The late, great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper had a common expression: “Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions.” Following the reported signing of winger Jaromir Jagr to a one-year contract, it’s hard to imagine that Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving didn’t have that saying on his mind.
Treliving’s had a brilliant off-season by any measure. He acquired a new goaltending tandem in Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, nabbed Travis Hamonic to upgrade his team’s blueline, and selected Juuso Valimaki in the first round of the NHL Draft. The sum total of Treliving’s summer-time escapades has resulted in the loftiest expectations for any Flames club likely since the late 1980s. The Darryl Sutter Era Flames were a two-man show featuring Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and a handful of supporting players, but they lacked the top-to-bottom depth of the 2017-18 Flames – even before Jagr’s signing.
But the problem with sky-high expectations is that they’re nearly impossible to live up to. Aside from perhaps two occasions – a 1986 playoff victory over their arch-rivals and a 1989 Stanley Cup crown – the Flames have spent the better part of their existence as the Charlie Brown to the Edmonton Oilers’ Lucy; they’ve perpetually gone for a kick and had the football snatched out from under them. Expectations have perennially not been met.
A Disappointing Preseason
Expected to contend for a division crown this season, the Flames dressed several veteran-laden lineups in the preseason. They finished 2-5-0, with many of their established players looking like they would rather be on the golf course. The best Flames in the exhibition schedule were 19-year-old junior player Dillon Dube, pro try-out veteran Tanner Glass and 2012 first rounder Mark Jankowski, the latter two the only fringe bodies to really push for a NHL jobs. Lack and Smith looked ordinary. The balloon of expectations looked primed to burst after a third straight fall of sleepy exhibition hockey, and the prospect of a second consecutive flat start to the regular season.
Jaromir Jagr: "At 99.9 percent, this is my last season in NHL. So I am happy I will play for Canadian team finally."
— Tomas Pokorny (@Topicek) October 2, 2017
Instead of panic and second-guessing from the fanbase and media, the only thing on the lips of hockey followers in Calgary is Jagr. Instead of having media surround the likes of Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau at 30 road rinks around the league, quizzing them about the weight of expectation, the media will likely be transfixed by what could easily end up being the Jagr Farewell Tour. Jagr is a larger-than-life figure, a living legend with more points than anybody of the history of the NHL save for Wayne Gretzky. He casts a long shadow.
Jagr has had an amazing career. He’s won just about everything that can be won in the game of hockey. For a young team facing lofty expectations for the first time as a group, adding Jagr is a great fit. Not only is he still a productive player who will help give the Flames three dangerous offensive lines, but his stature in the hockey world and the broader sports world will help keep the team’s young stars from being drowned in the spotlight.
The Flames feel their window to win is just opening. Allowing for the indulgence of a year with Jagr on their roster will help the young core deal with the pressures of being in that window and perhaps allow them to eventually live up to their own lofty expectations.