If there was one surprise signing since the NHL's free-agency market opened on Sunday it has to be Jaromir Jagr's one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Dallas Stars.
Jagr said after the Philadelphia Flyers were eliminated in the second round that this past season was the most fun he's ever had. He believed during the season, and then after the playoffs, that he would re-sign with the Flyers. When it became clear Philadelphia was going to pursue both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, they told Jagr to wait, but the offer from Dallas came and off No. 68 went. "I just didn't want to wait," Jagr said on a conference call Thursday.
"I want to play for a team when they feel I can help them," he said. "That's the most important thing for me."
The Jagr signing gives Dallas two 40-year-olds in their top-6 forwards after Ray Whitney inked a two-year, $9 million deal on Sunday. Jagr said he wasn't going to sign a deal just to stay in the NHL, he wanted to be a top-6 forward somewhere. He'll get that chance with the Stars and be surrounded by young talent.
"This was more about where the fit was going to be for Jaromir and how we viewed him playing on our team and blending in with the players that we have," said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk on Tuesday. "I think he was really excited about the opportunity and the trust that we had in coming to our team."
In Philadelphia, Jagr was centered by Claude Giroux, and the 24-year-old forward had a career-best 93-point season. It was no secret how much of an influence the old sage had on the young grasshopper.
The relationship Giroux had with Jagr will likely be what Jamie Benn feels should all go right with the Stars. Nieuwendyk said he's played around with his depth chart and currently sees Jagr with Benn and Loui Eriksson. Like Giroux, learning alongside the wily veteran will do wonders for Benn and help take his game to the next level.
"I had a chance to play a lot of young guys last year," Jagr said. "Claude Giroux was probably the most talented player on our team. The thing is, what makes him special is he wants to be the best. He wants to get better and he's willing to listen. I told him I know what it takes to be the best because I felt like I was, probably 10-12 years ago, I thought I was the best in the world. I knew how to get there. I just don't have the tools right now to do it. In that way I can help the young guys, for sure. But the most important thing for the young guys is to listen."
It worked for Giroux and it will work for Benn, who's improved his production in each of his first three NHL seasons. Learning at the hand of a five-time scoring champion who's got a very full trophy cabinet will be beneficial if the dedication is there.
"But there's no secret to the success," said Jagr. "There's hard work. Talent is good, but without the hard work you don't have a chance. You have to work harder than the other guy. You have to be willing to give up a lot. If it were easy everybody would do it. It's not easy. Only one guy can be the best and that's why you have to work the most."
Playing in the Western Conference has always intrigued Jagr. He almost ended up in Edmonton after his final season with the New York Rangers in 2008. But at age 40, Jagr said he's used to heavy travel after his time in the KHL where the shortest trip was almost three hours by plane. "It was totally different plane than what Dallas Stars have. Trust me," he said.
(The Stars, according to Dirk Hoag, will travel the most miles of any NHL team in 2012-13.)
Jagr said this season he'd love to play until he was 50, and being smart with his fitness has helped him stay productive in his golden years of hockey playing. For all of the success he's had in his career, Jagr doesn't want to let the game slip away from him, otherwise he'll know it's time to move on.
"I'm not going to promise you anything," said Jagr. "I can tell you one thing I'm going to give 100 percent to be the best I can be. I just cannot be average. I cannot do it.
"Once I feel I cannot play anymore, I'm not going to play. There's not a chance."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy