Jagr should effect Florida's playoff quest
Dan Di Sciullo - NHL Editor|
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There will be no shortage of deals between now and the trade deadline on Monday, but it's unlikely any of them will match the recent move made by Florida for pure excitement.
The Panthers, a surprise competitor for a playoff spot this season, decided to make a big splash Thursday when they plucked ageless winger Jaromir Jagr from the New Jersey Devils for a pair of draft picks.
It's an odd situation when the Devils are the club selling ahead of the deadline while the Panthers are gearing up for a playoff run, but that's where we are at in 2014-15.
Now, New Jersey isn't actually completely out of the running in the Eastern Conference, but it is running six points behind the Panthers, who are two behind Boston for the final wild card spot. Considering Jagr is a 43-year-old forward in the last year of his contract, Devils boss Lou Lamoriello isn't wrong to look past this season and focus more on the future.
While the Devils get a second-round pick in 2015 and a conditional third- rounder in 2016 in exchange for Jagr, the Panthers get a guy with tons of experience who has proven to be a great influence on younger players during his NHL renaissance of the last few seasons.
More importantly, the Panthers get to show their often lukewarm fan base that they are not content to remain stuck in a mode of perpetually rebuilding. Florida has made the playoffs only once over the past 13 seasons when it lost to New Jersey in the opening round of 2012, and general manager Dale Tallon knows the club has to try and capitalize whenever it has a chance to make the postseason.
"We're buyers," Tallon said. "We're committed to winning. That's what (owner Vinnie Viola) has said all along and what we've said all along. We want to win. We want to win a championship. We're putting the pieces together, step by step, and we're hopeful that Jaromir can lead these young guys to the promised land. It's a win-win for us."
They may have been saying it all along, but it's understandable why some will roll their eyes at the notion the Panthers are going for it all. Jagr adds excitement to Florida's push for the playoffs, but to say he makes the Cats a Stanley Cup contender at his age is a pretty big stretch.
However, it is reasonable for Tallon to suggest Jagr could help some of Florida's younger players learn the right way to do things. Guys like forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, could benefit greatly from practicing with Jagr and picking the Czech legend's brain.
A few years ago, when Jagr returned to the NHL by signing with the Philadelphia Flyers after a stint playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, he was a great resource for some of the younger players.
Jakub Voracek was one of the Flyers players who credits Jagr for setting a great example and showing him what it takes to be an elite player in the NHL. Voracek, now 25, has improved his game steadily every season since Jagr left Philly and is currently in the running for the NHL scoring title.
Jagr's work ethic and training regimen has become the stuff of legend. It can't hurt Florida's younger players to get an up-close and personal look at what he goes through to stay relevant in a game dominated by kids who are nearly half his age.
"That's what I want as the lesson for our young guys: to compete hard, that we're in the playoff hunt, and if we make it, great," Tallon added. "If we don't, at least they've had a taste of it and then we're looking forward to the following years ahead of us."
A more tangible and immediate benefit of adding Jagr, however, would be for him to help the Panthers' struggling power play, which is third from last in the NHL rankings. Jagr's ability to hold onto the puck and use his powerful lower half to shield it from the opposition has always been an asset while skating with the man advantage. With the race for the last playoff spot such a close one, an improved Florida power play could mean the difference between getting into the postseason and sitting at home watching on TV.
From where Tallon is sitting, there is little risk in this move. Florida has acquired a glut of talented prospects in recent years thanks to missing the playoffs year after year, so giving up a few picks to the Devils is not a big deal.
And if Jagr doesn't help get the Panthers over the top in this season's chase for the postseason, at least his young players will get the opportunity of a lifetime. Perhaps the grizzled veteran can help set their careers on a better path the way he did with Voracek in Philadelphia.
If it does work and Florida makes its second trip to the playoffs in over a decade, then the plan is to bring Jagr back for another year or two.
"I'd love to see him play another year or two here. That's what his goal is," Tallon said. "His fitness level is second to none. That's what we want him to do. We want him to play well the next 20 games-plus and then have another solid year with us next year. That's the plan."