The Montreal Canadiens and Jaromir Jagr are having very similar seasons: strewn with injuries and failed expectations after disappointing off-seasons.
Jagr was a late signing with the Calgary Flames, where despite decent chances he couldn’t keep himself off the injured list.
Montreal came in with high hopes of returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs, led by their new prize jewel in Jonathan Drouin, while Karl Alzner was added to shore up the defensive unit. Drouin has just started to come into his own, while Alzner seems to have found his feet alongside Jeff Petry. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, this all comes far too late in the year as the Habs sit 10 points out of the final wild-card spot, a major gap to make up for any team with several competitors over the final 33 games.
Jagr was placed on waivers by the Flames today, making him available to other teams across the league. If he isn’t claimed, the ultimate plan is to place him on unconditional waivers with the intent of allowing him to return to Europe.
With the way the Canadiens have played this year, and the fact that Jagr is a player who has stated before he’d love to play in Montreal, there’s potential for a bit of fun in this dreadful season.
For one thing, Jagr has a cap hit of just $2 million, which would be prorated to reflect the remaining time in the season, making him extremely affordable, even without factoring in the Habs’ ridiculous amount of cap space this year. The money would never be the issue, but rather finding where Jagr can play in a Montreal lineup that’s overcrowded with wingers.
The answer is simple really. Despite his age and slower foot speed, Jagr is still a shot-generating and -suppressing standout, something that would fit in on nearly any line in Montreal.
Compared to his peers in a second-line role, Jagr is well above league average in all these categories. It’s worth nothing that while this chart, using data from the last three seasons, doesn’t tell the whole story, it helps paint a picture of a player who can still be valuable to his team.
It’s a smaller sample, but the heat maps show that when Jagr was on the ice, good things were happening in the high-danger areas for the Flames. One of the Habs’ biggest weaknesses this year has been generating scoring chances from inside the slot or around the goalmouth, so adding in a player who specializes in operating in that spot can only help boost the production of his linemates and get the power play moving on a regular basis.
So where can the mulleted man fit in?
Nicolas Deslauriers has played admirably in the top six, but could easily slot back into his fourth-line energy role, and if reunited with Daniel Carr, the duo could provide the offence missing from the bottom six since the former’s promotion and the latter’s removal from the lineup.
This also means one of Byron Froese and Logan Shaw would likely be placed on waivers, giving the Laval Rocket a potential boost on the offensive side of the puck as well.
Giving highly skilled players like Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk a playmaker in the vein of Jagr isn’t a bad idea, as he can help shore up some of their deficiencies that have popped up throughout the year, but the only concern is that with his lack of footspeed he’d be unable to keep up.
So why not try Jagr alongside fellow countryman Tomas Plekanec, while boosting one of Artturi Lehkonen or Brendan Gallagher up a line to play with Drouin and Galchenyuk? Not only are they longtime linemates for the Czech Republic in international competition, they also played for their hometown team of Kladno (Jagr’s most likely final destination) during the latest NHL lockout. Adding a familiar face and friend to his line might help get Plekanec rounded back into his best form, possibly boosting his trade value even more over the next month before the deadline arrives in late February.
Jagr is a versatile asset, and with the Canadiens’ season coming down to playing for pride, it’s worth trying him out on a team that has significantly underperformed on offence. There’s no guarantee it works, but that’s the case with every potential waiver claim. It’s not critical for him to come in and have a major impact on a Habs team essentially eliminated from post-season contention, so why not give the fans something to cheer about?
When the team is fully healthy there is obviously roster shuffling to be done, but if it means the future Hall of Famer can don the CH, even for a little while, it’s worth it. The saga between the two parties has been making headlines since Jagr came back to the NHL from Russia. This is the final chance for that to all come together, with the Canadiens playing for nothing more than pride, and Jagr doing much the same.
And it’s not like a waiver claim of a Calgary Flames castaway has ever gone badly for the Canadiens in the past, right?