Jaromir Jagr is officially no longer a Flame. Now that his days with the Calgary Flames are over, it seems like as good a time as any to ask the question: was he worth it?
It was not a day fans are likely to forget. It was a cool one in early October when Jaromir Jagr, second to Gordie Howe in games played and to Wayne Gretzky in all-time scoring, was introduced to the media and the fanbase as a Flame. The excitement was palpable. A legend was among Calgary Flames fans.
It was a debatable signing, to be sure. Jagr’s resume is impressive, however, he is on the wrong side of 40 years old. His reputation for fitness preceded him (he does 1000 squats a day), but he had not gone through any meaningful preparation for an NHL season. As such, he could not be relied upon to make any sort of immediate impact. He said so himself.
Still, the Flames rolled the dice. At $1 million for the year against the salary cap, it wasn’t the riskiest endeavour financially. But it did come with non-monetary costs and benefits.
So, all things considered, was signing Jaromir Jagr worth it? Let’s look at All Things…
The Calgary Flames enjoyed Jagr’s services for 22 games.
In that span, he scored one goal and contributed 6 assists. That’s a career low for number 68. Conversely, he had respectable possession numbers. His above-50% Corsi and Fenwick percentages indicate that the Flames controlled the puck more than half the time in even strength play with him on the ice.
Perhaps most disappointing to fans, he dealt with two stretches of missed games due to injury. That is uncommon for Jagr, though hardly unexpected for a 45-year-old NHL player. I count myself among fans looking forward to a glimpse of Jagr in a Calgary Flames sweater, only to hear he wasn’t on the roster that night.
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When he was healthy, he was very visibly the slowest guy on the ice. Again, not unexpected. But, for many, seeing an icon of the game look his age must have been disheartening.
I am certain that feeling was lessened watching his board play. When he finally gets there, Jagr can still manage the puck in the offensive zone as well as anyone.
Altogether, based purely upon on-ice play, the Jagr Experiment was a failure. Nobody was expecting him to be the team’s leading scorer. But $1 million should buy more than a single goal and 7 points, particularly if the investment is in a player known for offensive production. Not much can be done about the injuries. However, the speed issues were predictable, if not already known to the team.
On the ice, Jagr was not a wise investment.
Jankowski had a tremendous training camp, leading the team in preseason games played and goals. By all prognostications, he was a lock to start the season in Calgary. Jagr’s signing, unfortunately, made Jankowski the odd man out. He was sent to the Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, almost immediately.
To many, myself included, it was confusing to watch the team demote an offensively-talented young player in favour of spending and extra $1 million on someone older and slower (legend status notwithstanding).
They corrected their error almost immediately. In late October, ironically in response to Jagr’s first injury, the Calgary Flames recalled Mark Jankowski. And there has, as of this writing, been no looking back. In 41 games with the team, Jankowski has contributed 8 goals and 15 points. That is more than double Jagr’s point production, and at a cost against the salary cap that is $75,000 less this year.
Objectively, the team displaced the wrong guy. For this reason, in this category, I have to consider the Jagr Experiment a failure. Jankowski is cheaper, faster and more productive. In addition, putting him at centre and moving Sam Bennett to the wing has added legitimacy to the Flames’ third line (which has since arguably graduated to the moniker: second line).
One must also consider the opportunity cost of Jankowski’s displacement. By that, I mean that he currently ranks 22nd in rookie scoring, well back of leaders Brock Boeser and Matthew Barzal. As a fully-biased fan, I cannot help but wonder how he would rank among that group if he’d only started the year with the team. Put another way, I honestly wonder if Jaromir Jagr has hindered Mark Jankowski’s chances at Calder Trophy consideration.
In consideration of the players displaced by his signing, Jagr was not a wise investment.
Sphere of Influence
Presumably, the overarching objective of signing Jaromir Jagr to the Calgary Flames was to mentor the youth of the team. With youthful players like Jankowski, Bennett, Curtis Lazar and even Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on the roster, guidance seemed necessary. In that regard, I have to think that he has earned his money.
No Calgary Flame more required, or more benefited from, Jagr’s influence than Sam Bennett. The team’s highest ever draft pick has suffered from consistency problems since joining the Flames. As a fan, I saw flashes of brilliance. He was the best player on the ice during the 2017 playoffs, for instance. However, I also saw long stretches where he made no noise at all.
Enter Jaromir Jagr, and things changed almost instantly. Bennett spent more minutes on the ice with Jagr than any other skater during the latter’s 22-game stint. In that time, with Jagr, Bennett’s CF% was 52.63%. Without Jagr, a dramatic 42.42%. Bennett realized the same effect on FF%.
With possession came performance. After some time, and a move to the wing, Bennett began to perform. With 6 goals and 17 points, Bennett isn’t going to break any scoring records. But he has become an active contributor to his line with Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway.
Sphere of influence is largely intangible. Bennett’s play (and perhaps that of Johnny Gaudreau) notwithstanding, Jagr’s influence will be unseen and, for many, unrealized for years. Ultimately, every Calgary Flame had the opportunity to bear witness to the habits and effort required to stay in the NHL for a long time.
Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke would ‘do the Jagr experiment again’. He referred to Jagr’s effect on the team as ‘immeasurable’.
"When a Hall of Famer like Jaromir Jagr tells you, you’re grateful for that advice. You’re like, ‘OK, I’m going to cherish that, I’m going to remember that, I’m going to remember that until I die.” [Jankowski] is going to tell his grandkids about those one-on-ones."
I am compelled by quotes like that, along with those made by other members of the team, to think that Jagr’s influence was ultimately positive for the team. I don’t believe that $1 million against the salary cap was a worthwhile price to pay for such a short run of influence. But I accept the fact that the value of that influence may not come to pass for some time.
All Things Considered…
Jaromir Jagr did not put in a million-dollar effort on the score sheet. He took a roster spot away from a younger faster player. But, he did show a team of young Calgary Flames what it takes to be a player with longevity. He showed them all how to compete. And that has value.
The rest is up to them.
Good luck in Kladno, Jaromir.