Jaromir Jagr, a man of wealth and taste, needs little introduction. An aged and prolific star with 1,679 career points and some of the greatest gifts the NHL has ever seen, the 41-year-old winger will be in Boston Wednesday and we’ll begin to find out Thursday night, with the Devils in town, just what he will mean as the newest Bruin.
For starters, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli isn’t sure if Jagr is here merely as a rental, a springtime Causeway dalliance, or if the one-time Penguins superstar still has enough game and desire for the Bruins to entice him to stick around for a year, two, maybe three.
“A little early to tell,’’ said Chiarelli, just a few hours after shipping a couple of prospects, and possibly a first-round draft pick, to Dallas Tuesday to acquire Jagr ahead of the Wednesday 3 p.m. trade deadline. “But I probably would have given you the same answer for [Mark] Recchi when we got him.’’
All guile and grit and moxie and leadership, Recchi came here at the trade deadline in 2009 and stuck around long enough to win another Cup, take a wild Duck Boat tour downtown, and retire a happy man in 2011 at age 43.
Jagr won a couple of Cups in Pittsburgh back in their Mario Lemieux salad days but hasn’t won again since, living out a career odyssey full of bountiful riches but limited year-to-year playoff payoff.
Much bigger than Recchi, the 6-foot-3-inch Jagr also is equipped with a vastly different game and skill set.
For everything Recchi was on the inside, tipping pucks and throwing elbows and applying a warehouse of knowledge around the net, Jagr has lived more of an outside game. Recchi went to the net, often without the puck, and staked his claim to pan for valuable ore. Jagr produced his own gold with a big motor and a Midas touch.
Jagr likes to have the puck, cradle it, own it, and then pick his options in flight — be it to shoot (for 679 goals) or to pass (for 1,000 assists), often at the peril of faltering defensemen who can’t handle his size and skill.
Ex-Boston blue liner Hal Gill was fairly adept at neutralizing him, because Gill could match his size and reach, something few back liners can say.
Even at 41, with diminishing stick skills and dissipating speed, Jagr’s size and craftiness will be difficult for the Canadiens’ back line to handle.
What remains to be seen, from a strategical standpoint, is how Bruins coach Claude Julien will blend Jagr into his lineup, keep him fresh of leg and motivated to score. Julien is in severe need of scorers, especially on the power play (ranked 24th as of Tuesday), and particularly at a time when big, high-priced wingers Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic have been fighting the puck, often appearing disengaged, undermotivated.
“We have a need on the third line,’’ said Chiarelli, when asked how he envisions his new acquisition being used, “but he has a higher-line pedigree. We pride ourselves on having four strong lines.’’
Jagr is a lot of things, which is to say he is not a third- or fourth-liner, at least not by the definition of most teams’ bottom six forwards and offensive framework.
He’ll play his best with a skilled pivot, be it David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron, when play is at even strength. He should partner with one of those two on the power play, too, and Tyler Seguin’s speed and stick skill would make him a prime candidate to ride on Jagr’s opposite wing on the man-advantage.
No matter who’s out there with him, the action up front on the power play should be much more exciting and, presumably, productive.
“We try to even it out,” said Chiarelli, noting he took some time over the phone with Jagr Tuesday to explain Boston’s overall offensive approach.
“He seemed receptive to that.’’
Zdeno Chara, the ever-subdued Bruins captain, said after a 3-2 win over Ottawa Tuesday night that Jagr, if he wants to be, still can be a dominant player.
“He still has it,’’ said Chara. “He still works extremely hard. He still works extremely hard on his game. He wants to win and be the best he can be.’’
Julien kidded in his postgame interview that he will read the media’s suggestions of where to play Jagr and determine who comes closest to his thinking.
“Maybe some of you will be winners,’’ he said, smiling.
Turning serious, Julien added, “He’s a veteran who wants to win another Cup. He’s always been a true professional.’’
The price for Jagr, immediately depicted as a “steal’’ by many on-line pundits Tuesday afternoon, included prospects Lane MacDermid and Cody Payne and at least a second-round draft pick.
If the Bruins reach the Eastern Conference finals this year, the pick turns into a first-rounder.
In any case, it is not a steal, but it is a fair price, especially if Jagr’s addition nets at least that trip to the Eastern finals. MacDermid is likely a third- or fourth-line NHLer. Payne, a fifth-round pick in 2012, has blossomed this year in junior.
All in all, to acquire a Hall-of-Famer to be, it meant Chiarelli had to sacrifice some treasure.
“The prices are so high,’’ said Chiarelli, when asked if he knew what other clubs might have chased Jagr, “and you have to judge [what other teams] are in on it. It’s difficult. But he’s a great player.’’
With less than 24 hours to go before the trade deadline, Chiarelli remains on the hunt.
“You are never finished,’’ he said.
His focus right now has to be on the back line. Chiarelli says he is happy with his group of blue liners, noting how newcomer Matt Bartkowski (nearly dealt for Jarome Iginla last week) has helped back there. But the defense needs a lift, help moving the puck.
Slow afoot and slow in transition from the back end, the Bruins haven’t forced other clubs into penalties.
Headed into Tuesday night’s game, Boston ranked dead last in total power-play chances (92), compared with the speedy Canadiens, who led the league with 150. Jagr won’t help the flow from out of the zone. He stands to benefit if Chiarelli can find a fix.
It’s basic NHL anatomy: the back line is connected to the front line.
“I’m probably leaning more to our defense,’’ said Chiarelli.
So stay tuned.
There’s a future Hall of Famer about to arrive in town and still a few hours for Chiarelli to work the phone.Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.