With NHL free agency set to officially begin on Saturday, plenty of rumors are flying about deals being cut behind the scenes. But Jaromir Jagr is feeling left out of the process. The 45-year-old free agent winger tweeted this week that zero teams had inquired about his services. As Jagr noted in a moment of self-deprecation, it’s a marked difference from two decades before, when every team in the league seemed to want his signature on the dotted line.
Of course, way back then, Jagr had the limitless potential of a 22-year-old coming off of a 99-point season. Today, he’s long since passed “ageless wonder” status and is well into “it’s weird that this guy hasn’t retired yet” territory. But Jagr is still a useful and productive player, according to a variety of measures. Plenty of teams have reason to pick up the phone and give him a call this summer.
In terms of basic stats, it remains incredible that Jagr is still producing anything at his age. He scored 46 points last season, edging out Gordie Howe — normally the standard-bearer for hockey longevity — for the highest scoring season by a player aged 44 or older. According to Hockey-Reference.com’s Point Shares (PS), no skater in NHL history has generated more value from age 40 onward than Jagr.
By the standards of any age, Jagr was downright great two seasons ago with the Florida Panthers, ranking 16th among forwards with 9.2 PS. Although Father Time caught up with him last year, he still managed to finish 113th with 4.9 PS — roughly the same as twentysomethings Claude Giroux, Michael Frolik and Nathan MacKinnon. For the typical team, that kind of production would warrant a spot on the second line (if not the first!). And Jagr looked even better under the microscope of fancier stats, with a relative Corsi1 (an estimate of how well a player helps his team possess the puck) that ranked ninth-best among forwards who played at least 60 games last season.
That lofty ranking is nothing new for Jagr: Between the 2007-08 and 2015-16 seasons, Jagr ranked eighth among qualified forwards in average relative Corsi according to the advanced stats site Puckalytics.com. With his strength and balance on the puck, Jagr has continually improved the possession rate of his teams (which, if you are keeping count at home, includes the Penguins, Capitals, Rangers, Flyers, Stars, Bruins, Devils and Panthers). And although he’s deep into the part of the aging curve where each additional season should bring a significant decline in skills, it’s hard to believe Jagr won’t be able to help some team in need of forward help next season.
In fact, that team might be the New York Rangers, with whom Jagr spent three and a half mostly productive seasons during a very different phase of his career. The Rangers currently have the least cap space committed to forwards out of any NHL team. They’ve already lost centers Derek Stepan and Oscar Lindberg (who combined for 7.7 PS last year) early in the offseason, and forwards Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast, Brandon Pirri and Tanner Glass (6.9 more combined PS in 2016-17) are hitting the free-agent market as well.
While New York should kick the tires of other veterans, such as center Joe Thornton, Jagr could be a good fit for a team that could use another contributor up front. Besides, Bartolo Colon needs company at the home for elderly athletes making their New York returns.
Eventually, Jagr’s tank will hit empty, and one of the greatest players of all time will have to hang up his skates for good. But for now, Jagr deserves a place on an NHL roster, regardless of his age.