Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Aging Jaromir Jagr can still shine in Dallas
By Scott Burnside
A year ago, Jaromir Jagr’s return to the NHL was one of the great sideshows of the free-agency period.
The five-time NHL scoring champion went to ground after professing his love of Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
His agent, Petr Svoboda, looked like he had narrowed the field to a handful of teams, including Detroit, Pittsburgh and Montreal, before announcing to ESPN.com the night before free agency that even though he wasn’t sure where Jagr was, he was going to open up the field and wasn’t worried about signing on July 1, prompting both Detroit and Pittsburgh to withdraw their offers.
Then Jagr turned around and signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia on the first day of free agency.
It was, to say the least, a little whacked.
But what wasn’t whacked was the impression Jagr, who quietly signed a one-year deal worth $4.55 million with the Dallas Stars on Tuesday afternoon, made on the Flyers.
We were in Philadelphia at the Flyers’ training camp in September as GM Paul Holmgren raved about Jagr’s workout regimen and his commitment to being in the best possible shape after spending three years in the Kontinental Hockey League.
And in the end, Jagr proved to be both a valuable player and a well-loved teammate in Philadelphia.
He also proved that regardless of diet and workout routines, time waits for no man, and it did not wait for the 40-year-old, as he started to wear down as the season went along. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Jagr was hardly a factor, especially in the second round when the Flyers dropped four straight games to the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils.
During that second-round series, Jagr had just one assist. Overall he had one goal and seven assists in 11 playoff games. During his last 16 regular-season games, he managed to score just once.
Still, when he was on and healthy, he remained a treat to watch. Jagr collected 19 goals and 54 points playing mostly with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell on the Flyers’ top line. He earned 20 power-play points, and that should be a boon to the Dallas Stars, who somehow managed to produce the league’s worst power play this past season in spite of the presence of skilled players such as Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder, and the now departed Mike Ribeiro and Sheldon Souray.
When at full health, Jagr remains a magician with the puck, able to create time and space with still-soft hands that seem not to have been diminished by the passage of time.
He’ll get a similar opportunity with the Stars, who now have added three top-six forwards in the past three days by signing 40-year-old Ray Whitney to a two-year deal, and then acquiring center Derek Roy from Buffalo for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy on Monday.
So much for the youth-must-be-served argument. But this is a Dallas team that has missed the playoffs the past four seasons.
Under new ownership, the Stars seem to be on the right track in reconnecting with the team’s fan base, but they need to find their way back to the playoffs, and everyone knows the road to the postseason in the Western Conference is fraught with potholes.
Jagr, if he can stay healthy, should help the Stars get back on the right path, and if he can be the same positive influence in the Stars' room that he was in the Flyers' room, this will have been money well spent, even if time continues to nibble away at the edges of a player who will be a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.