There’s never a dull moment in Montreal when it comes to the Habs, even when the 2010-2011 edition is firmly entrenched in a summer dirt nap. We have a constant stream of stories to dissect and flog to death, and this off-season is no exception.
Pierre Gauthier has presented with an opportunity that would make John Ferguson, Jr. drool with envy: the chance to sign an over-the-hill mercenary. Given the credentials of this particular mercenary, I’d consider it if he wanted to come for REAL cheap, for one year, and as a third liner/power play specialist but I don’t think this mercenary is down with any of that. In any scenario, Jaromir Jagr probably wants a multi-year deal, and clearly would only sign after being promised significant ice time with a given team’s top offensive talent.
We can concoct any number of reasons as to why it would or wouldn’t work in Montreal, but one fact that I personally can’t ignore is the sincerity of a guy who’s doing his negotiating and leveraging through the media. Giving a potential short list of NHL teams he’d be willing to play for (NYR, PIT, MTL) just smacks of putting a bunch of male betta fish together in the same bowl and seeing who comes out on top. And by on top, I of course mean reaching deeper in to his pockets. Jagr is trying to play teams against one another, if not leagues against one another. Frankly I don’t think he wants to play in the NHL at all where he will surely get less money and less playing time than he would get in the KHL. The idea of a one last romp for the future hall of famer is cute and will have many fans dreaming of the flowing mullets of days gone by. Leave it in the past where it belongs; we can always look fondly back on pictures like this and romanticize about the phenomenal skills that Jagr brought to the rink.
As far as the player himself, circa 2011, I don’t think he has the legs, stamina or desire to compete as a 2-way forward in a Jacques Martin system. For the same reasons I don’t think Kovalev and Martin would have worked, I don’t think Jagr would work, either. It’s just that cut & dry for me.
But I’m willing to look at the other side with an open mind and see how and where Jagr would fit. Assuming for a second that Habs GM Pierre Gauthier pulled the trigger on the former NHL superstar, how would this affect the roster? Well for starters, it would likely mean that given their chemistry, Jagr would be paired with Plekanec at center, and Cammalleri on the opposite wing. This bounces Max Pacioretty or Andrei Kostitsyn down to the line featuring Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Would YOU want either of those guys playing on the black hole that is Scott Gomez’ wing? Would you even want to take the chance that Gomez just had a bad year and will bounce back? Think long and hard about that one. The other option is to put Jagr with Gomez…but there isn’t enough bleach in the world to dissolve that horrifying vision from my head. The only scenario in which this could work is to pair Jagr with Lars Eller on the 3rd line. But then we come full circle to the argument that Jagr likely wouldn’t want third line ice time & duty. If Gomez struggles again in the first half of the season, Eller could very well supplant him as the team’s full time second line center, but then we arrive back in the situation where Jagr is back where he can no longer play – among the top 6 forwards.
You may have also noticed a missing name from that list: Andrei Kostitsyn. Now, I’m fairly certain that the majority of Habs fans would cut Kostitsyn loose at the drop of a hat. They would not lose a wink of sleep if he ended up elsewhere next season as many have had enough of his see-saw performances. But I believe that as a cost-controlled RFA, he’s in the Habs plans for 2011-12, and he will once again figure in to the top-6. His final 20 regular season games salvaged an otherwise subpar season, and his physical presence cannot be dismissed. In other words: something would have to give if Jagr were brought in…but what? Jacques Martin is not the most creative coach in the world, and I can’t see him meshing with a wild card like Jagr.
I believe that the Habs are closer to Cup contention than most people think. It’s not that outlandish a thought when you get right down to it. They have the goaltending. With Markov and Gorges back in the picture, they have the main ingredients on the blue line. Up front, they’ve got to add some grit and size with skill, but beyond that, this is a fairly complete team with as good a shot as anyone. With some health next year, a key trade deadline acquisition or two may be the final pieces…maybe at that point Jagr would work to shore up the power play, but then again, he’s such a big name you’ve got to wonder what his presence does to a locker room at that point of the season?
But to me the Habs biggest and most glaring problem is even strength scoring, and I really, really can’t see Jagr as the answer to that problem. The Habs were ranked 15th out of 16 among playoff teams this year. They ranked near the bottom of the 30-team NHL in terms of even-strength scoring. Jaromir Jagr still has hands and he still has some ability to produce offense. But in a defense-first Jacques Martin system, how would a guy who has never adhered to a “system” fit in?
In the end, bringing in Jagr is too much of a gamble. He’s another ill-fitting piece to a puzzle that doesn’t need what Jagr has. Jaromir Jagr is like a denver boot to the Habs lineup. Just say no.