End of an era: Jaromir Jagr says goodbye to Florida
Jaromir Jagr gave the Florida Panthers some star power, helped them win a division championship and unquestionably played a role in energizing what had been a stagnant fan base.
And now his tenure with the Panthers is over.
Making official what was suspected for some time, the Panthers revealed Saturday that they are going forward without the future sure-fire Hall of Fame forward. On a day dominated by free-agent signings -- like adding forwards Evgeny Dadonov, Radim Vrbata and Micheal Haley -- the biggest news out of Florida was that Jagr is no longer in the Panthers' plans.
"I can't say enough. It was an honor to be touched by a legend," said general manager Dale Tallon, who ultimately made the call to move on. "I was torn. It was a tough couple weeks, or months, whatever it was. Can't thank him enough. What he did for our kids, for myself and everyone in this organization, you can't measure it."
Jagr was with the Panthers for 2 1/2 seasons. He'll turn 46 next season, still wants to play and is coming off a 46-point season for a Florida team that wasn't exactly loaded with offensive weaponry. But in the end, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press, the two sides were simply too far apart on financial terms to make any more talks feasible.
Jagr was a massive presence in the locker room, and teammates picked his brain constantly about his obsession with fitness and how he keeps his game as sharp as possible. He's the No. 2 all-time scorer in NHL history, behind only Wayne Gretzky.
"I think it's time now for our guys to take over," Tallon said. "Our core young guys need to take over this team."
Tallon said the Panthers needed to get younger and faster -- part of the thinking behind both the decision to move on from Jagr and to give forward Jussi Jokinen a buyout on Saturday. The 34-year-old Jokinen had 28 points in 69 games last season.
"It's just a matter of going in a different direction," Tallon said.
Dadonov is the most likely candidate to join young standouts Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau on Florida's top line, filling the role that Jagr has held.
Dadonov is starting his second stint with the Panthers after being out of the NHL for more than five years. Dadonov appeared in 55 games for Florida between 2010 and 2012, with 10 goals and 10 assists. He's spent the past five seasons in Russia's KHL, with 101 goals and 123 assists in stints with Donbass and St. Petersburg.
"In all the three world championships I've been involved with with Team USA, he's been the best player in the tournament," Tallon said. "He's a totally different player than when he first came over."
Vrbata is 36, but is coming off a 20-goal season with Arizona. And with forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith now gone to Vegas, Florida needed to find more scorers.
"Dale is excited about this team," Vrbata said. "And so am I."