Nearly a month ago, future Hall of Famer and noted mullet enthusiast Jaromir Jagr took to Twitter with a plea to the NHL: Somebody give me a job playing hockey. He said nobody had called him about returning for a 24th season, and while it was clearly playful in nature, you also figure those tweets wouldn’t have happened if he was on the cusp of a contract.
Now it’s several weeks later, with the big rush of free agency well in the rearview mirror, and Jagr is in the same spot. Slowly but surely, the big names left beside him on the free agent market have been scooped up. On Thursday, Andrei Markov, arguably the top defenseman left, announced he’s leaving for the KHL.
Could Jagr, one of the greatest players in NHL history, actually be forced into a similar path, finishing out his career in a foreign league? One upside of the possibility would be a chance to lead the Czech Republic in the 2018 Olympics, where NHL players will be disallowed from participation.
But that’s not how a legend like Jagr should be forced to go out — not when he’s clearly got something left in the tank. Even if the NHL is a young man’s game, we’ve established that Jagr isn’t your usual 45-year-old. And he’s giving all indications he’s not ready to move on yet:
Jaromir @68Jagr skated with his hometown club Kladno. NHL is still priority for him. "I don´t think I am so bad that I couldn´t play there."— Zdenek Janda (@zdenek_janda) July 24, 2017
So why has Jagr had a tough time finding a gig so far? Let’s dig into the situation.
Jagr can still contribute to an NHL team
This would seem like the first stumbling block in Jagr finding a job, but it shouldn’t be. He’s still a better player than a lot of younger guys who received contracts from NHL teams this summer without issue.
Even with a 20-point drop in production last season, Jagr still put up a respectable 16 goals and 30 assists with the Panthers. He also played in all 82 games, showing durability despite his age. The last time Jagr missed more than 10 games in an NHL season was 2001-02 with the Capitals.
Getting 46 points might not stand out for a five-time Art Ross Trophy winner, but that still places him firmly as a good top-nine forward in the NHL. There are also underlying numbers that indicate his effectiveness.
The most obvious is that Jagr still generates shots at a high level. Last season, he actually saw an increase in his shot rate, but his shooting percentage dropped from 18.8 percent to 8.9 percent, so his goal total dropped as a result. However, as a career 13.6 percent shooter, you can figure that Jagr probably won’t shoot below 9 percent again. At 5-on-5, he took seven shots per 60 minutes, which is right in line with his numbers for the past five seasons.
Jagr’s also been effective at driving possession, which is a staple of his game. Last season, the Panthers posted a 55.4 percent even strength Corsi with Jagr on the ice, per Hockey-Reference. Without him, that number dropped a massive 6.7 percent. Among forwards to play at least 70 games last season, only 14 had a higher impact on possession when on/off the ice.
So Jagr can still bring it, even if he’s no longer a clear No. 1 line winger. If you had someone playing this well on your second or third line, that’s pretty dang good.
It may come down to asking price
Over the past few seasons, Jagr hasn’t exactly come cheap, however. Here are the past four contracts he’s signed with the Devils and Panthers, via Cap Friendly:
2012-13: One year, $4 million
2013-14: One year, $5.5 million
2015-16: One year, $5.405 million
2016-17: One year, $5.515 million
So you can reasonably assume that even now at age 45, he’s still expecting at least a one-year contract in the $5 million-$5.5 million range. That’s no small chunk of change for an NHL team, particularly when they’re all operating under a $75 million hard cap. There are lots of teams that straight up cannot afford to pay Jagr that kind of money.
If Jagr is holding firm that he will only return to the NHL on a deal worth that much money, it might not be surprising that he’s still available. The market is presumably hoping that he’ll come down in price and join a team at a more reasonable cost. He’s waiting for that one team to get antsy enough to pay him what he wants. It only takes one.
But as that game of chicken goes on, somebody will have to bite the bullet if Jagr is to return for another season. Either the checkbook opens up and Jagr gets the $5 million-plus that he wants, or Jagr backs down from his price and accepts a smaller contract to continue his sequel to Tuck Everlasting.
Somebody should find a compromise here
Once you’ve got an idea of Jagr’s asking price and past production, the question becomes whether he’s worth it. Is a veteran winger who drives possession, offers a good lefty shot on the power play, and gives you 50 points worth $5 million for a year?
There are teams with the cap space to find common ground with Jagr. Maybe he doesn’t get the full money million he’s asking for, but he becomes a lot more palatable if he’ll come down to $4 million. As an over-35 player, he can also take a bonus-laden deal, so a team could transfer some of the risk into bonuses that he’d only attain by staying healthy.
Jagr is good enough to be in the NHL, and his asking price likely isn’t so out of whack as to be impossible to work with. The Canadiens have a full roster with over $8 million in cap space. The Predators should have money left over after signing Ryan Johansen. The Oilers, Devils, Blue Jackets, and Sharks are other possible suitors, just looking at teams with cap space.
If we’re talking a one-year deal, then the risk involved is pretty limited for most of these teams. And the upside of acquiring a legit top-nine forward, arguably the last one on the market, would seem worth the opportunity cost for a team trying to reach the postseason.
Jagr isn’t done yet. Somebody should sign him sooner than later.