EDITOR’S NOTE: The Florida Panthers game with the Columbus Blue Jackets stars at the unusual time of 3 pm Eastern from Nationwide Arena in Ohio.
COLUMBUS–It’s been a year since many hockey fans were caught off guard by news that Jaromir Jagr was traded by the New Jersey Devils to the Florida Panthers for a second and third round pick minutes before the trading deadline.
Before the trade the Florida Panthers were a team on the outside looking in. They finished the 2014-15 season on a 12-7-3 run in games Jagr played, as he recorded 6 goals and 12 assists for 18 points in the games he played. That works out to a 106-point pace for the team and the team has continued that strong play into this season. The Panthers have soared from fifth place to the top of the Atlantic Division with a 35-18-7 record for 77 points.
New Jersey became a Jekyll-Hyde experience for Jagr. Two seasons ago the Devils brought him in to save face after Ilya Kolvachek “retired” from the NHL, only to resume his playing career in the KHL. Needing something in the way of a gate attaction the Devils signed Jagr, who topped the Devils in scoring with 67 points.
It all changed last season. Injured on a hit in a game with the Pittsburgh Penguins by Robert Bortuzzo while playing with the flu the day before Thanksgiving, Jagr and the Devils struggled in December. Trying to turn losses into victories New Jersey gave up many empty net goals and killed the spirit of the team. Jagr spoke in favor of Coach Pete DeBoer, who was fired the day after Christmas in 2014. Jagr was the Devils leading scorer at the time. Accustomed to getting 20 minutes of playing time a game, his time was reduced to as few as 12 minutes a game as the three-headed coaching monster of Lou Lamarello, Scott Stevens and Adam Oates ran the team like a bantam team with all players getting nearly equal playing time regardless of pedigree. Mercifully Jagr’s team expired in New Jersey with the trade to Florida Feb. 26, 2015.
Somehow Panthers coach Gerard Gallant matched Jagr with former Calder trophy winner Jonathon Huberdeau and even younger center Aleksander Barkov. With the heart and mind of a scoring champion Jagr gained control of the puck then sprung the young legs of his linemates into open ice with passes as they carried the puck into attacking zone. Jagr would trail into the zone and the trio immediately started playing keep away from their opponents. One of the best goals of last season was when Huberdeau sprung Jagr down the left wing boards. Rather than pass back to Huberdeau with a return pass Jagr surprised everyone in Ottawa’s arena with a wrap around goal, a play we never tire of sharing here at JAGRometer.com:
As Panthers fans have learned, when the puck is on Jagr’s stick many good things can happen as any fan of his since 1990 can tell you. Now the Florida Panthers have found in #68 the fertilizer needed to blossom as a team and he continues to bear fruit in the NHL for their benefit.
The fans have accepted Jagr and he enjoys rock star status among South Florida’s hockey faithful. On multiple trips to BB&T Center this season the Jagr jerseys remain a big seller. Visitors from the Czech Republid and other parts of Europe dot the crowd at Panthers home games and even in games in other NHL arenas.
Since becoming a Panthers Jagr has achieved the following milestones: Passed Ron Francis as fourth all-time leading scored with 1798 points; surpassed 1800 points; surpassed 1100 assists. With a shooting percentage near 20% this season Jagr hasn’t lost his scoring touch since becoming a Panther, having passed Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (721) and Brett Hull (741) for career goals. Jagr has 742 as Florida starts a five-game road trip in Columbus Saturday afternoon.
Here are goals 741 and 742, as called by Florida Panthers play-by-play man Steve Goldstein:
Next stop on the milestone chase: Catching Gordie Howe and his 1850 points for third-all time on the NHL career scoring list. After that, and probably next season should he return to the NHL and hopefully in a Florida Panthers uniform, Jagr should catch Mark Messier’s 1887points, currently second all-time. After that, 1900 points.
It would take a few seasons to catch Gordie Howe’s second best 801 goals and unprecedented production for a player in his 40s to get there, but of any player currently playing in the NHL, Jagr can get it done, health and opportunity willing.
Here’s what others have to say on Jagr’s year in South Florida.
From NBC Sports…
From the Miami Herald…
and the Sun Sentinel:
We’re adding Panther points as a new category on the Jagr-O-Meter:
It’s the time of year when the good teams beat bad teams and trades are made for hopeful upgrades. Boston and Tampa Bay both won Friday night, to pull within three points of the Atlantic Division leading Panthers.