As we examine Free Agency in 2013, concerns have been raised among Habs fans about committing significant term and dollars to prospective free agents and handcuffing the Canadiens with a bad contract down the line. With a growing array of talent in the farm system as well, no one seems to like the idea of opportunities being cut off from Canadiens prospects from getting their chance. Still with about $9 million in cap space and 20 players under contract for the 2013-14 season, it would seem foolish to leave that much space open when the team can be made better with a pretty easy addition to the team.
We should also consider that with Michael Ryder having been let go, the Canadiens find themselves in need of replacing a scoring forward, but most agree that generous term and dollars to many of the larger names seems unwise. With that, may I humbly present a simple 1-year contract option for the Montreal Canadiens. He's a future first-ballot player for the Hockey Hall of Fame and he is also known for having one hell of a mullet in his earlier years; this player, of course, is Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr is the best European-born and trained player in NHL history. He has two Stanley Cups, five Art Ross Trophies, three Lester B. Pearson (Now the Ted Lindsay) Trophies, a Hart Trophy and is an 8-time NHL All-Star. Jagr also owns Bronze and Gold medals from Olympic Hockey, and twin Gold and Bronze in IIHF Worlds competition. He is 8th all-time in NHL career scoring, and 5th all-time in playoff scoring.
That is what you might call an impressive resume. Naturally, at 41 years old, Jagr is not the player he once was in his glory days, but since he returned to the NHL in 2011, it is clear he still has a lot more skill than most players in the NHL can ever dream of having. Since returning to the NHL, he has scored 35 goals and 54 assists in 118 games and 18 points in 33 playoff games, which is a better production rate than fellow free agents Danny Briere, Ryane Clowe and David Clarkson, who are all considered potential targets. Jagr has been content so far with signing 1-year deals so he presents the potential scoring level of any of these more risky assets who will be seeking the best possible term they can, without the risk of committing beyond next season.
There are more positives to a Jagr addition, as well, because of how he complements the lineup. The Canadiens are often short of big wingers to allow them to mix the lineup to support David Desharnais who for now, they are committed to keeping on his new 4-year extension. By taking Jagr's puck possession skills and adding them to Desharnais's line they add a very talented winger with size who could also use the advantage of the soft competition and zone starts that the Desharnais line recieves. In fact, signing Jagr for Desharnais's line mitigates what risk there is in taking on the 41-year-old Jagr. He is coming off of two seasons of facing a moderate level of competition on the ice, but on the Desharnais line he goes to simply playing a pure exploitation role. He will not be facing any top defensive forwards or defenders on a consistent basis when he is not on the powerplay, which could even maintain or boost his offensive production with Montreal. Playing on Desharnais's line would also guarantee him to maintain a rate of starting an average of 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone in each game. He'd be facing the easiest competition level he's seen since coming back to the NHL which if anything, would ease worries about longevity over the course of an 82-game season.
Now what would he cost? Jagr's last deal with Dallas came in at $4.55 million. So for the sake of argument, let's say that is the cost; you have to call it a 'win' for Montreal. Consider what Bergevin would have to give out in term to players who have less-than-flattering prospects for maintaining their production long term, I think this is an easy decision if the Habs want to add some short-term help because they feel none of the younger free agents who can help are worth the commitment.
The final question about Jagr is that ever-illusive "character" quotient that I suspect Bergevin thinks too much about, and some people can never shut up about. To question the man's dedication to the game is ridiculous. This is not the case of some player who "had the skills but never tried hard enough," there are seven players in the history of the NHL who have more points than he does. Their names are Gretzky, Messier, Howe, Francis, Dionne, Yzerman and Lemieux. Nobody can put up that kind of scoring without trying, especially when he had about two seasons of his career wiped out by lockouts and spent three years outside of the league. His workout regimen would probably put someone who was out of shape in the hospital (that includes me). Despite the tendency for some media to quickly jump on any reports of a European player 'being a problem,' there hasn't been any theme of the negative influence of Jagr as a teammate for either Philadelphia, Dallas or Boston. Also the final consideration on this is, who cares? If the Canadiens are the very high-character bunch that everyone seems to believe they are, how divisive could a 1-year player be on the team? There are plenty of 'malcontents' who have their names on the Cup in any regard. If the Canadiens are a good character team, Jagr can't possibly interfere with that to any appreciable degree. He will give them what they need to win, points. People can accuse of him being 'all about the money,' but find an NHL player who is not interested in money. They don't exist. The dream addition for so many Habs fans, Vincent Lecavalier proved this point less than 48 hours ago.
Also, it would be a bit nice if the eternally underrated Tomas Plekanec could play with one of his best friends; the team owes him a lot more than many narrow-minded fans and media can possibly understand. It is not a credible reason to sign Jagr of course, but I think it would be pretty cool for Plekanec to team up with Jagr for some powerplay carnage.