Aside from the obvious age references, like the 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr having played his first pro game before 10 Florida players — or the Panthers franchise itself — was even born, Thursday’s trade has much intrigue.
(And we’re not talking about the Devils GM Lou Llama-rello making headlines on the same day as the Great Llama Round-up in Arizona.)
The Panthers have been, for so long now, a tomorrow team, loaded with big young talents and a goaltender (Roberto Luongo) still young enough to hold the fort while the kids percolate. Yet, the Panthers found a way to have relevance today, sitting just outside the Eastern Conference’s top eight. And into their dressing room now walks a National Hockey League legend — a guy whose poster some of these Panther players will remember from their boyhood bedroom walls.
He’d better bring a Sharpie with him.
Florida general manager Dale Tallon, who masterfully built the Chicago Blackhawks team we know today, was run out of the Windy City and started from scratch among the palm trees of South Florida, with shaky ownership, a bunch of draft picks and not much salary at his disposal.
That was back in May of 2010. A month before the Edmonton Oilers drafted Taylor Hall, and eight months after the Maple Leafs engineered the Phil Kessel trade that was supposed to speed things up in Toronto. Today, both of those Canadian rebuilds have fallen flat, while Tallon has turned the corner, reaching the point where he leveraged a second-round pick in 2015, and third-rounder in 2016 (either Florida’s or Minnesota’s) to bring in some veteran production.
Florida is a buyer. Toronto and Edmonton are still sellers. And now the Panthers take aim at the Boston Bruins, the one Eastern team that can be caught, which resides only two points ahead of Florida heading into play Thursday.
Are the Bruins nervous? Well, they sidelined the injured David Krejci Thursday, reportedly putting him on long-term injury reserve. That means Krejci (torn MCL) won’t return until the post-season, but his cap space can now be replaced prior to the deadline with acquisitions to help fend off the Panthers. The cavalry is coming in Boston, but it may be too late.
So, what does the 43-year-old Jagr bring to the mix in Florida? Primarily goals, which the Panthers dearly need. Florida has the NHL’s 25th-ranked offence, and of late they’ve surpassed two goals in output just once in their past eight games.
More so, however, the Jagr acquisition will have a ripple effect from inside the Panthers dressing room, right out into free agent waters as July 1 approaches.
Inside the room, trading picks for an ageing vet tells Tallon’s roster that the GM is ready to move on to Phase 2 of this rebuild. It is no longer “players out, picks in” country. It’s playoff time in Florida, because the GM says it is.
Meanwhile, bringing free agents into what has always been a shaky financial situation in Florida has always been a double-edged sword. As in, you never knew if a player was going to Sunrise to play hockey, or simply to live the South Florida life.
Now, you have more than the weather to sell. You have evidence that Tallon is past the building stage and moving into the challenging stage. That’s going to kill the July 1 efforts of a few other teams, because free agents already want go to Florida, and they’ll really lean towards the Panthers if the team is truly ready to win.
In the short term, Jagr joins his eighth NHL team. He is a nine-time All-Star and 15-time 30-goal scorer with 78 career playoff goals — almost as many as the Panthers franchise has scored.
He is something Florida hasn’t had for a long, long time. He is progress.