Jagr's Last Run
Diminished production may cost Jaromir Jagr a final big payday—unless he can close the season in dramatic style
JAROMIR JAGR'S days in the NHL might not exactly be numbered, but numbers weigh on Jagr's days. The leading European scorer in league history, and 10th on the overall career list after passing Raymond Bourque last month, would trigger a one-year, $8.36 million contract extension if he scores 40 goals or 84 points and his team wins a playoff round. The goals and points seem beyond Jagr's grasp—he was on pace for 22 and 70, respectively, after scoring a goal in the Rangers' 5--0 win over the Panthers on Sunday—and that could lead to his becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Given the 36-year-old Jagr's drop in production from 123 points in 2005--06 to 96 in '06--07, the right wing would command nothing close to the salary that his option would guarantee.
Still there is another possibility, seldom discussed, that could bring Jagr—who signed a seven-year, $77 million deal with the Capitals in 2001—back to the NHL's highest rent district: His option also kicks in if he wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, which would not be the craziest thing to happen in a 16-season career that has seen 10 year-to-year swings of 25 points or more.
"Never rule out Jagr," says a veteran Eastern Conference forward. "He's got a lot left."
This has been easily Jagr's most frustrating season since the Capitals shipped him to the Rangers midway through the 2003--04 season. If the finish line of his Rangers career is approaching, Jagr's ability to finish seems to have deserted him. He has missed yawning nets, has hit the logos of too many goalies. Since Michael Nylander signed with Washington last summer, Jagr, who has scored at least 30 goals every season excluding his rookie year, has failed to develop consistent chemistry with a trio of new centers: Chris Drury (primarily a shooter and a righthanded shot who has to rely predominately on his backhand to pass to a right wing); Scott Gomez (too quick, doesn't play at Jagr's waltz tempo); and rookie Brandon Dubinsky (plays a Jagr-style cycle game but doesn't think hockey on Jagr's elevated plane).
"The centers are an issue," says a pro scout for an Eastern Conference team, "but for me, it's intensity. Some nights he looks like he's going at 75 percent."
That criticism has been leveled periodically at Jagr, but Rangers coach Tom Renney rejects it. "If effort and responsible play added up to points, he'd be leading the league," Renney said after a Feb. 19 game in Montreal. Jagr, however, is clearly not as refreshed as he was after a stint with Omsk of the Russian Super League during the 2004--05 lockout. (Never underestimate the curative power of a Siberian vacation.) Recently he told Russian reporters that he had promised to one day return to Omsk, where he had 38 points in 32 games, and "I keep my promises."
Jagr claims he hasn't thought about next season. "I believe we can make the playoffs and do something great," he said of the Rangers, who were sixth in the Eastern Conference. "In the playoffs, everything starts again. You can be a zero, and then in a week you can be a hero. You just never know."
FREE AT SI.COM Power rankings and up-to-the-minute analysis.
JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES
LINE ITEM Playing at waltz tempo, Jagr hasn't connected with the Rangers' top centers.