Unfortunately, it looks like Jaromir Jagr might have played in his last NHL game. He joined the Calgary Flames this season, but he kept ending up on the sidelines and after clearing waivers on Monday, he was sent to play for his hometown team in the Czech Republic, HC Kladno.
Jagr opened up on Facebook about his health problems after that happened. The lower-body injury he’s been dealing with has been a knee problem and while he tried to play through it, the injury got worse and it was impacting his performance. He said that he hasn’t done anything more than light skating over the last month. At this stage it’s not clear if he’ll be healthy enough to attempt another NHL comeback in the future.
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Whatever happens, Jagr will of course go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game. He ranks third all-time in goals (766), fifth in assists (1,155), and second in points (1,921). If this is the end of his career, it’s unfortunate that it ended so close to him becoming the all-time leader in games played. Jagr has participated in 1,733 games while Gordie Howe remains the record holder at 1,767. It would have had some symmetry to it too, given that Howe holds the record despite his years in the WHA while Jagr might have surpassed him despite his years in the KHL.
While we lost Jagr, NHL fans are gaining another familiar face as Mike Fisher shocked the hockey world on Wednesday with his announcement that he would come out of retirement and re-sign with Nashville. He’s started skating in order to get back into game shape and plans to sign before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
Fisher’s one of those players that’s always been better for the team he’s played for than he has been to fantasy owners. His solid two-way player isn’t the sort of thing that lends itself to traditional statistics, especially given that he’s always been an offensive contributor, but never a major offensive force. I suspect he’s probably not going to be particularly good offensively in whatever small section of the regular season he does play in as he’ll need time to shake off the rust.
Still, his return should mean a lot to Nashville. Between the return of Fisher, the summer signing of Nick Bonino and the November acquisition of Kyle Turris, the Predators now have a ton of depth up the middle. Fisher is also of course a veteran presence and the man who captained Nashville to the Stanley Cup Final last year. Plus, he’s 37-years-old, so while he might rusty at first, it’s not like he’ll be the oldest player in the league or anything. He ultimately retired earlier than he had too, so him being successful in his return is entirely feasible.
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Moving from talk of NHL veterans to the upcoming trade deadline, Hurricanes coach Bill Peters suggested that his team will be a buyer rather than a seller. The subject came up when the possibility of trading goaltender Cam Ward was raised.
"That’s a bad rumor. ... We want to add, not detract," Peters said, per the North State Journal’s Cory Lavalette. Peters went on to assert that Carolina’s desire to add rather than subtract is “right from the horse’s mouth. ... We have lots of picks.”
Carolina has a standard number of picks as they control their top four round picks in each of the last three years, but no other team’s high-to-mid picks. The non-Hurricanes picks they control are the Golden Knights’ seventh rounder in 2018 and the Flames’ sixth rounder in 2019. Peters might just mean that the Hurricanes have enough picks or they’re not hurting for prospects and young talent right now, but even if the Hurricanes are not looking to acquire additional draft choices, they might not be too eager to trade their own under these circumstances.
The bigger question is if it makes sense for Carolina to be a buyer. That’s going to become clearer as we approach the deadline and the playoff picture gets closer to being sorted out, but as things stand the Hurricanes are at very least in the running. Their 54 points puts them just two shy of the Wild Card-holding Philadelphia Flyers, though the Hurricanes would also have to get past the Islanders and Rangers in the process of obtaining that spot.
Those aren’t amazing odds, but it might be good enough to push the Hurricanes. After all, they haven’t reached the playoffs since 2009 so at this point they got to be a little desperate for it and there’s also an argument to be made that it would be bad optics for the team to be a seller so soon after Tom Dundon bought the team from Peter Karmanos Jr. In the salary cap era, you often do want to consider selling or at least holding steady if you’re not seriously contending for the Cup that year, but it wouldn’t feel great for the new ownership to immediately start to trade off parts, especially in the context of that long playoff drought. With that all in mind, Carolina will be one of the more interesting teams to follow over the next month.
Before we do turn our attention fully towards the future though, it might be best to reflect back on the month that just passed and highlight some of the standout players. Three of the big ones come from Pittsburgh as Sidney Crosby (21 points in 12 games), Evgeni Malkin (19 points in 12 games), and Phil Kessel (17 points in 12 games) occupied three of the top six spots. That’s helped pushed the Penguins from their somewhat meandering first half to looking like a Cup contender once more. At this point they have a 28-21-3 record, which is good for second in the Metropolitan Division, albeit in part because Pittsburgh has played in three more games than New Jersey.
Brent Burns was the standout among defensemen with his two goals and 17 points in 14 games. He got off to a slow start this season, but has been outstanding for a while now and would be my pick to lead all blueliners in points in the second half of 2017-18.
Finally, it’s worth highlighting Brad Marchand, who had six goals and 18 points in nine games. Of course, Marchand is also serving a five-game suspension right now for elbowing Devils forward Marcus Johansson. The incident has resulted in Johansson being sidelined with his second concussion of the season. Marchand has a long suspension history and you have to think it’s a source of frustration for the Bruins behind closed doors because he’s such a talented player and it hurts his team when he does something that gets him in trouble with the players safety department.
Marchand has also dealt with health issues this season and between the two things, he’s been limited to 38 games. A lack of playing time might be all that prevents him from a scoring title this season as he does lead the NHL in points per game with his 1.32 from recording 50 points in 38 contests thus far.