‘Devils in the Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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Back when Jaromir Jagr made his debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990, VHS tapes were the hot rental. In present day 2013, video stores are virtually non-existent.
That’s the remarkable thing about Jagr. He’s been able to adapt over the years to remain a useful top-six forward at the age of 41.
Jagr was able to record 35 points in 45 games in combined duty for the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Not a bad total for a 31-year-old, let alone a 41-year-old.
When he laces up the skates in his seventh NHL stop with the Devils, you will not see the same player who scored goals at will and was one of the rare dominant offensive forces during “The Dead Puck Era.” The market for Jagr shrunk significantly this summer as only four clubs were vying for his services.
“I’m 41 years old, I don’t have many options,” Jagr said during Tuesday’s conference call. “There are not many teams looking for a forward 41 years old, especially with the salary cap going down.”
Still, even considering his advanced age, Jagr is one of the most instinctual players in the league. His skillful hands and quick-thinking haven’t suffered at the hands of time. He still possesses that magic wand of a stick and remains a joy to watch.
What has changed for Jagr is his legs. This was clearly evident during the 2013 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Bruins. His shifts were short and when he was on the ice, he struggled keep up with the play of younger, faster opposition. Jagr also failed to score a goal during the entire playoffs, putting up a goose egg in 22 games. He looked like a boxer who still knew when to throw a punch, but lacked the quickness needed to execute.
Perhaps this was due to Jagr being burned out from playing 105 combined regular season and playoff games during a packed year for HC Kladno, the Stars and Bruins. Maybe he didn’t really lose his legendary magic touch.
“For me, personally, it was the longest season I ever played,” Jagr revealed. “One hundred and five games if you put together Europe and the NHL and the playoffs. That’s the most games I’ve ever played. (This) is going to be a short season.”
When Ilya Kovalchuk defected to the KHL, the Devils lost a dominant presence on the power play. While Kovalchuk only scored two power play goals last season, his outstanding vision and skilled passing abilities resulted in a ton of scoring chances.
Jagr’s six power play goals in 45 NHL games last season proves he still has a lot to offer in this department. It won’t be entirely on Jagr’s shoulders to fill the void left by Kovalchuk’s departure. Gaining Michael Ryder on a market friendly two-year contract worth a total of $7 million was a steal for the Devils.
Ryder scored eight power play goals in 46 games last season in split duty for the Stars and Montreal Canadiens. He knows how to find clear patches of ice and possesses a lethal shot.
Jagr will also help limit the damage of losing David Clarkson, who opted to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on a seven-year deal.
Clarkson’s game was predicated on being a difficult player to shrug off the puck along the boards in the offensive zone. Last season, the Devils were the kings of puck possession. Along with added powerhouse winger Ryane Clowe and re-signed Dainius Zubrus, the presence of Jagr will ensure that the Devils are a difficult team for opponents to contend with in the corners. He’s still an ox along the walls.
In addition to losing Clarkson’s on-ice abilities, the Devils lost an important locker room character. This is another reason why gaining Jagr is vital for the New Jersey. Jagr’s work ethic is the stuff of legend. After games both in the regular season and playoffs, Jagr would skate for hours at an empty TD Garden long after the crowd dispersed — wearing a weighted vest and ankle weights.
During his lone season in Philadelphia, Jagr served as a key mentor to Jakub Voracek. Last season, Voracek went on to put up huge numbers by totaling 46 points in 48 games. Jagr seems to leave a positive influence everywhere he goes, as Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello noted.
“I watched him play the last couple of years and I have never seen someone work so hard,” Lamoriello told the AP. “We know where he is in his career. He brings something. Everyone who has played with him the last couple of years and also the coaches have been complimentary toward everything he has done. There is no question he can help us on the power play.”
Jagr will also make the Devils more colorful in the locker room and practice rink. New Jersey has always been a very business-like team, similar to the style of the Yankees. Jagr has always been a fun guy in the locker room and enjoys cracking jokes with teammates. He’ll ease the pressure during difficult times during the season and keep the atmosphere loose.
Make no mistake, the Devils are gaining a ton of positive attributes by the addition of an aging Jagr. Devils fans are hoping that he can continue to keep “Father Time” in his rear-view mirror and reward Lamoriello for his faith.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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