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The New Jersey Devils wild offseason offered up yet another headline Monday when future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr agreed to a one year deal. The 41-year-old Jagr is the third right winger to sign with the Devils this month, joining Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe. The agreement comes in the wake of David Clarkson‘s free agent exit and the shocking retirement of Ilya Kovalchuk. Although Jagr remains capable of contributing in the NHL, he will do little to replace the production of the former Devils’ stars.
The NHL’s active career points leader, Jagr will eventually go down as one of the game’s greatest scorers, but the Czech legend is hardly the fleet footed franchise player that he was in Pittsburgh 15 years ago.
The now sluggish yet strong winger split last season between Dallas and Boston. After a dominant lockout campaign in his native Czech Republic, Jagr started strong with the Stars. He scored 14 goals in 34 games before being traded to Boston. Though he helped the Bruins all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, the goals dried up. The grizzled veteran scored just twice for the Bruins, and he failed to light the lamp in the playoffs.
The one-year deal makes New Jersey Jagr’s fourth NHL team in the last three years. After spending three seasons in Russia’s KHL, he returned to the United States with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011. Since restarting his NHL career he has averaged more than .75 points per game, suggesting that age is a non-factor for the 681 goal-scorer.
However, his arrival in New Jersey is puzzling. The Devils find themselves in a strange transitional period. With Kovalchuk returning to Russia and Clarkson moving to Toronto, the Devils are not likely to contend in 2014. Just one year removed from an Eastern Conference title, the Devils are set for a major overhaul.
The recently acquired Cory Schneider should ensure a smooth transition into the post-Martin Brodeur era which could begin next summer, but the rest of the team still needs a facelift. 37-year-old Patrik Elias won’t be around forever, meaning a new core will be necessary in the immediate future. For a team that should be focused on its long term success, signing a 41-year-old doesn’t make much sense.
Much like the acquisitions of Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe, the Jagr signing suggests a foolish attempt to win now from usually prudent GM Lou Lamoriello. Ryder enjoyed a successful season in 2013, spending the first half in Dallas with Jagr, but at age 33, he may not be able to extend the prime of his career much longer. Clowe on the other hand was abysmal for the Sharks and Rangers.
Rebuilding the right side of their lineup with aging players while neglecting major needs throughout the rest of their lineup could send the Devils into a losing era the likes of which they haven’t seen in decades.
Though Jagr is still a quality player, he won’t be able to do much more than sell tickets in Newark, and at his age he may not be able to do that. He would have been a much better fit for a team on the brink of a deep playoff run.
Perhaps Lou Lamoriello has a secret master plan that will get the Devils back to the top this season, but don’t count on it. He has nabbed a quality puck-possesing winger, but with some rough years likely ahead, what is the point? An investment in youth would make much more sense.
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