The New Jersey Devils were left with a need for a scoring winger when Ilya Kovalchuk suddenly retired from the NHL and dipped into the free agent market for the most accomplished scoring winger available.
Numbers Game breaks down the Devils' deal with Jaromir Jagr.
The Devils Get: RW Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr, 41, has been a productive offensive player since returning to the NHL at the start of the 2011-2012 season, scoring 89 points in 118 games. His puck possession numbers have been strong too, ranking 41st among forwards that played at least 1500 five-on-five minutes over the last two seasons. He's slower, as one might expect from a 41-year-old winger, but he's still a 240-pound winger who can protect the puck and control play in the offensive zone.
Criticism of Jagr, at this point, is most likely going to centre around his failure to score a single goal in 22 playoff games for the Boston Bruins, setting a single-season playoff record for the most recorded shots on goal (58) without scoring. He created chances, had 10 assists and was among the Bruins' possession leaders in the postseason, but that zero in the goal column is an ugly number for a player who leads all active players with 681 career regular season goals, to go along with 78 career playoff tallies.
While Jagr is a far cry from the dominant offensive performer that he was from 1991 through 2007, when he scored 1471 points in 1111 games (his 1.32 points per game the best in hockey over that span), he remains an effective scoring forward and has an opportunity to play a significant role with the Devils.
When Ilya Kovalchuk abruptly retired from the NHL earlier this month, that left the Devils with a big opening for a scoring winger and while Jagr isn't capable of playing 24 minutes a night, like Kovalchuk has for the past couple seasons, Jagr can play 18 minutes a night on one of the top two lines as well as the power play. For whatever it may be worth -- maybe nothing, maybe slightly better chemistry -- the Devils' power play will include a couple of Jagr's Czech countrymen, Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky.
With Jagr in the fold, the Devils have a decent group of top six forwards, including Elias and free agent additions Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder on the wings, with Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique occupying the top two centre spots, though Andrei Loktionov could warrant a look in a scoring role too.
Once the Bruins had traded for Loui Eriksson and signed Jarome Iginla as a free agent, there wasn't a fit for Jagr on Boston's top two lines, so he moves on, to his fourth team since returning to the NHL in 2011.
What's more, if the Devils can't rebound from a disappointing 2013 campaign and get back into the playoff picture, then Jagr could be on the move again around the trade deadline, where he would at least bring a draft pick in return, which is significant to New Jersey since they are required to forfeit their first-round selection as a penalty for the initial contract they signed with Kovalchuk. That's a fall-back position, because the Devils would rather have Jagr play a role in getting them back to the postseason, but that asset management can't be ignored as a factor in getting Jagr inked to a one-year deal.
With Kovalchuk gone and the free agent frenzy having died down, the Devils made the best of their situation. We don't have the salary numbers on Jagr yet but, because it's a one-year deal, the investment shouldn't be problematic and gives them a reasonable replacement for Kovalchuk who may be 11 years older but, because of that, doesn't require anywhere near the same kind of financial commitment.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.