Nothing to ponder for Panthers and Jaromir Jagr
The Florida Panthers are in the midst of an offseason where they’re trying to steady the ship after a stormy 2016–17 campaign. After winning the Atlantic Divison in 2015–16, the squad from Sunrise decided to shake up their general manager structure anyway.
Those moves didn’t pay off in the standings, and it lead to former head coach Gerard Gallant getting the ax at the end of November after an 11–10–1 start.
Florida’s front office mess only became more muddled from there. General manager Tom Rowe inserted himself behind the bench after Gallant was fired, shifting from GM to interim coach. Rowe was let go following the season, and the man he replaced in the general manager role — Dale Tallon — was reinstated after seeing his job title shift three times over the last year.
With how tumultuous the Panthers’ last year has been, it’s evident that they need a calm center in the middle of everything. For at least one more season, that calm middle should be Jaromir Jagr.
Call him whatever you want. A living legend. Father Time’s sparring partner. One of the greatest to ever play the game of hockey. “Jags” or the Ageless Wonder. It doesn’t matter. What is most important is that the 45-year-old forward is back in the fold when the Panthers’ season gets underway in 2017–18.
Jagr ducked the issue during the organization’s locker cleanout day, and it has been reported that Tallon won’t re-sign any of his unrestricted free agents until after June 17. That’s when the Panthers have to submit their protection list for the Las Vegas expansion draft, which will occur on June 21.
After that, though, one of the first pieces of news coming from Tallon’s front office should be the announcement of another deal for Jagr. There’ve been some questions about whether or not the Panthers can compete for the Stanley Cup with the league’s older player on their top line.
Those curiosities are perfectly fair, and Tallon would be mistaken if he simply inked Jagr because of who he is. Concerns about the wing’s declining play are mostly connected to the 46 points he posted in 2016–17, but it’s important that we look at those numbers in context.
Jagr’s usual linemates — Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau — spent a lot of time on the IR this season. All told, the trio only spent 23 games playing alongside each other. When Barkov and/or Huberdeau were injured, it left Jagr to do way too much heavy lifting while skating with forwards like Seth Griffith and even Jonathan Marchessault.
It’s also worth noting that Jagr’s shooting percentage dipped to 8.8 percent — nearly a five percent drop off from his career average and full 10 percent drop from his 2015–16 conversion rate. He was never going to continue scoring on 18 percent of his shots, but the opposite holds true as well. Jagr isn’t going to continue to fire pucks as haplessly as he did last year.
He might be old, but Jagr didn’t suddenly forget how to shoot. Not after 765 career goals. That 8.8 percent mark was the lowest he’d ever registered in a single season, and it came one year after he shot better than he ever had before. Somewhere between those two extremes lies Jagr’s current finishing ability, and another 20-plus goal season shouldn’t be out of the question with healthy linemates and a slight bump in puck luck.
Remember that the Panthers were one of the more ‘unlucky’ teams in the NHL last season, coming in with the 22nd highest PDO mark.
Florida’s season went off the rails early due to untimely injuries, and things never really seemed to rectify until it was too late. Still, this isn’t a franchise that is gearing up for a rebuild; there are outstanding players in place, most of whom are in their prime and on long-term contracts. Jagr is the perfect complementary piece, and can still make an impact out on the ice to the tune of 20-plus goals and 50-plus points.
With the likes of Aaron Ekblad, Barkov and Huberdeau leading the way, Florida should be able to get back into the thick of things in the Atlantic Division in 2017–18. And Jagr should be a part of the roster as it happens.
If the Panthers didn’t have cap space to burn, then perhaps the case could be made to let the all-time great ply his trade elsewhere. At this juncture, it simply makes too much sense for the organization to keep him.