The Boston Bruins are in trouble now.
Earlier this week, it came out that veteran forward Jaromir Jagr was unhappy staying with the New Jersey Devils.
With the team edging closer to a playoff spot, the forty-three year old winger — originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins fifth overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft — wasn’t exactly thrilled with his diminishing ice time. He watched as other forwards — also veterans, but none quite as veteran as him — were pushed into his spot on the top six and on special teams. He knew it had to do with the coaching change, and admitted that he’d seen it happen before — but with a certainty that his ice time would disappear completely come a missed playoff run, the Czech hockey star all but demanded a trade out of New Jersey.
Not many were confident that Devils general manager and interim coach Lou Lamoriello would grant Jagr his wish, much less so soon — but sure enough, the two-time Stanley Cup champion is on his way to the Florida Panthers.
According to Sportsnet, the trade will send Jagr to the Panthers in exchange for Florida’s second round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and a conditional third round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The third round pick, according to Mike Morreale of NHL.com, is Jersey’s choice — they may either select Florida’s 2016 third round pick or Minnesota’s, which Florida acquired on February 25th in exchange for veteran forward Sean Bergenheim.
While many were concerned that Florida was gambling their future by dealing Bergenheim to Minnesota just a day prior, it seems clear that the Panthers have no intention of backing down leading up to the post-season. After all, they have no reason to — with twenty-two games apiece to go and an injured David Krejci, the Boston Bruins sit only two points ahead of the Panthers in the race for the second Wild Card spot.
It’s been a joke that the Bruins should fear Jagr heading to Florida; after all, he was on the team the year that they missed out on the Stanley Cup by a single game and a couple minutes of overtime. It was following that season that he first departed for New Jersey; just a season and a half later, he’s still hungry for that elusive third Stanley Cup ring.
Alongside Jagr, though, will be a few other familiar faces for the Bruins — fan favorite Shawn Thornton has taken his enforcer role to Florida this season following a failure to extend his contract this summer, and then there’s Roberto Luongo. If anyone would love nothing more than to be the one who snatches the Wild Card spot from the Bruins, it’s likely to be former Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo; between him, Jagr, and the team’s surprisingly powerful young corps, the Panthers are looking more lethal than anyone expected.
Now that Jagr is off the market, Boston has more reason to be worried than just the symbolism of Jagr’s landing grounds, though — as each successive player is taken off the market leading up to the trade deadline, the Bruins grow less likely to find a replacement for top line center David Krejci. Fourth line center and penalty killer Gregory Campbell is also out for a week, and developing defenseman Kevan Miller is confirmed as out for the season; if Boston can’t find a way to bolster their lineup before 3P.M. on Monday, Florida looks legitimately poised to pass them up in the league standings.
Of course, beating the Bruins isn’t the only reason Florida making the playoffs is so important now.
With nearly empty stands at the start of the season, the Florida Panthers are no stranger to criticism for their lack of a significant fanbase. One of two teams located in the state of Florida — more than many Canadian and Northern States fans believe the sunbelt state should have — the Panthers as a franchise are literally three years younger than Jagr’s hockey career. They’re under new ownership and looking towards a bright future, but they — like the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, and other non-traditional teams — have trouble with being taken seriously around the league.
Watching the Colorado Avalanche make the playoffs in 2014 was a wild success story that spoke as much to a renewed franchise as it did to rookie Nathan Mackinnon, who had been selected first overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Having the team that selected first overall in 2014 repeat Colorado’s success wouldn’t necessarily indicate a trend — young players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjustad certainly help bolster a surprisingly good lineup in Sunrise, Florida — but it would make for a renewed sense of hope for struggling teams league-wide.
The Panthers are also in the process of revitalizing their fanbase. After years of giving away tickets for free in hopes of attracting fans, the new ownership group hopes to build fans the ‘right’ way — by charging regular ticket prices and lending an air of credibility to the franchise as a whole. This has stripped the team of a number of stray bodies filling the arena, but it’s still been tough going for the club.
As they head towards the end of the season, the Panthers now have two goals — remain ahead of the other hungry teams just outside the playoff berth, and surpass the Boston Bruins altogether.
Jagr wasn’t the only serviceable veteran forward on the market, but there’s no denying it — if the Bruins can’t put a deal together soon, this isn’t a pretty end to their season at all. Florida, though, may be in for a fairy tale of a spring, and Jagr’s going to be there to enjoy every minute of it.