Spotlight on the Opponent: Jaromir Jagr

What: Detroit at New Jersey
When: Friday, December 6, 7:00pm (TV: RDS, FSD)

Jagr

The leading points-getter for the New Jersey Devils is 41 years old and is running away with team scoring honors. It is debatable whether this is a feel-good story or a tragedy for the Devils.

Jaromir Jagr is a Hall of Fame-bound player, but it wasn’t expected that he would be, far and away, the most prolific scorer for the Devils this season, when New Jersey signed him to a one-year deal on July 22, 2013.

That’s usually not what you hope for when you sign 40+ year-old players to one-year contracts.

But Jagr, who has played in every one of the Devils’ 29 games this season, has 11 goals and 11 assists, and his 22 points is only challenged by 37 year-old Patrick Elias, who has 15 points (6g/9a).

In fact, the Devils’ top six scorers are, in age, 41/37/36/31/33/35 years old, respectively. That’s an average age of over 35.

It also may partially explain the Devils’ 11-12-6 record thus far this season.

But back to Jagr.

This is a man who disappeared from the NHL for three years (2008-11) while he played for Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. He did so while being paid the equivalent of $5 million US dollars per year.

Jagr’s exile was self-imposed after he couldn’t come to terms with the New York Rangers after the 2007-08 season. Stating a need to take a break from the rigors of an 82-game NHL schedule, Jagr at age 36 left the league and played overseas, enjoying lots of success in the KHL. He was named Avangard Omsk’s team captain in 2009.

But despite eventually being away from North America for three years, it only took Jagr one year of KHL hockey before he professed an interest to return to the NHL. Still, Jagr didn’t ink another NHL contract until July, 2011, when he signed  a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Red Wings were among the teams that were kicking the tires on Jagr when he came back from exile. Jagr proved he could still play NHL hockey, scoring 19 goals in 73 games with the Flyers.

In 2012, Jagr signed yet another one-year deal, this time with Dallas. But the lockout meant that Jagr would only play 34 games with the Stars (14g/12a) before Dallas traded him to Boston on April 2, 2013.

So here we are, with Jagr operating on still another one-year deal—the Devils being his fourth NHL team in a little more than three years.

By his production so far, it is apparent that no. 68 still has a nose for the net, and that even at age 41, Jagr is still a load with his 6’3″, 240-lb. frame.

But expect those scoring numbers to fall off, as Devils coach Peter DeBoer went on record earlier this week stating that the team was playing Jagr too much.

Jagr is averaging nearly 19 minutes of ice time per night, but has played several games lately at over 20 minutes.

“I didn’t expect he’d be able to take the kind of work load we’ve given him so far,” DeBoer said. “Frankly, in my mind, we’re playing him too much. We’re overplaying him and a few other forwards, partly because of depth and injuries. We need some secondary guys to step up and help some of those guys out.”

Factor in that Jagr is a prime candidate to play in the Olympics in 2014, and you can see why DeBoer is cautious about Jagr’s workload with the Devils.

Regardless, DeBoer can’t say enough about the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer.

“He’s been a great surprise. He’s been great to work with, a good team player. He’s bought into our system and our style of play and our identity. He makes other players better.”

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