Amato takes a look at 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr's strong season
When Jaromir Jagr signed with the Dallas Stars last summer it probably raised quite a few eyebrows. The Stars haven’t made the playoffs since the 2007-08 season, and if they aren’t in a full rebuild mode with their roster, they are certainly retooling. You wouldn’t think that would be the ideal destination for a veteran player trying to end his career on a high note. Then again, Jagr has been anything but conventional during his playing days and has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Taking a three-year hiatus to play in the KHL was clearly evidence of that.
Jagr returned to the NHL last year with the Philadelphia Flyers, and if nothing else, proved he could still play. In 2013 with the Stars he has proven he can do more than just that. Jagr, who just picked up assist number 1,000 last week, currently leads Dallas in goals, points, power play goals, and shots. He is also on a 65 point pace if this were an 82-game season, which would far exceed his totals from last year. Did I mention he is 41 years old?
Even though he has changed teams, Dallas has done a good job of putting Jagr in a similar position when it comes to line-mates. In 2011-12 Jagr played most often with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, while this season it has been Jamie Benn and Brenden Morrow. Although no two players are exactly alike, there are similarities between each grouping. Both Benn and Giroux are very creative and have elite skill sets, while Morrow and Hartnell are physical players who can retrieve the puck and take up real estate in front of the net. Having one person on your line that can get you the puck in a scoring position and another who can occupy defenders is a great compliment to anyone’s game, especially someone as skilled as Jagr.
Morrow has now been traded to Pittsburgh and it remains to be seen how that will alter Jagr’s numbers, but the good news is Benn is still around. The two have built a great chemistry in their brief time together in Dallas, and they have combined to find the score sheet 17 times in 2013. In fact, Benn leads the Stars with 12 primary assists and had just 15 all of last season. No doubt playing with Jagr and his 14 goals are a major reason for the upswing in that area.
Jagr’s presence has also helped the Stars as a whole this season. In 2011-12 Dallas had the league’s worst power play, but this year with Jagr’s six power play goals he has them up to a ranking of 12th. It’s nothing to brag about, but it’s still a significant improvement from last year. Jagr only had eight goals with the man advantage all of last season, and to put in perspective just what he means to the Stars in that area, nobody else on Dallas currently has more than three power play goals.
Dallas has also improved its goal totals for this season with the aid of Jagr. Last year they were just 22nd in goals per game, but in 2013 they have bettered that slightly to move up to 15th. Getting more scoring should lead to a few extra wins which the Stars desperately need if they hope to return to the post-season. The past two seasons they have finished 10th and 9th respectively in the Western Conference standings and just missed out on playoff hockey. Jagr’s ability to find the back of the net may just help Dallas get over the hump.
Jagr was accompanied to Dallas this summer with the equally puzzling signing of 40-year-old Ray Whitney. Some may have felt that general manager Joe Nieuwendyk was steering the organization in the wrong direction by spending over $9M on two players over 40, but consider it from the angle of a shrewd investment on Nieuwendyk’s part. Jagr and Whitney have provided some veteran leadership to Dallas’ younger players, while still owning an above average skill set. And if Nieuwendyk wants, he could dangle them as assets to contending teams at the trade deadline. He could turn them both into a bunch of draft picks and prospects to build for the future, much like he did with the Morrow deal.
Jagr’s play this season should have reminded hockey fans just how good he really is. Not necessarily right at this very moment, but how he stacks up when compared to the best ever. A quick scan of the all-time NHL scoring leaders shows Jagr sitting in eighth spot. However, that in itself may be a little deceiving. Although Jagr is in eighth, he sits just 208 points behind Mark Messier who owns the second position. Had Jagr not headed to the KHL for three seasons, he would be much closer to occupying second place behind Wayne Gretzky. All Jagr would have had to do was average 69 points during those three seasons and he would be there right now. Considering he would have been several years younger back then and he’s on pace for 65 points this year, that’s not exactly that far fetched.
With the recent retirement of Niklas Lidstrom, players like Jagr, Martin Brodeur, and Teemu Selanne represent the final sense of nostalgia from a fading hockey era. We should appreciate that while it lasts, since how much longer Jagr remains in Dallas, or the NHL for that matter, is anyone’s guess. If he decides to join a contender and pursue the Stanley Cup one last time, or remain with a younger team and help them grow, it will be his choice. And Jagr has always done things his way.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @amato_mike
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