As of writing this, the Florida Panthers sit two points down from Boston in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race, with Philadelphia and Ottawa on Florida’s heels. Barring an epic collapse over the next seven or so weeks, Florida’s only chance to make the playoffs is by staying ahead of Philly and the Sens and overtaking Boston in points.
Welcome Jaromir Jagr.
The Panthers acquired Jagr in a trade with the New Jersey Devils yesterday. While it comes as no surprise that Jagr was traded, the destination to which he was traded does come as a surprise. For so long, the Panthers have been trade deadline sellers, but this year they made a strategic move before the deadline to bring in one of the NHL’s most prolific players.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” said Florida general manager Dale Tallon. “I’m excited about him coming here and just spending some time with him and watching him play. He’s an exciting guy to watch play. He’s still got it.”
Indeed, Jagr does still “got it.” He’s posted 11 goals and 18 assists with a dismal New Jersey team this season, although he hasn’t scored a point in his last eight games. Regardless, for a team on the brink of a playoff berth for the first time in who knows when (okay, okay, it was 2012 where, oddly enough, they lost to the Devils), the acquisition of a player like Jagr is about more than goal scoring and a playoff spot.
It’s also about leadership and a veteran presence in the locker room.
Jagr knows what it takes to win. While his preferences have deferred more toward making money than getting a ring in recent seasons, the truth is that he knows what it takes to go all the way—having won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins in the early-90s. He’s a veteran player who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to a locker room with a lot of young talent and forsaken players.
Jonathan Huberdeau—The Heir Apparent.
Aaron Ekblad—The Next Big Thing.
Nick Bjugsta—The Up-And-Comer.
Roberto Luongo, Brad Boyes, Jussi Jokinen, Brian Campbell—all castoffs considered overrated, streaky, or just not good enough to take a team all the way.
There’s no guarantee that the Panthers will make the playoffs—even with Jagr on board. And there is certainly no guarantee that Jagr will re-sign with Florida in the off-season. At 43, he may opt to spend one more season playing for a contender in hoes of lifting Lord Stanley one more time before he gracefully bows out of the NHL forever. But in the short-term, this type of trade makes sense for the Panthers to bring a highly likely future Hall of Famer into their locker room so their young players can learn from his experience.