Every summer, you'll hear endless rumors about how teams are considering going after a big name free agent and most of them aren't worth paying attention to because they don't have much substance. This is especially true for rumors involving the Hurricanes this year with the team being tight on cap space and the free agent class being being thin. Despite that, Carolina's name has been involved in plenty of rumors and one player who they are supposedly trying to sign is future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.
Since the first day of free agency, it's been mentioned that the Hurricanes have been talking to a "big free agent" forward and are considering bringing him in on a one year deal. With the free agent class being as thin as it is, there are only a couple of "big names" available and Jagr is definitely one of them. The signing of Alexander Semin last year showed that Jim Rutherford isn't afraid to make a big signing to improve the team, so it's likely that Jagr is this "big" free agent that the Canes have been eye-balling over the last few days.
However, if the Hurricanes want to land someone of Jagr's caliber, then it probably means that they will have to clean some cap space in order to make it happen. I mentioned in my overview of the Hurricanes cap situation that the team had room to make at least one minor move, but bringing in someone on a non-bargain deal would involve trading or cutting ties with one of their own players to make room for him. Jagr made $3.3 mil and $4.55 mil. in his last two deals respectively, so his price range will probably stay in that area. If he does end up costing that much, then it could mean that the Canes will have to make more than one move to clear space for him.
This is where bringing Jagr in becomes dicey. There is no doubt that Jagr can still play and he would be a huge boost to the Canes top-nine forwards. The problem is that the Hurricanes would be risking part of their future & subtracting a part from their team just for one year of Jagr's services. Jagr might be one of the best forwards to play in the NHL over the last two decades, but it's doubtful that what they would get from Jagr next year would be worth trading away possibly multiple assets just to acquire him, especially at his age.
That's a dilemma the Hurricanes will have to decide for themselves if they are indeed pursing Jagr, but one thing that keeps going through my mind is whether or not Jagr is even a fit with Carolina. They don't have a lot of room in their top-six right now, especially at right wing and have put more focus on rebuilding the team's defense this off-season. Is there any harm in signing Jagr? Absolutely not, but a player really needs to be a difference maker if you're considering moving assets just to acquire him. At 41, Jagr can still be a difference maker but it's still tough to project where he would be in the lineup.
Is there a place for Jagr in Carolina's system? We'll look at both sides of the situation after the jump.
What I'm going to do here is take a good cop/bad cop approach and look at why the Hurricanes would want Jagr and why they should stay away form him.
Why Jaromir Jagr is a fit in Carolina
Don't let his boxcar numbers in the playoffs fool you, Jagr is still a player who is a threat to put the puck in the back of the net on a regular basis. He posted very high scoring rates at even strength in each of the last two seasons and had no issue with keeping up with players such as Jamie Benn & Claude Giroux. I know there are a lot of concerns about his age, as there should be, but Jagr appears to have plenty of gas left in the tank. The Hurricanes need depth scoring, and he is someone who can provide it one way or another. The only issue is that the Canes have three right wingers set in the top nine with Alexander Semin, Tuomo Ruutu & Patrick Dwyer, However, placing Jagr on the third line in and bumping Dwyer down to the fourth line shouldn't be that big of a problem since that bolsters the team's depth overall.
Jagr is also someone who contributes in other areas beyond the scoresheet. Driving the play forward is something he has been excellent at over his entire career and that did not change one bit over the last two seasons. His skating isn't what it used to be, but he can still hound the puck and win battles along the boards better than most guys int heir prime can. All of this makes him a fantastic player at controlling puck-possession and making the Hurricanes a better team at even strength. Jagr is also capable of making every player around him better, so he may not be completely out of place in a third line role with Carolina.
His defensive game is almost non-existent but it is almost never an issue because his teams always seem to have the puck whenever he is on the ice. This along with his ability to draw penalties are slightly underrated aspects of his game and both would be great additions to the Hurricanes. Combine this with his slick play-making skills and dangerous shot on the powerplay and you have yourself a pretty lethal offensive player, even at 41 years of age.
Signing Jagr would add more top-end talent to a Carolina team that already has some pretty great forwards on their roster, which could go a long way in the new conference. It would also give the Hurricanes a little insurance with Semin & Ruutu having injury concerns. However, Jagr is not a perfect fit despite everything he brings to the table.
Why Jagr is not a fit for Carolina
Most of the reasons why Carolina would steer clear of Jagr relates to their salary cap issues and the fact that they would have to move a player to make room for him. Yes, they had to pay a lot of money to get Alexander Semin last year, but Semin had future potential while Jagr will probably be in Carolina for only one year if they do sign him. That kind of forces the Hurricanes into more of a "win now" mode and it's uncertain that what they get from Jagr would be worth risking part of the future for.
There are only a few select players who can still play terrific hockey in their 40's and while Jagr is definitely in that class, his age is still a concern. He has done enough to prove that he can still play, but can he keep it up over an 82-game season is the question. Jagr has stayed pretty durable over the last couple of years, so I'm not concerned about injuries but fatigue is another story. All players get old and only so few of them have been able to play at this level past their 40's birthday, so Jagr's endurance will be put to the test next year if he stays in the NHL.
It is also tough to figure out where Jagr would fit in the lineup if the Canes do sign him. Would he be in the top-six here or would he be content with playing on the third line to help break in some of the younger players? The Hockey Analysis link above shows that Jagr elevated the play of just about all of his linemates over the last two years, but he will probably see a bit of a downgrade on Carolina's third line next year. Unless Elias Lindholm makes the team, he probably won't be playing with someone as talented as Claude Giroux or Jamie Benn on Carolina's third line next year. So, Jagr's skills will be tested along with his endurance.
One final thing worth mentioning is that the Hurricanes lost two penalty killing forwards this off-season in Tim Brent & Tim Wallace and were going to need to improve their PK one way or another. Jagr's defensive play at even strength isn't a concern, but he does absolutely nothing to help the PK. Carolina might be better off signing a cheaper forward who can score and be trusted on the PK to take some pressure off Jordan Staal. Taking a chance on Jagr would be putting their eggs in one basket and hoping it works out from the sounds of things.
The Final Verdict
In the end, you're left with quite a conflict. On one hand, Jagr adds more top-end talent to the team and gives the Hurricanes forward depth an amazing boost that no other available UFA can provide. On the flip side, Jagr isn't going to come cheap and it might not be wise to spend more money on the offense when the defense still needs help. There is probably going to be a split decision on what the Hurricanes should do because while they need to improve, Jagr might not be the ideal candidate for them this off-season. Although, there is certainly no harm in bringing him on board.