The St. Louis Blues begin their 50th NHL season on Wednesday, but may have interest in someone just a little younger to fill in some gaps.
According to Thursday’s piece from Blues NHL correspondent Lou Korac, general manager Doug Armstrong has discussed the possibility of adding 45 year-old Jaromir Jagr to increase its forward depth before the start of the season.
Recent reports have also added that Jagr does not intend on playing hockey in his home country, the Czech Republic, this weekend. That means the NHL’s second highest scorer all-time is at least considering a return after nearly three months of unrestricted free agency.
There’s no doubt that adding Jagr would bring a Hall-of-Fame shoe-in and one of the most storied and credentialed players in NHL history. The two-time Stanley Cup champion holds 27 NHL regular season records, complemented by five Art Ross trophies and 13 All-Star game selections.
At least for the 2017-18 season, Jagr could fill some significant holes created through training camp injuries. Robby Fabbri will miss the entire season after re-injuring his knee from a torn ACL last February. Other experienced forwards, Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund, do not have clear timetables for their returns yet either.
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The million-dollar question is how exactly would Jagr fit with the team? Coming off a year where he collected a career full-season low 46 points and only averaged around 17 minutes of ice time per game, Jagr may face a slight disadvantage having not participated in an NHL training camp this year.
If the Blues were to sign him, one would hope he would play right wing on a top-six scoring unit. This could prove significant for a Blues team lacking pure wingers. It also would likely reduce the possibility of lining with fellow right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, the team’s leading scorer three years running.
Signing Jagr could also prove tricky with several roster cuts to make before opening night, especially after announcing the return of Scottie Upshall on Friday and signing Robert Thomas to a three-year entry deal on Thursday.
The preseason has also given newcomers like Oskar Sundqvist and prospects like Samuel Blais chances to make strong training camp impressions. Some will inevitably miss the roster, regardless if Jagr does or does not sign.
Another factor to consider with Jagr would be lack of familiarity with the Blues system. None of St. Louis’s active players have ever played on the same NHL roster as Jagr. He has also only played for one Central division team, the Dallas Stars, in his lifetime. That was in the team’s final year in the Pacific division in the lockout-shortened year of 2012-13.
The traveling could be an adjustment for a player who has otherwise been an East Coast journeyman. The level of competition could also be a slight culture shock as well with each team, besides the Colorado Avalanche, making the playoffs at least once over the past three years.
Regardless, the Blues have developed a reputation for bringing historic hockey players to the Gateway City near the end of their careers. St. Louis acquired all-time highest scorer Wayne Gretzky in 1996 and added all-time wins leader Martin Brodeur for a stretch of the 2014-15 season. So, it does not eliminate the possibility that Jagr extends his career with the Blues.
Three of St. Louis’s first four games come against Jagr’s former teams, including road games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers and the home opener against the Stars. He may be years, or in some cases decades, removed from his previous eight teams, but the Blues could benefit from the experience as they look to extend their playoff-streak to seven years.
St. Louis hosts its final preseason game on Sunday against the Washington Capitals. That game should give the team a stronger idea if Jagr is a fit to play come opening night.