After Ilya Kovalchuk abruptly retired and returned home to Russia, foregoing the remainder of his monster contract and leaving the New Jersey Devils without one of their best offensive players, most people wrote them off this season. They had a point.
Kovalchuk missed some time due to injury last year. In the games he did play, the Devils were 18-13-6, but without him they were 1-6-4. Management had to find someone to replace the offense they were losing.
Enter Jaromir Jagr.
If this was 10 years ago, signing Jagr might have sent shockwaves through the league. Instead it was seen as a desperate attempt to squeeze whatever perceived little life Jagr’s NHL career had left. Little did everyone know, Jagr has plenty left in the tank. He even joked last night about chasing Gordie Howe and playing until he’s 50.
Through 22 games, Jagr leads the Devils with 18 points and just came up with two of the Devils biggest goals of the season in back-to-back games. Down 3-2 late in the third in Anaheim, Jagr delivered the tying goal with just a minute left in regulation. They would go on to win in overtime and hand the Anaheim Ducks their first lost at home this season.
Last night against the Los Angeles Kings, Jagr put home the game winning goal in overtime and gave the Devils their first three game winning streak of the season. Jagr has four goals during the streak including two against his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The goal in LA simultaneously tied him with Mario Lemiuex for 9th most All-time and with Howe for most game-winning goals of all time.
It’s hard to argue against the feeling that the Devils would be better if Kovalchuk stayed, but Jagr is quickly making fans forget about him and the team is climbing up the standings after their 0-4-3 start. For a team that lost two of their top three scorers from a year ago, Jagr has been a terrific addition and probably the best bargain of the offseason, if not the best signing overall.