Jaromir Jagr contacts the Red Wings, but should they really take a chance on him?

By Mike Suggs

News broke two days ago that Czech forward Jaromir Jagr is trying to make an NHL comeback, and that the Detroit Red Wings are one of the teams he is interested in playing for.  One of the initial reports came from Ansar Khan at MLive.com.  He reported that both Jagr, and his agent Peter Svoboda, contacted the Wings about the possibility of Jagr playing in Detroit next season.

Jagr’s last year in the NHL was the 2007-2008 season, when he scored 25 goals and 46 assists for 71 points in 82 games.  He has since spent the last three seasons in the KHL, where he continued to be about a point per game player.  This year he scored 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 points in 49 games.

It’s clear that Jagr still has some game left in him, but the $1 million dollar question for Detroit remains, is it really worth the risk?  After all, Jagr is 39 years old, and turns 40 in February.

Detroit tried a somewhat similar experiment last year, signing Mike Modano, and it’s safe to say that deal did not work.  Also, Red Wing fans are all too aware of the fact that Jagr is coming from the KHL.  This is important, because Jiri Hudler also spent a productive year in the KHL, and when he came back, he was inconsistent and out of the play.  Wings fans are not going to want Jagr here if he is going to succumb to the same fate.

In all fairness however, there are some differences between these situations that need to be accounted for.  First of all, Mike Modano’s career was already on the decline before he came to Detroit.  The Red Wings were a one last shot at glory for him, and it just didn’t work out, not that it was necessarily his fault (he couldn’t help getting a freak wrist injury two months into the season).

Jagr is still producing at a point per game pace, and is slightly younger than Modano was when the Wings signed him.  The second difference is, as good a secondary scorer as Hudler can be, he is not Jaromir Jagr.  Jagr is a former league MVP, and is the highest scoring European player of all time.  The natural talent differential is obvious.

Hudler had a rough transition back to North America, but considering Jagr is a completely different player, he may not have those same struggles.

With Jan Mursak basically already given a roster spot due to his one way contract, and there already being the possibility of one of Detroit’s forwards being the victim of their log jam of NHL caliber forwards, this may cause a second player to be given the short end of the stick.  Since Jagr is on record as saying he only wants a one year deal, is it really worth it?  My answer is no……for now anyways.

Detroit’s first and only priority right now should be defense.  First they need to find out whether or not Nick Lidstrom will return for another season.  Then they need to fill Brian Rafalski‘s roster spot with a worthy free agent.  Then they need to figure out what to do with Jonathan Ericsson.  Do they push to keep him, or does he test free agency?  If Ericsson doesn’t return, do the Wings sign a depth defenseman via free agency, or give prospect Brendan Smith a good look.  All of these are questions that need to be answered before Detroit looks at their forward corp.

Also, Detroit was the second highest scoring team during the regular season, finishing just one goal behind the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, and the Wings did this despite another untimely rash of injuries.  Their offense doesn’t really need the boost that Jagr might provide.  It wouldn’t hurt having another sniper on the team, but Detroit’s main concern should be keeping more pucks out of their own net.  They’ve got the talent to do the rest.

Besides, the potential for more offense is already in the lineup.  Dan Cleary had a career high 26 goals this year, despite missing time with an injury.  Johan Franzen struggled in the second half of the season, and if he can avoid that slump next year, he could easily pot 35-40 goals (up from his 28 this year).  Wings fans have long been waiting for Valterri Filppula to have his breakout season, and every time he flirts with it, he gets injured.  Does a healthy season mean more production from him?  Lastly, if Jiri Hudler regains form, the Wings would have yet another 50-60 point man, and he would be playing on the third line.

All of this is not even including the potential uptick from Darren Helm, who continues to be a buzz saw, and seems to be on the path of being a consistent 20 goal man.  Or what about Patrick Eaves, a former 20 goal scorer playing on Detroit’s 4th line?

Jagr’s agent has also reportedly talked to the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, so this situation could unfold in a number of ways.

When all is said and done, the response from the Wings should be this:  “We are flattered that Jaromir wants to come and be a part of our organization.  We have other pressing matters to take care of that take priority right now, but if he is still looking for a home in early August, we will give him a look”.

To end this, Red Wings nation knows their team needs to change for next season, and those changes are coming sooner rather than later.  The change that Jaromir Jagr would bring may not be the one Detroit is looking for.

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