Sunday, August 13, 2017

Analysis: It Shoudn't, It Can't, It Won't -- Dear Lord, Somebody Sign Jaromir Jagr

After a day or two of pleasantly relenting in my pursuit of promoting and advancing beer-augmented sports hysteria and sensationalism, I'm back on the wagon -- with regard to sports, at least -- and ready to force my opinions upon you as viciously as text will permit. 

Jagr's mullet has been preserved for museum display.
NHL teams have yet to begin official preseason practices, sure, but I come to you today with a hockey tirade and analysis of dire urgency. Not only is the current situation a travesty, but it also gives the proverbial finger to both those enamored with maintaining legacy and those who rely on the measure of statistical review. As such, I am asking you, fair jag reader, to help me Save the Mullet; that is to say, we must get Jaromir Jagr a contract from an NHL team.

Before we dive into the always salacious pleasure of breaking down the figures, I'm obliged to start with arguments that stem from the heart or, as some may phrase it, "for the love of the game."

#1: Jagr Deserves a League-Wide Goodbye Done Proper

I want to acknowledge fully that these opening assertions are not going to convince those who are fixated with the scoresheet, and that may well be part of the hesitation facing NHL general managers when considering Jagr.

That said, it nonetheless seems appropriate to note that he is the most emblematic representative -- at this level, at least -- of somebody playing the game for its own sake since Gordie Howe. Money's important, sure, and I'm certain Jagr's debtors are quick to remind him of that, but Jagr's dedication to the sport, both on and off the ice, and his visible joy of the game set him apart from other "old-timers," all of whom demand our respect, but can't win over the public the way Jagr does.

This point can be further fleshed out when we dive into the numbers, but it suffices for the moment to say that Jagr will know when he can't compete at the apex of the game anymore. Accordingly, to rob him of a goodbye tour, so to speak, is beyond criminal; he will no doubt make it clear when he intends to stop playing in the NHL, assuming that opportunity is not unduly taken away from him beforehand.

His story, however, is not only grand on a personal level: the NHL needs its heroes, its all-timers, its "hey did you know" folklore that players like Jagr inspire in fans. While the league has no direct impact on the lifespan of one player's career, Bettman and company should still be waiting with bated breath for Jagr to find a team to make the most out of his final season(s).

#2: That Mullet

A mullet and jean jacket? What a fucking boss.
Listen, let's cut the shit: that mullet fucking rules. It did then and it does now. The only difference being that his mullet is, in fact, party all around, forgoing so much as a fleeting thought at feigning business. The hair, the humor, the style, the bravado -- simply put, it's a cult of personality that refuses to be overlooked.

Whether he's sleeping with attempted extortionists, whose boyfriend cites Jagr as his hockey hero, or just spending some leisure time in an underground, high-stakes, break-your-thumbs-if-you-don't-have-the-money gambling ring, Jagr is a character whom we mustn't let fall off to the fans in Europe.

#3: Even at 45, There's No Goddamn Chance That He's Worse Than, Presumably, 93 Right Wingers

Now let's get to the good shit -- that's right, statistical analysis and comparison. And to do so, I'll have to unleash one of my favorite segments: the Numbers Crunch Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending).


Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending)

In Jagr's case, a lot of critics, and no doubt NHL executives, will offer age as their top concern. Now, I understand and concede that age can strike fast, but such limitations are often more damaging to a player who, for instance, relies on speed or, flatly, doesn't possess the skill of an all-time great as he does. In fact, just two years ago Jagr led the entire league in points 5v5/60, meaning he tallied the most points relative to time on the ice while at even strength. This feat alone is incredible, let alone that he was 43 years old when he managed it, and to suggest that a single, less successful season -- which, as I'll explain, was still a solid year of performance -- forebodes a precipitous decline in ability is absurd.

Moreover, his most recent campaign itself should be viewed with caution, considering that the Panthers took significant strides backwards, mired in the firing of their coach -- a situation that, some pundits argued, was handled poorly -- and regression from a number of players in the team's young core who were expected to improve (Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Reilly Smith). While Jagr is still a viable option on the wing, it's unfair to demand that he shoulder the offensive output for a team with so many rising players, and it probably plays -- or should, at least -- into his favor when combating the conception that his skill is in a free fall.

Even investigating his output from last season, though, Jagr still doesn't drop to a spot where he couldn't be considered one of the top-93 right wings in the league, calculated under the thought that 31 teams need to fill that position for their three top lines; I doubt Jagr would stay in the NHL for fourth-line minutes, nor should he have to.

To prove this point, consider where he lands in some of the following statistics:

1) He came in #41 in points at the right wing position for 5v5/60, so he is still generating offense, and at his position he lands -- based on the 93 assumed spots -- somewhere above the middle.

2) He was #148 in shots league-wide for 5v5/60, so, again, he is putting the puck on the net and still capable of getting himself into positions to shoot. This figure ranks higher than players like Jake Guenztel, Claude Giroux, Kyle Okposo, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Killorn, not all of whom are right wingers, to be sure, but some names that nevertheless stand out when considering players who are (/trending to become) part of the group of skilled forwards.

A counterpoint can be fairly made that the drop in shooting percentage is reason for alarm, having dwindled to 8.8%. It is important to realize, however, that Florida as a team shot an abysmal 7.722% last season, besting only the miserably awful Colorado Avalanche. As I have stated before, this statistic represents more the Panthers' collective slide than anything related to Jagr's play.

3) His shooting aside, Jagr is still able to make plays as well, registering 30 assists last year to place him #115 league-wide in assists 5v5/60.

4) Ultimately, what these numbers show is that Jagr still has value at even strength; he is not going to earn his contract purely on the power play, much like you saw in the last couple of seasons of Teemu Selanne. Jagr does get notable time on the power play (#28 for wingers in power play time on ice / 60), but only 28% of his points came from man-advantage situations. Compare that to players like Phil Kessel (43%), Claude Giroux (53%), and Jack Eichel (42%); in fact, only players classified as "elite" accrue a similar percentage of points in even strength play, including Patrick Kane (25%), Connor McDavid (27%), and Sidney Crosby (28%).

 OK, let's finish this shit up...

Simply put, the game is mostly played 5v5, and Jagr has demonstrated that those beautiful locks still have the power to perform in those situations at the highest level. Understandably, some players are already under contract; some teams play a different "style" -- the Penguins, for example -- that doesn't fit best with him; some organizations have money tied up elsewhere and can't bring themselves to spare it. All in all, however, Jaromir Jagr is an absolute machine, a hockey deity, and a relic for the sport who shouldn't, who can't, who won't be cast aside. So for fuck sake, somebody sign this man to a deal.
Together, we can see to it that this story never ends -- well, at least until he's too old or just dies on the ice.

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