Greenberg: Flyers make smart call with Jagr

Greenberg: Flyers make smart call with Jagr
July 1, 2011, 11:49 pm
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Friday, July 1, 2011
Posted: 7:50 p.m. Updated: 9:15 p.m.

By Jay Greenberg Contributor

At age 39, Jaromir Jagr can still make the plays in close quarters that were the specialty of the guy he essentially is replacing, Ville Leino.

One of the better players in the cycle game, said Paul Holmgren, who can stick handle a little, too, in tight cap spaces. He refused to be pinned down by more years and dollars than Leino, a nice player but still a complementary one, is worth.

With Leino headed to suddenly flush Buffalo for six years and 27.5 million, the Flyers had smarter money left for a one-year, 3.3 million deal for Jagr, who not only can hold the puck, but, from what Flyer scouts saw in the KHL and at the recent World Championships, also still shoot and pass it, too.

Hell bring leadership and a fair amount of points, said Holmgren, which of course raises the question of what is fair for a guy who will be 40 in February and is three seasons removed from the NHL.

The whirling, swooping, irrepressible Jagr that was 1a. to Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh was already pretty much gone by 2004, when the Rangers rescued him from a bad marriage in Washington. He came out of the lockout reinvented as a one-timing, dishing and shooting behemoth of the half wall that produced 54 goals and 123 points and revived the franchise.

He once drove unstoppably to the net, now pulls up and hits the late man. But unless Jagr has wasted away from bad borscht in three years in Omsk, he remains a puck-shielding 6-3, 230-pounder, and, health permitting, still will provide a much more commanding physical presence than did Nikolay Zherdev, all the while throwing in locker room laughs with teammates and media as a bonus.

Of course, because essentially Jagr is his own quarterback, his one-timer still had better prove to be as wicked as his one-liners. The Rangers attempt to get him an upgrade on Michael Nylander by signing Scott Gomez was a chemical disaster, and Jagr was very hard on point man Michal Rozsival. The once best player in the NHL knows when and how he wants the puck, and is not the easiest fit.

That said, the jittery Rozsival eventually played himself out of New York without any help from Jagr, who was a banged-up shadow of his former self by the time the Rangers decided at the end of the 2008-09 season it was time to move on without him. Unwilling to take a pay cut to find a smaller role somewhere that would enable him to chase another Stanley Cup, he exiled himself to the KHL and Siberia, where he scored well in addition to being paid well.

Jagr had promised his dad that coming home to play in Kladno would be his final stop. It might still be, but now he wants to see if he can still compete at a high level in the worlds best league, a good sign. Never mind the Penguins apparently got put off by him shopping himself around to other good teams, what free agents are allowed to do. He picked us, Im excited about it, said Holmgren.

But who really knows what Jagr has left for an 82-game season plus four potential rounds in the playoffs? Or, whether he can mesh on a line with Danny Briere or Claude Giroux plus, just as critical, Chris Pronger on the power play?

Still, 3.3 million for one year of Jagr was the more cap-conscious way to go than to overpay Leino. Plus it tells surviving Flyers shaken by the stunning moves of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter that management hasnt blown off 2011-12 to prioritize breaking in Brayden Schenn.

Unable to take the chance that Schenn will prove a year away from competence, the Flyers targeted and signed Max Talbot, who can win a draw, play three forward positions and certainly score in a Game 7.

Could be a safety net for Brayden, could play with Brayden, said Holmgren. Now thats flexibiilty, but two shoulder surgeries on the Penguins hero of 2009 have made him a fourth-line player, not a third. Plus, Schenn remains the only Flyer center over six feet tall. Talbots price less than 2 million a year was right, and well see whether five years of him is also right.

In the meantime, assuming Andreas Lilja, 35, has more left than Sean ODonnell, 39, who signed with Chicago, the Flyers have a third-pair upgrade and possibly the chance to move Matt Carle and create room to re-sign Braydon Coburn, who is up at the end of the season.

Kris Versteeg and his 3.083 million cap hit were sent to Florida for second- and third-round picks, another sign that in the cap age its largely about flexibility, something to keep in mind until we all can figure out whether Jagr has become an old stiff.

For now, take comfort in the fact that Pittsburgh and Detroit two other contenders with a track record for smart decisions were plenty interested. And that the Flyers, who have already stunningly moved both their captain and leading scorer, seem to get more interesting by the day.

Related: Flyers sign Talbot, another ex-Penguin free agent Free agency notes: Leino, Versteeg, Boucher gone

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