jagr can do on the ice. That's not to diminish what he has left at all. The Stars seem so convinced, they've already penciled him in on the right wing of the top line, with Jamie Benn at center and Loui Eriksson holding down the left side.
"As we sit here in July, that looks pretty good," Nieuwendyk said.
No doubt it does. Jagr's arrival further the Stars' makeover. They've inserted three new top-6 forwards into their group with Derek Roy, Ray Whitney and now Jagr. Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott have been traded. Ott was being asked to be a top-6 forward, but he's not. And the three new players bring a fresh outlook to the dressing room.
It's also all of a sudden two lines that, at least on paper, have the ability to put more pucks in the net. (You know all of the ridiculous numbers Jagr has put up in his career, but he's never had a season of less than 50 points, and he managed 19 goals and 54 points for Philadelphia last year). That's a big deal for a Stars club that couldn't score last season. There are still some questions on defense with this team, but they appear to have a little more punch than they did last year, and maybe that's all they need to make the postseason. And making the postseason for a club that hasn't done so in four years would be a big deal, not only for the fan base, but for the young players. They need to experience a playoff run and what it takes to succeed. This is a growing team, not a Stanley Cup contender. But a huge step in that growth would be a playoff berth.
Jagr, though, can do more than that. The first person I thought about after hearing Nieuwendyk's excited voice was Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. Daniels sounded the same way when his club pulled off a trade in early July 2010 to acquire Cliff Lee. Obviously, that was different. Lee was thought to be the final piece for a team that could contend for the World Series. And he helped them win their first playoff series and ultimately get to the World Series.
But his impact was deeper than that. He mentored a young pitching staff, especially the left-handers. C.J. Wilson improved his game after seeing how Lee handled batters. Matt Harrison, even in spring training this year, talked about all the things he learned from Lee. And Lee was in Texas just four months.
That's what Jagr can do. He's a hard worker and made it clear to Nieuwendyk, Bob Gainey and Glen Gulutzan in a 45-minute conversation that he still had the passion to play. They didn't get the sense that Jagr was ready to simply skate around the NHL rinks and say his goodbyes to fans. Jagr isn't pondering retirement. He wants to play and he wants to help a young team.
It can only help the club's infusion of youth to see Jagr keep himself in shape with on- and off-ice workouts. It can only help for them to see someone dedicated to his craft and willing to do anything to win. It can only help if they are in the hunt for a playoff spot to have his veteran leadership in the dressing room to help guide them. It can only help at the box office too, where the Stars finally have a big-name player they can showcase to fans.
Is Jagr too old to really contribute? The Stars are betting $4.55 million on the answer being no. But the investment goes beyond what Jagr does on the ice -- and beyond just his one year in Dallas. That's why it makes sense. Let the young players learn from a guy like that, and then, when it's their time to lead the team and take it to the next level, they'll be better prepared to do so.