Jaromir Jagr is doing what Ponce de León couldn’t do over 500 years ago: Locate the Fountain of Youth in Florida.
Seriously, who saw this one coming? Jagr hadn’t scored a point for the New Jersey Devils in the eight games leading up to his trade to the Florida Panthers. His 29 points in 57 games had him on track for his lowest points-per-game in his 1,544-game NHL career.
When the Panthers acquired him, the best case scenario was a boost to the power play and put some extra fannies in the seats for an improbable playoff run. Well, Jagr made a better case: 12 points in 14 games, turning the team’s top line with Jonathan Huberdeau, 21, and Aleksander Barkov, 19, into an offensive juggernaut.
Yes, two players who were years away from entering the world when Jagr was debuting with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two players that, combined, don’t equal Jagr’s 43 years on Earth.
The trio has 13 goals and 38 points in 14 games since the Jagr trade. The line is clicking thanks to Jagr’s leadership and … well, his assets. From the Sun Sentinel:
Huberdeau said, "He told us that, he said, "I'm going to hold onto it until you're kind of open.'"
There may be a temptation to stand around and watch the master work with the puck. Jagr has a knack for playing keep-away from defensemen that hasn't diminished with age. "He's so big. I think he just puts his ass out to try to protect the puck and nobody can get to him," Huberdeau said with a chuckle. "He's really strong and he's really patient with the puck. That's why I like to play with him."
The fancy stats show that, too. With Jagr, Huberdeau (55 percent Corsi-For, 5v5) and Barkov (55.3) are possession machines; without him, Huberdeau (51.6) and Barkov (51.5) come back down to Earth.
So Jagr’s become the first old fart to move from the Northeast to Florida and actually become more productive. Great … so can he drag the Panthers to a playoff spot?
Tuesday night’s game at the Boston Bruins will determine whether the Panthers have reason to believe. They have two games remaining against the current Eastern Conference wild card team, including a game in Sunrise on April 9.
The Panthers have 85 points with six games left. The Bruins have 89 points with six games left. Florida has to sweep their games against Boston, and then get a little more help as the Bruins (35 ROW) have an insurmountable lead over Florida (27) in regulation or overtime wins.
But it all begins tonight, as the Panthers should get Roberto Luongo back; and as it has since he arrived in Florida, it all begins with Jagr.
"I said they are going to surprise the league. In two years they may win the Cup, the way they play," Jagr said on Monday. "I'm glad I'm on this team."
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