When superstar Ilya Kovalchuk announced his sudden retirement from the NHL and, in what seemed like hours later, jettisoned back home to Russia to join the KHL, it left the New Jersey Devils pretty depleted. Yes, he’s just one player. At the same time, though, the Devils struggled last year, and losing someone as talented as Kovalchuk certainly doesn’t help the bounce-back effort.
Things started out exactly as you’d expect for the Devils this season, as it took them eight tries to finally win a game. They’ve also been decimated by injuries, most recently seeing offseason acquisition Ryan Clowe sidelined with a concussion. However, one of their other free agent signings has been performing quite well.
At the ripe age of 41, Jaromir Jagr is currently the best player on New Jersey. He leads the team in scoring with 11 goals, and seems to be one of the few Devils players who’s actually posing a threat to defenses at the moment. However, as you would expect, Jagr doesn’t exactly have as much stamina as he used to. And yet, he’s currently averaging 18:43 minutes of ice time per game. While he may be able to survive this workload now, who knows if he’ll be able to remotely reach this time on ice come March.
Jagr’s ice time is a concern for coach Peter DeBoer. The Devils bench boss realizes it’s great to see Jagr be able to log this many minutes, he also knows it may be wise to cut back a bit.
“I didn’t expect he’d be able to take the kind of work load we’ve given him so far. Frankly, in my mind, we’re playing him too much,”DeBoer said. “We’re overplaying him and a few other forwards, partly because of depth and injuries. We need some secondary guys to step up and help some of those guys out.”
Clearly DeBoer made the realization that a team heavily relying on a player who was in the league before some of his current teammates were born is not exactly a winning strategy. That said, who’s going to step up for the Devils? Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder are tied for second on the team with six goals. Other than Jagr and these two players, no one else is really showing signs of an offensive explosion any time soon.
With that in mind, DeBoer is in a bit of a pickle. The Devils have the luxury of being in the Metropolitan Division, arguably the worst in the league. Though they only have 27 points, they’re just three behind the second place Washington Capitals. So as ugly as their season started, you can’t count New Jersey out just yet. And when you’re still hanging on in the standings, you need to utilize anyone on your team that is consistently contributing. As it stands, though, the only player who’s doing such things is Jagr.
Jagr’s stamina has already been brought to the world’s attention earlier this year. While playing for the Boston Bruins during last season’s Stanley Cup run, there were many games where his lack of speed was more than a little obvious. And this was after a lockout-shortened season. One would think an 82-game season might slow him down even more if the Devils ended up making the playoffs.
DeBoer now has to pray some of his other players can step up offensively. If they can’t, he might be forced to grind Jagr until he literally can’t even skate any more.