Rumor Alert: Jaromir Jagr Interested in the Habs?
It may not really feel too much like summer in Montreal this week. It's been raining for the better part of the last week, and the end doesn't seem to be in sight. The temperature is over 10 degrees below the norm for this time of year, and things just seem sluggish and dreary around town, following an emotional election and, of course, the Canadiens' exit from the playoffs at the hands of their biggest and most hated rivals.
But it definitely feels like the off-season in Montreal. The rumor mills are spinning, people are already speculating about contracts and signings and Pierre Gauthier's potential moves over the next few months. But most importantly, there is yet another free agent name attached to the Canadiens, thanks to a World Championship connection, and that player is none other than the infamous Jaromir Jagr.
We all know who Jaromir Jagr is, so I'll try to spare you from too many boring details from his long as storied career. What you do need to know, however, is that he is a 39-year-old former two-time Stanley Cup winner , Hart and Lester B. Pearson Trophy Winner, two-time Olympic medalist (including Gold in Nagano in '98), and three-time medalist at the world championships. He has 646 goals and 1599 points in 1273 career NHL games, he he is a point-per-game player in his later years in the KHL.
You won't find anyone who will deny this man's talent, his accomplishments, and his legacy in hockey, or who wouldn't agree that Jagr is a bona fide first ballot hall of famer when he inevitably decides to hang them up.
But according to the rumors that seem to be making the rounds around this city, he isn't ready to hang up his skates just yet.
As originally reported by Tony Marinaro (posted on the TCL Habs Facebook page) and later corroborated by CJAD, a source for the radio station has informed Rick Moffat and the gang that the Canadiens are on Jagr's shortlist of teams, if he was to make a return to the NHL next season.
Other teams on Jagr's shortlist are his former teams in New York and Pittsburgh (no Washington, for obvious reasons), as well as the masters of European scouting, the Detroit Red Wings.
Habs fans will of course scoff at first glance of this rumor, and really, who could blame them? It wouldn't be the first time a big name, aging hockey star would be rumored to have interest in the team, and it won't be the last, either. As per team policy, Pierre Gauthier has neither confirmed nor denied the rumor, offering no comment, but let's just say that it is fairly unlikely.
That said, before people brush the rumor off, it would be healthy to look at the facts. Jagr left the NHL after the 2007-08 season, after four years with the Rangers where his production had increasingly dropped off from 123 points (including 54 goals) in 2006, to 96 points the next year and 71 points the last. The 2006-07 season would be the last of Jagr's controversial $77 million, 7-year contract which was, at the time, the largest in NHL history and which paid the Czech superstar $11 million a year.
Of course, the 2004-05 lockout would roll this amount back to $8.36 million (with a $9.5 million cap hit), but the expectations of being the highest paid player in the history of the league would definitely be present throughout each of the seven years of the term. of course, we all know that Jagr failed to meet the expectations of the Washington Capitals when they signed him to this contract in 2001.
This contract would end up being one of the most influential signings in the history of sports, yet alone the history of the NHL or hockey. The contract would force the Capitals to go on a cost-cutting spree which would put them back in the cellar of the NHL, which, of course, inevitably led to the acquisition of many high end draft picks such as Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Bakcstrom. The contract would also be one of the catalysts that would lead to the infamous lockout, which (unsuccessfully) tried to eliminate such contracts). It would also lead to one of the most interesting trades in history, masterminded by, who else, Glen Sather of the New York Rangers. With talks of a lockout looming, Sather would trade Anson Carter to the Capitals in exchanged for Jagr at a reduced cost (at the time, teams were allowed to trade money).
And while Jagr would be a catalyst to the lockout, and the player that would arguably suffer the most from it monetarily, he would also be one of the players to benefit from it the most on the ice, bouncing back with the abovementioned 123 and 96 point seasons with the Rangers, before dropping off in his final year.
In 2011, with Jagr a decade older than when he signed that notorious contract, money likely wouldn't be that much of an issue with teams. Clearly, Jagr seems to be only targeting teams that can afford him, and while he still commands a $5 million salary on his expiring contract in Russia, I think everyone and their grandmother knows he would have to take a fairly severe discount to come back to the NHL. While it would be too early to speculate on a firm number, I would venture a guess that a reasonable range for the player would be a one or two year deal at a salary between $2 and $4 million.
So, the problem with Jagr would not be monetary, but rather, with questions of his attitude, and, of course, his production and health. Jagr is a notorious prima donna, the Jennifer Lopez of hockey, if you will. He would likely command much ice time, whether he produces or not, and if something doesn't go his way, he's just as likely to up and leave the team for Europe now as he did after his last NHL contract He would of course be the source of much talk with the media, and the center of all their scrutiny if he doesn't consistently produce, right off the bat. This in turn could cause problems on the ice, in the locker room, and away from the arena.
Moreover, if teams are expecting another Art Ross season from the player, they're most certainly going to be disappointed. Jagr would turn 40 over the course of any new deal, and even if he is in excellent shape, as the rumors seem to suggest, the current realities of the NHL would likely stop him from even coming close to former achievements.
That said, and this must be stressed, Jagr can likely still play hockey. He has been a point-per-game player in the KHL's Avangard Omsk, a league gaining more and more credibility with each passing year. Over the course of his near-20 years in the NHL, he only ever missed the 30 goal mark twice - in his rookie season, and in his last. He has 10 ninety-point-plus seasons and more achievements than we care to name again.
I'll just say this, Habs fans: In the six days since the Canadiens were defeated by the Bruins in game 7 of the first round, all I've heard from fans is that this team is still lacking size, and they're still lacking talent up front. Problems that have persisted with this team for years. Well, Jaromir Jagr is 6'2", 240lbs, and he's definitely a player who uses his size to his advantage. And he definitely has the offensive track record.
Granted, his age isn't ideal, and he could very well end up being the next Alex Kovalev to the Canadiens, but if the price is right, I have to ask: why the Hell not?
Clearly, Jagr has chemistry with the Canadiens' number one forward, Tomas Plekanec, as they are currently playing together at the World Championships and even train together in the summer. Plekanec has been on the cusp of greatness, offensively, for the last four years, and it could very well be possible that getting to play full time next to his childhood hero would push him over that line. Jagr would look pretty good on the right wing, with Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri next to him.
And if that doesn't wet your whistle, call me crazy, but I kinda have this feeling that Jagr would actually also look good next to Scott Gomez. I wouldn't be able to tell you how the two played together in New York in Jagr's final year, ironically one of the worst seasons for both players, but just call it a hunch, as both have a lot to prove and a lot to make up for.
Again, Jagr wouldn't be the most ideal solution for the Canadiens, and he would be a short-term fix, but consider, for a moment, that he would likely come relatively cheap, he would come willingly, and the Canadiens wouldn't have to give anything up for him, as they would in a trade, which would be inevitable this summer of Gauthier plans to add some size and skill to the Canadiens' front lines.
We all know to take these rumors with a grain of salt, and my opinion on this will likely be met with a little resistance, but I can't be the only one who thinks that the potential for a great fit with the former superstar is very much present.
What do you think, Habs fans? Would the Canadiens be a good fit for Jaromir Jagr? Is Jagr ready to return to any NHL team? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Credit to TCL friend Kevin Van Steendelaar, who also reported this rumor yesterday on Habs Eyes on the Prize.
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