Wednesday night, the New Jersey Devils reminded anyone who had really gotten their hopes up for a playoff run that the team is still having real difficulty reaching NHL .500. Despite a four game win streak, a great home record, and a goalie who has been dynamite at home, NJ lost to Calgary 3-1. If there was any hope of going on a serious playoff run, that game was vital to the cause. The following day, Lou Lamoriello traded away one of the best offensive players on the team, legend Jaromir Jagr, to Florida for draft picks that will be used to help rebuild this team for future seasons.
Personally, I was thrilled when I heard the news. Jagr had a great year last year and was playing well for a majority of this year, but still as a 43 year old skater, and one who was clearly just a rental for anyone, I did not expect the Devils to receive as much for him as Florida offered. John pondered the fact of whether or not the Devils would have received a first rounder for him after last season, but nonetheless I can't complain about the deal at all from New Jersey's point of view. The only thing that scares me is who the Devils will actually take with those picks, and if they will pan out. I have lost considerable faith in the scouting department over the last decade, but that is a topic for another day.
Despite what I feel to be a positive trade for the Devils, it will be sad to have Jagr no longer be on this team, at least from the perspective of a fan who enjoys watching him play. Jagr, along with others, came to the team to help fill the void left by the departing Ilya Kovalchuk. Say what you want about Kovalchuk, and I agree with most all of what you would say, but he was seriously fun to watch when he was in New Jersey. The electricity that he brought onto the ice whenever he touched the puck was palpable. His speed and ability to skate up the ice and rip a seriously fast shot past an unsuspecting goalie is what made him so valuable. When he left, I was unsure as to where that fun and exciting element would come into play.
Then came Jagr. I knew how skilled he was from just being a fan of hockey, but actually watching him on a nightly basis playing for the team I rooted for, it really showcased to me what he could do with the puck. His ability to maneuver around multiple defenders while still maintaining possession of the puck, and also while not skating really fast, is frankly still incredible. He will get a pass in the offensive zone, and totally slow the play down by controlling the puck around a couple defenders first before passing it or dumping it down deeper into the zone. Of course, if you ever watch Jagr control the puck in the offensive zone, especially on a power play, notice his aversion to passing it back to the point. Sometimes I feel like he would prefer to turn the puck over than give it back to the point, but nonetheless no one can deny that he is an absolute master when it comes to puck handling.
Watching #68 this past year and a half has really been a treat. While he was not able to win games for New Jersey in the playoffs (sadly), nonetheless there were still some real benefits to having him on this team. First, and what I was alluding to in the last couple of paragraphs, is that he made me quickly forget about the show that Kovalchuk used to put on. I could now watch Jagr instead and still be amazed, albeit from a very different play style. He kept the Devils as an interesting team to watch, simply because you never knew when he would do something incredible with the puck. But more so than that, he was still very productive. Last season he produced 24 goals and 67 points in a full 82 game season for the team. That is almost 0.82 points per game, which is wildly productive for anyone over the age of 40. Heck, I would be happy with that from pretty much anyone on the Devils this year, never mind just someone of his age. He has also been a strongly positive possession player too, which only helps his cause.
What makes me a little sad to think about is that if the Devils were a competitive team, there is no doubt that he would be an integral part of the upcoming playoff run for his experience and skill. But alas, it was not meant to be so, and the Devils are not the playoff contending team that we all hoped for. Instead, he will get that chance with Florida, and I hope that he does well there. I would be happy to hear Doc Emerick call Jagr's name this April while competing for the Stanley Cup.
So, while I am thrilled that the Devils made this trade, and that they got the draft picks that they did, I am still sad that I will no longer be able to watch Jagr do his thing as a member of the New Jersey Devils. I can only hope that in the years to come, NJ finds someone else just as exciting to watch.
What did you think about Jaromir Jagr's tenure in New Jersey? Did you get a chance to see him live in action at the Rock, and if so, did you get to see any crazy plays that he created? And while John's post from the other night is an excellent spot to write about your reaction to the trade, you can do so here as well. Thanks for reading.
Jagr's first goal as a Devil:
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All of Jagr's goals from the 2013-2014 season:
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Jagr's hat trick against Philly on 1/3/15:
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Here is the crazy puck handling I was referring to:
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