Jaromir Jagr, always one to keep things interesting, waited until just days before the 2017-18 season to find his new home with the Calgary Flames. The future Hall of Famer kept pushing for a job in the NHL, even turning to Twitter to make a playful plea, and finally got one Monday with a one-year, $1 million deal that includes another $1 million in performance bonuses.
Jagr has been a constant topic of conversation this summer since the Panthers decided not to try to re-sign him in June. That it took so long for the 45-year-old to find a new NHL contract leads to questions about what he was demanding before, what kind of offers he’s received, and what changed to get things done Monday.
The decision is not an insignificant one, as Jagr could’ve opted to stay in Europe and play for the Czech Republic at the 2018 Olympics. Instead, he’s back in the NHL for a 24th season on a Western Conference hopeful looking to hit another level.
The terms make the deal an obvious one for the Flames, who are looking to make the leap from playoff team to Cup contender this season. It’s about as low-risk a contract as you can get for someone with the forward’s history, even if he’s been in the NHL longer than many of his teammates have been alive.
So what exactly does Jagr bring to the table for the Flames this season? As a supporting scorer in the middle-six and potential option on the power play, he seems like a perfect fit.
The Flames needed depth on the wings
There’s no doubt that Calgary has an impressive top of the roster. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik lead a really good group of forwards. Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano star on a defense that matches up well against most teams in the league.
But the Flames’ bottom six wasn’t exactly flush with talent. The current fourth-line wingers look to be a reclamation project with Curtis Lazar and struggling veteran Troy Brouwer, who combined for 14 goals and 29 points in a combined 111 appearances last season.
So Jagr immediately gives this team a bit more life on the wings. He could open on the third line with Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg. There’s even a small chance, if he looks good enough, that he could push Micheal Ferland to be the top-line right winger with Gaudreau and Monahan, similar to the role he often filled in Florida.
Here are the 5-on-5 stats per 60 minutes from 2016-17 for each player projected in Calgary’s bottom six right now. Yes, different systems, and yes, Jagr is a year older, but it’s fair to say he can help this group.
Jagr vs. Flames’ other bottom six forwards, 2016-17
A year before, Jagr was at 1.1, 2.7, and 5.6 in these respective categories. He’s also posted consistently strong possession numbers in recent years.
The Flames not only add Jagr, but theoretically remove their worst player from the roster to make room. That added depth pushes a prospective third-liner down to the fourth line, leading to potential benefits across the bottom six at even strength. (Although that fourth line ... still not looking so hot.)
The power play gets a potential boost, too
It’s not readily apparent that the Flames will use Jagr with the man advantage, but it stands to reason that they could. One key factor for coach Glen Gulutzan is how often he wants to go with a four-forward, one-defenseman structure, which would free up more playing time for a winger like Jagr.
Last season, the Flames leaned heavily on a three-forward, two-defenseman unit with Giordano and Hamilton. The other unit often went the 4F1D route with T.J. Brodie as the point man from the blue line. It stands to reason that a similar setup could occur this year, unless Calgary goes with another 3F2D unit with Brodie and Travis Hamonic on the back end.
Brouwer got a lot of power play minutes last season, so you can see where Jagr could squeeze in there to take some minutes from him. Versteeg did, too, but he was quietly good in that area last season. So the Flames could roll Gaudreau-Monahan-Versteeg-Hamilton-Giordano on one unit, and Tkachuk-Backlund-Bennett-Jagr-Brodie on the other. It’s an intriguing mix for a team that finished 11th in power play success last season.
This is a smart signing for the Flames
Calgary wants to show it can make a run in the postseason, and whether that happens will depend primarily on key players like Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk, Backlund, Hamilton, Giordano, Brodie, and new goaltender Mike Smith.
Depth is still important every spring, though, as we see role players step up in key situations to save the day. Jagr’s recent playoff struggles aside — one goal and 19 assists in 39 NHL playoff games since 2008 — he’s still a solid contributor who should be an upgrade over whatever the Flames were going to throw out before.
Jagr won’t save the Flames, and he doesn’t totally change the dynamic of the team. But he makes them just a little bit better, and at a price so low his entire base cap hit could be buried in the minors (although he’d need to clear waivers and I’d love to see a team executive tell him he missed the Olympics to go to Stockton, Calif. Pretty sure he’d just go home instead. 0
This year’s Jagr watch is over. It seems like he found a good fit.