Jaromir Jagr has been more than just a "showcase signing" from last summer. He has surpassed the notion of being a "fill-in" in lieu of some guy quitting on the team. Jagr has clearly been the best forward for the New Jersey Devils this season. As of this writing, he is the team's leader in multiple offensive stats with 17 goals, 31 assists, and 149 shots on net. For any player, this is great. For a 41-year old, this is amazing.
Similarly amazing is his Corsi% in 5-on-5 play. According to Extra Skater, he is the best among all Devils regulars in Corsi% (Andy Greene is really close), the percentage of attempts for over attempts against in the most common situation in hockey. It's a remarkable 57.1%, which means that when #68 is out there the play often goes forward. The Devils as a team have been among the league's best in this stat this season. It may be low-event hockey, but when it's happening, Jagr is usually involved. Even those not familiar with the numbers can witness it in game action as Jagr usually maintains control of the puck in deep, creating offense with how he positions himself and reads the play. The high Corsi% means that Jagr isn't just piling up points and shots. Very good things keep happening when he's out there and he's often involved.
Since I'm still impressed at how well Jagr has been playing, I got curious as to who's playing well with him. Hockey Analysis maintains With Or Without You charts throughout the season. With them, we can see who Jagr has played well with, how well Jagr does without the player, and how well the player does without Jagr - all from a Corsi% perspective. There's some slight differences in the numbers - Hockey Analysis has Jagr at 56.8%, which is still fantastic - but the general idea remains the same. After checking Jagr's chart at Hockey Analysis, it appears mostly everyone does well with Jagr.
I've highlighted those who've played over 100 minutes with Jagr in 5-on-5 play. Anything above 50% is good, anything above 55% is really good, and look at Andy Greene and Mark Fayne. When Jagr has #6 and #7 right behind him, great things have happened. Not only does the team generate more shooting attempts, they cut down on the attempts against. That makes sense, there's no need to hang back when you're pushing the play forward. When they are apart, both are still positive but significantly worse. Going from fantastic to very good isn't exactly a cause for alarm. However, if the team needs to "get going" on offense, then it appears that putting Jagr's unit with the Greene-Fayne pairing is the way to go.
That forward unit should also be the common line we've seen for much of this season. Jagr has played with Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus more than any other player. It's easy to see why Peter DeBoer kept with them even when they weren't scoring. They just keep making things happen, which is what you want from a line of forwards. That they've been so strong at getting the puck in deep and not easily losing the puck also helps the defense.
When those three are apart, the strength of Jagr appears. Sure, there's a drop off, but good things continue to happen when Jagr is without Zajac or Zubrus. Likewise, Zajac has been good away from Jagr. But check out Zubrus. He's actually defending more away from Jagr than when he's with them. Recently, we've seen other wingers with Zajac and Jagr. While those haven't necessarily worked out from a possession standpoint with the exception of Patrik Elias - another play-driving machine - Zubrus has been lost so to speak. This is actually a problem with the roster. Zubrus has played very well with Jagr this season, but it's clear that Jagr doesn't need Zubrus. then what does one do with Zubrus? Keep him up with Zajac and Jagr, even though others may provide something similar from an offensive standpoint? Try him with other players to see if something will work out?
Also surprising to see was that there was a player that did not play well with Jagr: Bryce Salvador. This may be a function with the two not playing a whole lot together. But it's a jarring sub-50% value in a list where the second lowest Corsi% is 53.1%. And that value shows that Marek Zidlicky has done well with Jagr, even though Jagr does much better away from him. Probably because instead of Zidlicky, it's Greene and/or Fayne. You'd have to go way down the list to see other sub-50% Corsi percentages with Jagr and it's with players who have played so little with Jagr that it doesn't matter much.
Going back to the captain, the relatively low figure that it makes me wonder why. My first thought is whether the two just don't mesh well. Salvador can really only be expected to keep the puck in on offense and he doesn't really push the play up. He's primarily a defensive defenseman and a slow one at that. With a winger that also isn't fast, doesn't necessarily commit to defense, and wants to seek out offensive plays, the styles just may not work for generating offense. Both players have been better in possession apart than together; more for Jagr than Salvador, obviously. Maybe this would get better with more time, but this chart suggests that it's not recommended.
I come away with looking at Jagr's With Or Without You chart even more impressed. Again, he's not just the team's leader in production but in possession. For all of it's faults, Corsi events represent the byproduct of all of those plays that may or may not end up on the scoresheet. Jagr has been the Devils' best among regular forwards in that department. He's found the most success with Zajac and Zubrus, though he's played well with nearly everyone who's played some significant amount of time with him. Elias has shown to be as good as Zubrus from a possession standpoint and it's easy to argue that Elias is the better player. But while Elias can do good things away from Jagr, Zubrus has not. For roster depth, I would think it's better to have Elias elsewhere but your mileage may vary. When he's on the ice with Greene and Fayne, the play has been especially favorable. It would behoove DeBoer to get Jagr's unit - which I think should include Zubrus - on with that pairing as much as possible should he need offense to happen. Regardless, it's clear that Jagr has been one of, if not, the most valuable Devil this season because of these results. (again, Greene is right up there, too.) Who would have guessed this back in July? I certainly didn't. I continue to be glad that I'm so wrong.