Jaromir Jagr. Image by: Getty Images
Jaromir Jagr was slated to play Saturday for his hometown team in the Czech Republic, but that will no longer be the case amidst reported NHL interest.
Remember that whole thing about Jaromir Jagr playing this weekend? Well, you can strike it from the record because it appears the Jagr Watch is set to ramp up in the days leading up to the 2017-18 NHL season.
On Tuesday, it was reported by Czech outlet Denik Sport that Jagr, who had previously mentioned the possibility of suiting up for his hometown team Kladno in the Czech League’s second division, was in line to do just that Saturday. The game was Kladno’s second of the season after a Wednesday season-opening tilt and Jagr, who is part-owner of the club, was said to have potential to suit up for the team even if he showed up right before game time. As it turns out, though, Jagr is going to be held out of action. Not because he’s not ready to play or doesn’t have a spot in the lineup, mind you, but because of potential NHL interest.
That’s right: according to Denik Sport’s Zdenek Janda, Jagr has decided against playing, and the belief is it’s because NHL clubs with interest in the 45-year-old winger aren’t too keen on him playing and potentially injuring himself as the season approaches.
It’s true, too, that the lone drawback of Jagr playing for Kladno on Saturday was the risk of injury. Though Jagr has remained relatively healthy throughout his entire career — he played all 82 games last season for the Florida Panthers and has missed only 11 games in the past five campaigns — sustaining any kind of injury now would surely put a halt on any contract talks. Otherwise, playing for Klando was a fairly foolproof idea. He owns the team, so leaving at a moment's notice would be no issue. While Kladno plays second division hockey, it would allow Jagr to stay in game shape. And, though it seems unnecessary, he could have a few big games and prove again that he’s more than capable of playing this season.
That Jagr isn’t playing, however, would seem to indicate there’s at least some interest from an NHL club and potentially some traction towards a deal. And one club that could have interest is the St. Louis Blues.
On Thursday, the Blues held a press conference in order to address the knee injury that would sideline Robby Fabbri for the entire 2017-18 season, and, during the proceedings, GM Doug Armstrong was asked about the potential of finding someone on the open market to fill Fabbri’s spot. More specifically, Armstrong was asked if this was a Jagr-sized hole, to which the Blues GM replied thusly: “(Jagr’s) a great player. Certainly someone that we’ve talked internally about, as we’ve talked about a number of players. We’re going to have to really dig deep into how our style of play is and what type of players can come in and complement our style.”
And doesn’t Jagr seem the type to fit that St. Louis style? He’s not Fabbri, which is to say Jagr isn’t going to burn defenders with his speed and he’s not the drive-outside-cut-back-and-dish type anymore. What Jagr is, though, is a supreme possession player, strong on his skates and a pure scoring winger. He may not be a top-tier player anymore, and it’s well within reason to believe, if healthy, Fabbri would be able to outscore Jagr, but Jagr did still manage 16 goals and 46 points last season on a poor Panthers squad. He could do some damage in St. Louis.
In terms of role, Jagr would be a fit, too. He’s a natural winger and could more than make up for any lost production on the power play. Jagr has 13 goals and 24 points with the man advantage over the past two seasons, numbers that best Fabbri’s six goals and 17 points even at a per-game rate. Add in the injury losses of Alexander Steen, Zach Sanford and Patrik Berglund and there’s even more reason for the Blues to consider adding another top-nine forward such as Jagr to the mix.
The biggest issue, however, is cap space. At present, the Blues are projected by CapFriendly to have roughly $2.2 million to spend before they hit the upper limit. Jagr has earned at least $3.5 million on each of his past three contracts and had bonuses that took him to at least $4 million per season in each of the past five years. Jagr made it clear earlier this off-season, too, that he only wants to sign if it’s with a team that commits to him enough financially that he’ll be given a fair shake if he stumbles at any point in the season. Something in the $3-million range would certainly do that.
So, how does St. Louis make that work? Through long-term injured reserve. Both Fabbri and Sanford won’t be back anytime soon and both are LTIR eligible, and putting both on LTIR at the start of the season could give St. Louis enough wiggle room to ink Jagr to a $3 million-plus deal.
There is also the matter of the reported signing of Scottie Upshall, however. Nothing has been made official by the Blues, but bringing back Upshall would mean St. Louis has filled at least one spot on the wing and quite possibly the spot that could have belonged to Jagr. The familiarity with Upshall, who spent the past two seasons in St. Louis, gave him an inside track on Jagr, as does the fact he will reportedly be inked for less than $1 million.
Even if Upshall has taken Jagr’s place, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean the NHL door is slammed shut. The Blues were one option, but other teams could be looking at bringing the veteran aboard as camps come to a close. The Calgary Flames have repeatedly been mentioned as a team that has had talks with Jagr, and there are a number of organizations thin on the wing with cap space to spare that might realize a late off-season addition is just what the doctor ordered.
As long as Jagr remains without a contract overseas, and as long as there is time before the start of the campaign, he’ll continue to draw interest. And, if we’re lucky, someone will bring one of the game’s living legends back into the NHL fold so he can give chase to a few more pieces of history.
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