Jaromir Jagr (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jaromir Jagr scored his 732nd goal and moved into fourth all-time in goals scored. The 43-year-old continues to produce at a staggering rate for his age, and is leading the Panthers in scoring. Jagr said he’d like to play two more seasons. Set to become a free agent in July, could Jagr re-sign in Florida and end his career as a Panther?
Sunday night, Jaromir Jagr notched goal No. 732 and moved into sole possession of No. 4 on the all-time goals list. By the time the night was through, Jagr had added an an assist and sat atop the Panthers scoring lead with 10 goals and 24 points in 31 games.
Jagr’s season has been nothing short of remarkable in that he’s continued to show offensive prowess at an age when most players would be lucky to find the score sheet once in a season.
This season has seen him bring back the mullet, joke around with media and mentor players literally half his age. Jagr continues to be one of the most beloved players in the game. But there are questions about what’s next for Jagr and where he could end up in the future — or if he has one at all. He signed a one-year, $3.5-million deal to stay with Florida in the off-season, and he’ll a free agent come July 1. That is, unless he re-ups with the Panthers. It seems Jagr is having fun, though, and at this late stage of his career that may be enough to result in something few would have expected: Jagr ending his career as a Florida Panther.
Following Sunday’s win over Vancouver, Jagr was asked about passing Marcel Dionne on the all-time goals list and mentioned both his past and future, but it’s how Jagr finished his statement that was most interesting.
"It is special and it tells me I played with a lot of great players,” Jagr told The Miami Herald’s George Richards. “That makes it a lot easier for me. I started in Pittsburgh with great players and I'm going to end here with great players.”
In May, after he had signed his one-year extension in Florida, Jagr said he could see himself playing two more seasons in the NHL. That would make Jagr 45 by the time he hung up his skates, but with the way he’s playing it seems like he could still rack up 40 points at that age.
Jagr’s play in Florida is shocking if only because when he was dealt to the Panthers, it seemed like a minor deal. Jagr, then 42, wanted to continue his playing career, the Panthers needed some offense in their attempt at securing a playoff spot and the Devils, in the NHL’s basement at the time, needed to shed veteran players in favor of rebuilding. He was scoring at about a half-point per game pace in New Jersey, and Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon was hoping to just get some offense — not much — out of Jagr.
"Hopefully [he'll bring] some offense, stability and leadership," Tallon said, via NHL.com, at the time of the acquisition. "It's a good opportunity for him to mentor some of our young guys and show them how hard they have to work to get to his level. It brings stability to our young team and gives us an opportunity in the next 20 games to make a good run to make the playoffs."
Upon landing in Florida, Jagr went on a tear. Over his next 20 games, the veteran winger scored six goals and 18 points on his way to helping the Panthers to within a handful of points of a playoff spot. Florida wouldn’t be able to get over the hump, though, and ended up on the outside of the post-season for the third consecutive year.
Jagr has continued his scoring pace, too, and he’s got a .77 points per game as the holiday break approaches. He has been everything Tallon wanted of him and more, and even though his deal is up at season’s end, there is no conceivable reason why the Panthers would want to get rid of Jagr. He’s cheap, he’s effective and he’s a great mentor for a number of young players on the team. Beyond that he’s in a hockey market that can use marquee stars, and even if he isn’t the Jagr of old, he’s still a draw. Put it this way: if given the chance to watch Jagr play today, you would, even if only for nostalgic reasons.
Barring a mid-season extension, Jagr will have a decision to make in the off-season and three choices: stay with the Panthers, head to free agency or hang up his skates. Jagr has already won every conceivable award and it seems unlikely he’ll be chasing another Stanley Cup. With the amount of fun Jagr is having in Florida, maybe he’s found just what he needs at this point in his career. And maybe when he plays his final game, he’ll be doing so as a member of the Florida Panthers.