The Dallas Stars did something no one in the hockey world ever imagined would be possible this week, signing NHL legend Jaromir Jagr to a one-year contract worth $4.55 million. While the some bristled at the thought of paying the 40-year old Jagr that amount of money -- an amount that effectively kept most teams out of the bidding -- it makes perfect sense for a Dallas Stars team with money to spend and the need to create a positive vibe about the franchise and a renewed sense of dedication to success.
The buzz over signing Jaromir Jagr has been palpable this week, creating a sense of excitement we haven't seen in quite some time in this part of the hockey world. Jagr is the 8th leading scorer in NHL history with 1,653 points in 1,346 games and has proved to not just be a great goal-scorer -- but one who is still more than capable of being effective this late in his career.
Jagr's track record speaks for itself, a player who was perhaps the best in the world throughout the 1990's and for many, their favorite NHL player that wasn't on their own team. Yet the Stars are signing Jagr in what could be the final season of his NHL career, as his physical tools are nowhere near what they once were and putting up 50 points in the NHL would be considered an incredible success.
Yet the Dallas Stars didn't sign Jagr for his in on-ice impact alone, as significant as it might be this season. It's what he will do for this team off-the-ice that could become much more important.
Jagr was a vital part of the Philadelphia Flyers last season, signing with the team after a very odd courtship with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Scoring 19 goals and 54 points overall on the season, many were surprised to see Jagr find such success after three years in the KHL. Yet he tailed off towards the end of the season, admitting himself that his conditioning did not properly prepare him for the long season as it felt it would. While Jagr's lack of production late in the season was a bit frustrating and alarming, it's the impact he had on the team as a whole is what is going to have the biggest lasting impact on that franchise.
And that is exactly what the Dallas Stars will be getting from Jagr.
Jagr was instrumental in mentoring Claude Giroux this past season, the breakout superstar for the Flyers who put up 93 points playing alongside the future Hall of Fame player, as well as Scott Hartnell. Giroux has stated time and again, both during the season and after, that Jagr was a big part of his growth as a player because of the lessons he was able to learn about how to prepare for the on-ice game, off the ice.
Jagr has become legendary for his practice habits, staying on the ice longer than most other players and asking for a key to the Flyers practice facility last season so he could have access at any time he needed. His off-ice preparations have helped him continue to be one of the top players in the world, despite what was obviously a late-season dropoff last year in Philadelphia. According to Jagr, however, he learned his lesson last year and will be amended his training regimen to better prepare himself for the long season.
It is this sort of approach that will have the biggest impact on the Dallas Stars, especially as a player who has become known as the consummate professional in the locker room and the media and more than willing to embrace the mentor role with the younger players -- this time having the same opportunity to do so with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson, among others. Benn is a player with all of the tools to be an extraordinarily special player in the NHL, yet it seems he could certainly use guidance in how to transfer that skill from on the ice, to off the ice where the team is obviously building him up to be the face of the franchise.
When asked about his time mentoring Claude Giroux last season and how that might apply to Jamie Benn and others this year, Jagr was quick to discuss the fact that it wasn't just his mentoring that aided Giroux -- it was his inherent desire for improvement and hard work that made the difference.
"I had a chance to play with a lot of young guys the past few years and Claude Giroux was the best player on that team," said Jagr. "What makes him special is he wants to be the best, he wants to improve and he's willing to listen. I told him, I know what it takes to be the best because I felt that 10, 12 years ago, I was the best. I just don't have the tools right now to do it -- but in that way I can help the young guys."
Jagr would continue, revealing the secret to what he believes is the true secret to becoming the best hockey player possible.
"The most important thing is, for the young guys, is to just listen," Jagr would say. "There's no secret to success, it's hard work. Talent is great but without hard work you don't stand a chance. You have to work harder than the other guys and you have to be willing to give up a lot. If it were easy everyone would do it and it's not easy, only one guy can be the best. You just have to work to be the best."
If players like Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson are willing to show the same dedication to hard work and practice, then this could be another perfect chance for Jagr to mentor two young players to becoming even bigger superstars than they are now. Benn, while showing the talent to be the cornerstone of the franchise for years to come, still has a ways to go before he's that complete of a player that the Stars need him to be. This is where Jagr's presence will be felt the most.
That hard work that Jagr mentions is one of the reasons he's been able to continue to play this late in his career and not only play, but be extremely effective in a top-six role. His dedication to practice was evident when talking to the media yesterday as he was careful in choosing his words when asked about the possibility of needed to possibly take games off in order to stay fresh during the season. The Stars did this at times with Brad Richards and have done the same with players like Brenden Morrow and Stephane Robidas -- giving the veteran players time off in order to stay as healthy as possible. It doesn't sound as if Jagr is ready for the same treatment.
"I work so hard during the season, during the practices, that the games are a lot easier than the practices," said Jagr. "That's why I try to work so hard during the practices, so that during the game you can have fun. I love the game, I don't know how I can take a day off. If I know I'm not going to play I'm going to go twice as hard during the practice. I'm probably going to work harder, I would probably go twice on the ice."
It's been considered that Jagr's practice habits could actually be a hindrance, that if he would take some time off from his practice regimen he'd be able to stay more fresh late in the season . Yet Jagr's ability to stay healthy and effective has also been because of his practice habits and when asked about the idea of taking off practices, Jagr practically scoffed at the idea.
"If you don't practice, you cannot play," Jagr said with a laugh. "That's how I think, but everyone's different. If someone can show me that you can play good without a practice, I'll follow it. But I don't think there's anyone that was born like that."
The Stars have been in desperate need of a player like Jagr in the locker room, that legendary veteran presence that will help transition this franchise to a new future centered around a number of young players. More importantly, his presence alone adds validity to a team in need of a new identity and direction after four years of mediocrity and stagnation. The Stars will be using Jagr to help sell this team to fans this season and his impact on the ice will be expected to help improve upon the disappointment of the past few years.
If nothing else, Jagr is a sign the Dallas Stars are committed to winning this next season -- and focused on the future. Jagr may be here for just one season but, like in Philly, his presence will be felt for years to come.
Finally, here are some thoughts on Jagr from Travis Hughes, who covered the Flyers this past season and had some very detailed opinions on the legend coming to Dallas.
I don't think keeping up with younger linemates should be an issue for him at all. He's not as fast as he once was, of course, but I think the transition back to North America after playing the more-open, more-skating-heavy European game benefited him last season.
One thing he proved is that while he might not be as fast, he can definitely skill control the puck better than anybody in the NHL. He's extremely strong on his skates and on the puck -- he almost never (seriously, never) loses a puck battle and can draw in multiple defenders without losing possession. Playing with Claude Giroux, it was a pretty common formula for Jagr to do just that and dish off to one of the game's best scorers. Points for everybody!
I'm not sure I'd expect Jags to play a full 82 game schedule. I'd expect him to play less than the 73 games he played last season, as he's suffered from some groin problems and that's probably just from wear and tear. (Tough to say that without laughing -- I'm 12 years old.)
But then again, he does have a pretty insane workout regimen. He actually had his own key to the Flyers' practice facility last year and would go skate by himself at night, usually with ankle weights on. If he cuts back on the insane workouts like that, it might actually benefit his longevity more than it hurts his overall strength. I have no idea how the travel will impact him, but there's no doubt it'll be different. The Flyers have the easiest travel in the league, and as you know, the Stars have the toughest.
The biggest benefit the Stars could get from Jagr is his example, though. He's an awe-inspiring figure. I caught myself staring at him the first few times I saw him in person last season, and I imagine most of the young players on the team will do the same. He has an infectious attitude though and everything about him rubs off on the rest of the team. You could see it most notably in Claude Giroux last season, but every single player on the Flyers benefitted from his work ethic and his general positivity around the team last year. It was pretty awesome to witness. I'd have to imagine he'll have the same kind of impact on the Stars.
Overall, I think it's a pretty great deal for both sides. The Stars needed to reach the salary floor and they're probably overpaying for Jagr a bit, but ultimately I think they'll get their money's worth.