When told of the Scott Gomez and Chris Drury signings during the off-season, Jaromir Jagr sounded both cautious and perhaps a little surprised. By the time the pre-season rolled around however, Jagr was already committing to putting forward his “best season” yet. It’s safe to say that his has been anything but.
On pace for just 22 goals and 68 points, he’ll not only register career lows, but will also easily miss the milestones that would trigger another year at the discounted rate of $4.9M that he currently plays under. Even the 84 point trigger, which looked potentially attainable a week or two ago, now looks out of reach.
His lack of production has of course drawn plenty of criticism from the media and fans, but it’s his overall game now that is starting to be of concern. Particularly on the power play, where a combination of team mates attempting to force the puck to him, and increased pressure from the defense, has lead to perimeter play and a total lack of confidence with the puck. It is true that Jagr’s power plays have always taken too few shots, but the problem has become so pronounced now that the unit looks hardly likely to score even against the weakest of penalty kills.
His play at even strength has also suffered. Jagr appears frustrated in many games, and lacks that speed and quickness he exhibited back in 2005-06 when he set Ranger records in a variety of statisitcal categories. The breakaway speed, and quick fake moves that we saw back in that year, are gone, replaced by a very predictable player who appears to want to try to do everything himself, or try to force the puck when the opportunity really isn’t there.
If there was an easy solution, no doubt someone would have figured it out by now…
Trading Jagr seems an unlikely course of action considering the Rangers have several veterans due to become free agents at the end of the season, and are still well in the race for the final spots in the playoffs. The Rangers have made a play for this season, and it’s difficult to believe they’ll find anything they’d get back for Jagr to be much help this year.
Besides which, there are probably only a few teams in the league that would be willing to take Jagr’s remaining cap value on, or for that matter the reputation that precedes him.
Another option the Rangers might consider would be the addition of another player to help Jagr relieve some of the pressure. While signing Peter Forsberg seems unlikely in the face of the number of centers the Rangers already have under contract, it certainly could be a way of sparking the team for the run to the playoffs, and would give Jagr another player who could be creative offensively.
The biggest downside to such an approach would be the re-organization the Rangers would have to go through to accommodate Forsberg, both financially and positionally. While either he or Drury could shift to the wing, you would have to wonder how effective the moves would be. The Rangers would also likely have to find a way to move some salary, with the most likely candidate in that scenario being Martin Straka‘s $3M.
This would also further limit the ability for the Rangers to upgrade a defense which has two large salaries (Paul Mara – $3M and Marek Malik – $2.5) and a need for more, not fewer defensive options for a stretch run.
Perhaps the final option would be to replace Tom Renney as Head Coach. It’s clear that while Renney can get the team to play above their ability defensively, there are definite concerns about his ability to get his team to gerenate effective offense. Replacing coaches mid-season seldom generates positive results, especially at this stage of the season. In fact, the best examples in recent years have come when the GM taken control behind the bench, and we’ve seen how effective that was.
So there you have it…a bunch of bad options, and a team that is largely dying by the lack of success of it’s star player. It’s a situation that Rangers fans are all to familiar with, not that that makes it in any easier to deal with.
I have read and heard several fans already calling for a sell-off with Jagr leading the way out of MSG. While that may indeed put an end to the up and down nature of the season, I don’t see it as a likely option, nor a particularly viable one at this point.
The Rangers are still in the top eight at this stage, and are unlikely to be far from the top eight even if somehow other teams in the division start to win. That leaves the Rangers in the usual position of buyers at the deadline.
It of course doesn’t preclude GM Glen Sather from playing a buy AND sell game, such as Brian Burke has demonstrated since coming to Anaheim, but given Sather’s record it seems unlikely.
So we’re left with perhaps the least appetizing of options: blind hope. Somehow, Jaromir Jagr needs to work through this and find some success. Perhaps a couple of lucky goals here and there will be enough to change the destiny of this team…if not we’re going to be in for a continued run of up and down emotions as the Rangers fumble their way through the remaining 25 games in the season.