LET'S GET A FEW uncomfortable facts out of the way first. Jaromir Jagr turns 46 in February. He scored 16 goals last season for the Panthers, the lowest full-season total of his career. Twenty-nine teams have had three months to sign the future Hall of Famer after Florida declined to bring him back, and none have.
Surely, Jagr took a step back from his 27 goals in 2015--16, which earned him the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication. But to suggest he's no longer NHL quality is absurd. There should be a roster spot somewhere for Jagr. Just one team needs to open its eyes.
Sure, Jagr's old, but his commitment to fitness is renowned. He skates wearing ankle weights and a 45-pound vest, and he takes slap shots with a medicine ball. In a recent Instagram post, he was pulling a tractor with a rope and this was the caption: "Easy workout. Can you do it? I don't think so." Jagr didn't miss a game last season. Since returning to the NHL in 2011, after three years in the KHL, he's played in 438 out of a possible 458 games. (Steven Stamkos, the über-talented yet injury prone Lightning center has played in 343 games in that same period.) If any player was going to withstand the beatings of an NHL season at age 45, it would be Jagr.
While Jagr's goals dropped, his 46 points were more in line with his post-KHL production and better than the totals put up by some notable first-liners, including Vancouver's Daniel Sedin (44) and Colorado's Matt Duchene (41). On a good team, Jagr is a quality second-line right wing. He also scored eight power-play goals, his highest total since 2011--12, and more than he scored in his final two seasons with the Rangers, '06--07 and '07--08. That was one more extra-man tally than the Sharks' Patrick Marleau had, and he, now 38, was handed a three-year, $18.75 million contract to move to Toronto. At the very least, Jagr is worth a third-line spot simply to help on the power play, on which his wrist shot from the slot is still lethal.
Jagr's other benefit is intangible. Even as the NHL continues to get faster on the ice, he has kept pace by mentoring the young and the speedy. With the Panthers in 2015--16, he guided a very green team to the best regular-season record in its history. And Florida's Aleksander Barkov, a 22-year-old center who had 52 points last year with Jagr on his wing, has credited No. 68 with his development. He would be invaluable to many rebuilding teams—hello, Islanders and Coyotes—or as a sage on young contending teams, including Toronto, Carolina and Winnipeg.
Jagr has expressed interest in playing for the Czech Republic at the Olympics in February, which he can't do if he has signed with an NHL team, so it's possible he bides his time and uses the Games as a showcase before joining a contender late in the season. But there's no reason he can't help a team now. He could replicate his performance of 2012--13, when he started the season with the Stars, scoring 14 goals in 34 games, before being traded to Boston, where he played top-line minutes on the way to the Stanley Cup finals.
Jagr can still play at a high level. He wouldn't be just a novelty act—mullet wigs sold separately—but a viable and productive part of any team.
That, at least, is worth the $650,000 veteran minimum.
At the very least, Jagr is worth a third-line spot simply to help on the power play, on which his wrist shot from the slot is still lethal.
in career points with 1,914
in career goals with 765
in career assists with 1,149
in games with 1,711