If Larry Brooks is right, the Rangers will let Jaromir Jagr enter free agency on July 1st and therefore risk losing their captain to another team once their exclusive negotiating rights expire. And, despite the backlash such a move would create, letting Jagr walk is a smart move for a franchise that is clearly at the crossroads.
Yes, Jagr has been wonderful in a Rangers’ uniform since the lockout ended. His 54-goal season in 2004-05 revitalized a dead franchise and brought hope back to MSG. Without Jagr, the Rangers would not have advanced to the second round of the playoffs the past two years and probably would not have attracted two of the top centers in the NHL, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to sign with the club last July.
But it is the presence of those two, on the roster for the foreseeable future with big financial commitments on the part of the Rangers, that makes bringing Jagr back the wrong move. Both Drury and Gomez failed in their attempts to center a line with Jagr and bringing him back means you move the two best centers on the team down to the second and third lines. And, since that magical season of 2005-06, Jagr’s point production has dropped from 123 to 96 to 71. At 36, is it reasonable to expect a rebound from #68?
No, instead it would be better to take the money the club could have invested in Jagr and spend it on things like a defenseman who can run the power play and bringing back Sean Avery. By letting Jagr go, New York would be taking a risk, but also signaling the start of a new era, one led by Drury, Gomez and Lundqvist. And that is a pretty good trio to bank on.