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Panthers add veteran Jagr to power playoff push

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Dale Tallon has preached long-term thinking since taking over as general manager of the Florida Panthers, but on Thursday he acquired 43-year-old forward Jaromir Jagr to speed up the building process.

With the Panthers two points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, Tallon added Jagr in a trade with the New Jersey Devils.

“We're right in the mix. I???think they're kind of telling us, 'Let’s make a push,'" Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad said. "We're not banking on these next few years. We want to make a push and make the playoffs and prove to people that we can a good team."

The Panthers put themselves in contention this season with steady goaltending from veteran Roberto Luongo and solid performances from some of Tallon's first-round picks, including Bjugstad, forward Jonathan Huberdeau, and defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.

What the Panthers were lacking was a dynamic veteran presence up front, and that's what Tallon figures he got with Jagr, who cost a second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in 2016.

"We're buyers,"???Tallon said. "We're committed to winning. That's what [owner Vinnie Viola] has said all along and what we've said all along. We want to win. We want to win a championship. We're putting the pieces together, step by step, and we're hopeful that Jaromir can lead these young guys to the promised land. It's a win-win for us.

"Hopefully [he'll bring]???some offense, stability and leadership. It's a good opportunity for him to mentor some of our young guys and show them how hard they have to work to get to his level. It brings stability to our young team and gives us an opportunity in the next 20 games to make a good run to make the playoffs."

Jagr was the Devils' third-leading scorer with 29 points, a total surpassed by three Florida forwards: Bjugstad (36), Huberdeau (33) and Jussi Jokinen (31).

Jagr is expected to arrive here Friday and make his Panthers debut Saturday afternoon against the Buffalo Sabres at BB&T???Center. Florida lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0 on Thursday.

"You compare him to a guy like Luongo," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "They come in, they do their job, they prepare the same way, and they're good for young kids. So I???think it's going to really be good for our group of kids, for sure."

Tallon said Jagr, whose playing time had decreased in New Jersey, would be on one of the top two lines and skate with either Bjugstad or Aleksander Barkov, the second pick in the 2013 NHL???Draft.

Jagr should help on the power play. The Panthers had some success with the man-advantage immediately after the All-Star break when they started using four forwards, but they're 2-for-23 in the past nine games, when they are 2-5-2.

"We saw him when he played against us,"???Tallon said, referring to New Jersey's 3-1 victory against Florida on Jan. 31 when Jagr scored the first goal. "He was dominant in that game, scored, and had the puck. Every time he was on the ice he had the puck. He's strong down low and will really help our offense."

More than what Jagr can bring on the ice, this trade was about him showing Florida's young players what it takes to win, particularly in a playoff race.

This is new territory for Bjugstad, Barkov and Huberdeau after the Panthers finished 30th in the NHL standings in 2013 and 29th last season. Since 2000, Florida has made the playoffs once (2012).

"I want them to feel the battle, first of all,"?????????said Tallon, who joined the Panthers in May 2010. "There's no guarantee that we're going to make it, but we're two points out. This should give us a boost, and if we get our power play going, which I think [Jaromir] will help, and get our offense going, we should have a legitimate chance of being a competitor all the way through.

Jaromir Jagr
Right Wing - FLA
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 29
SOG: 119 | +/-: -10
"That's what I want as the lesson for our young guys: to compete hard, that we're in the playoff hunt, and if we make it, great; if we don't, at least they've had a taste of it and then we're looking forward to the following years ahead of us."

Jagr turned 43 on Feb. 15 and can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but Tallon said he was hoping the fifth-leading scorer in NHL history would be more than a late-season rental.

"That's the hope,"?????????Tallon said. "That's what we talked about. I'd love to see him play another year or two here. That's what his goal is. His fitness level is second to none. That's what we want him to do. We want him to play well the next 20 games-plus and then have another solid year with us next year. That's the plan."

Under terms of the trade, the Devils will get the Panthers' second-round pick in the 2015 draft and a 2016 third-round selection, New Jersey's choice of the Panthers' own pick or the one they acquired Tuesday when they traded forward Sean Bergenheim to the Minnesota Wild.

Tallon has stockpiled enough prospects in recent years that he could afford to give up a couple of picks.

In addition to the young players already in the NHL, the Panthers have others playing for the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League who could be ready to make the jump next year, among them forwards Rocco Grimaldi and Quinton Howden.

Tallon said he tried to sign Jagr as a free agent the past three summers and explored the idea of trading for him about a week ago after reading that he wasn't happy with the way he was being used in New Jersey.

"It's never easy,"?????????Tallon said. "The market was set earlier this week with a couple of trades. It cost more because of what happened prior. Whatever the market will bear, that's what you have to deal with. Obviously, I would have liked to have given a [third-round pick] and a [fifth-round pick], but we weren't going to get him. We got to pay to get something special like this and we were willing to do that.

"The fact that we have a lot of picks and a lot of prospects, we were able to give up a couple of picks to get Jaromir. We're headed in the right direction and I'm excited about him coming here and just spending time with him and watching him play. He's an exciting guy to watch play. He's still got it."

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