They are used to doing things in a big way down in Big D and maybe that (and a big pile of cash) was the primary attraction for Jaromir Jagr, who is once again travelling the known hockey universe in search of playing opportunities, from Siberia to Philadelphia and now to Dallas in three easy steps.
The Stars signed their second 40-something star in three days Tuesday, securing Jagr’s services on a one-year, $4.55-million (all currency U.S.) deal. The purse strings are finally starting to loosen for general manager Joe Nieuwendyk under Tom Gagliardi’s ownership and he is making the most of his salary-cap space and budgetary flexibility.
Nieuwendyk previously signed Ray Whitney, also 40, on Sunday to a two-year, $9-million contract. After acquiring Derek Roy from the Buffalo Sabres Monday and also signing defenceman Aaron Rome away from the Vancouver Canucks, it has been a busy 72 hours for a Stars team trying to buy time until some of its young scoring talent is ready for prime time.
Dallas was an NHL powerhouse for a decade in the years when Nieuwendyk, Mike Modano, Brett Hull and Eddie Belfour were front-and-centre as players, but has fallen on hard times these past three years amid ownership turmoil that forced Nieuwendyk to vet many of his decisions through the lenders controlling the team’s purse strings. In that time, the Stars become a sporting afterthought in the home of the Cowboys. They need to become relevant again, at the box office and on the ice, and in a non-traditional market such as Dallas, the two are inextricably entwined.
Apart from his hockey-playing abilities, Jagr is the sort of rare last-of-the-rugged individualists who may come to fascinate Texans. In the latter stages of a Hall of Fame career, he is a fitness fanatic, a charming and worldly ambassador for the game. His Philadelphia Flyers teammates had nothing but good things to say about how seamlessly he fit into their dressing room last season, after returning from a three-year hiatus in Russia’s Continental Hockey League (KHL).
Philadelphia outbid all the other suitors for Jagr’s services this time last year, and make no mistake about it. It was about money then, just as it is now. Jagr took $3.3-million last year from the Flyers, bypassing what he considered low-ball offers from the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings, who wanted him too, but at their own prices.
The Stars showed him the money and so off he goes, to play on a team that also includes Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson, players who in a poll of their NHL peers last season were voted the two most underrated in the league. With that talented but underappreciated pair, plus the three new faces up front, and 35-goal man Michael Ryder, the Stars should be able to improve on an offence that ranked 22 out of 30 teams last season – and might be more fun to watch too.
Jagr produced 54 regular-season points for the Flyers last season, good for third on the team, and he remained a dynamic force on the power play, able to back off defenders with his long reach and playmaking skill. Just how much he has left in the tank is anybody’s guess, but the Stars are now officially one of the NHL’s most interesting chemistry experiments.
Two other defencemen – Erik Johnson and Bryce Salvador – re-signed with their respective teams, the Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils, respectively. Johnson will earn $15-million on a four-year deal, Salvador $9.5-million on a three-year deal.
Jagr’s signing saved what was otherwise a slow day on the NHL free-agent watch, with both of the primary targets – defenceman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise – pondering offers that could now exceed $100-million. Suter’s agent, Neil Sheehy, hinted that his client has a 13-year offer in front of him (likely from the Detroit Red Wings), and he needed more time to digest it. The Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild reportedly made face-to-face presentations to Suter.
Parise, meanwhile, returned to his Minneapolis home Tuesday to consider his future as well and think about how badly he might want to play in his hometown. The Wild have made pitches to both Parise and Suter and it would certainly mark a franchise turning point if one or the other or both said yes. The Wild entered the league in 2000-01, and not since their third season have made it as far as the conference championship. If you think that’s a long time, think about this. When Jagr was drafted in 1990, the Minnesota team was still named the North Stars – and Parise was a six-year-old kid, lamenting the exit of the team his dad once played for. His decision is now expected sometime before the end of the week.