Where Does Jagr Rank Among Greats?

On the cusp of playing in his 1,500th NHL game, Jaromir Jagr’s 1,770 career points leave him just a secondary assist away from tying the great Marcel Dionne for fifth on the all time list.

Now in to his 22nd NHL season; Jagr may also eclipse Ron Francis career total of 1,798 points before the season is finished. And if the his apparently ageless body continues to hold, Gordie Howe’s 1,850 career points might also come under threat before Jagr finally calls it a day – leaving only Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky with more.

But Jagr’s continued advance up the statistical leader boards simply underlines what an exceptional, and sometimes controversial, career the Kladno native has had.

With a plethora of personal awards, two Stanley Cup rings and international success to his name, the veteran winger is a lock to be inducted in to the Hall of Fame at the first time of asking – but where does the 42-year old stand among the game’s greatest?

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Jagr already holds the record for the most game winners (124) and overtime winners (17); and it’s fair to say there’s a strong chance Jagr will build on his 709 career goals and pass Phil Esposito (717) for fifth in the all time list this season.

If the veteran Czech extends his career beyond this season, Dionne’s 731 goals and even Brett Hull’s 741 may come under threat as well.

And with 1,061 assists already to his name, he’s also certain to move past Steve Yzerman (1,063), and probably Adam Oates (1,079), during the current campaign – moving the Devils Captain to sixth all time.

While Jagr’s 1,500th game may get put back slightly following Robert Bortuzzo’s hit on Tuesday; once the mile stone comes Jagr will move past Mike Modano in to 15th on the all time list – if he makes a quick return to the line up (and remains healthy), Jagr will also catch Alex Delvecchio (1,549 games) by the end of the year, moving the winger up to 11th.

[NOTE: Larry Murphy is 8th on the list with 1,615 games – passing him is not out of the question if Jagr plays on for another season…]

Averaging 1.18 points-per-game over the course of his career, Jagr’s scoring touch extended to the post season as well, amassing 78 goals (11th all time) and 199 points (5th all time) in 202 play-off games – including 16 game winners (8th all time).

But Jagr’s legacy – as strange as that may be to talk about while he is still active – will be defined by both the incredible numbers he’s put up, but also by the somewhat ‘roller coaster’ relationships he’s had whilst playing in the NHL.

Drafted 5th overall by Pittsburgh in 1990, Jagr won back-to-back Cups with the Penguins in his first two seasons – scoring 11 goals and 24 points during the clubs 1992 championship defence.

A 70-point effort during the lock out shortened 1994/95 season secured the first of his five scoring titles, with a career best 62 goals and 149 points coming the following year.

Put in to context, that’s was the seventeenth best single season effort in NHL history – and the fourth best by a player not named Gretzky or Lemieux.

After helping the Czech Republic win gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics, Jagr would go on to win four straight Art Ross trophies (including a stunning 42 goal effort in just 63 games during the 1999/2000 season); but the Penguins declining fortunes eventually led to his departure in 2001.

The organisation’s creaking finances left little room to house Jagr and the ‘un-retired’ Mario Lemieux, and rumours of Jagr’s difficulties working with Coach Ivan Hlinka put further strain on his relationship with Penguins, and its fan base, before he was dealt to the Washington for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, Ross Lupaschuk and future considerations

Jagr quickly signed a new 7-year, $77m contract in the US capital – but his time with Washington went on to become one of the most maligned relationships in league history.

Despite scoring at a point-per-game pace, Jagr appeared a shadow of his former self as fan criticism grew and the Capitals plan to win via free agency buckled and the atmosphere between club and player grew increasingly sour until a deal with the New York Rangers in January 2004 saw Jagr move to Broadway in exchange for Anson Carter.

So fractured was the Capitals relationship with Jagr by the end, Washington was willing to remain on the hook for $4m of Jagr’s salary in order to move him, with Jagr himself also deferring a further $1m per year in order to facilitate the move.

After his turbulent run with the Caps, the 2004/05 lockout seemed to be a welcome distraction for Jagr, revitalizing the star.

After stints with Avangard Omsk and Czech club HC Rabat Kladno, who he owns, Jagr was dominated for the Rangers when the NHL returned to action – breaking the club records for both goals (54) and points (123) along side a heavy Czech contingent at Madison Square Garden.

In spite of this success with the Rangers, when his lengthy contract came to an end in 2008 Jagr opted to re-join Avanagard Omsk in the recently formed Kontinental Hockey League – despite interest from a number of NHL clubs.

Jagr remained in Russia for three seasons, helping the Czech Republic to World Championship gold in 2010 and winning a Continental Cup in 2011, before making a controversial return to the NHL when he joined the Penguins’s arch rivals Philadelphia in the summer of 2011.

Jagr formed strong chemistry with Flyers Captain Claude Giroux, tallying 54 points during his single season in the City of Brotherly Love – though it also represented the first NHL season in which Jagr had failed to pass the 20 goal mark.

A summer move to the rebuilding Dallas Stars followed, where Jagr played 34 games of the truncated season, scoring 26 points and recording his 1,000th assist before being dealt to Boston at the trade deadline.

Setting the somewhat unique record for the ‘longest period between Stanley Cup Final appearances’ at 21 years (beating Gary Roberts record of 18 years), Jagr contributed 10 points, all assists, as the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years – where the Massachusetts franchise went down to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

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Another summer move followed for Jagr, joining New Jersey where he became central to a franchise dealing with an ageing roster in the wake of stars player’s Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk’s departing during the two preceding summers.

Leading the team with 24 goals and 67 points, Jagr played with a fervour not seen in his game for a numbers of years and, despite missing the play-offs by 5 points, Jagr signed a new, 1-year deal, with the Devils during the summer.

Once again his club’s leading scorer this season, Jagr’s transition from the ‘cocky superstar’ to the veteran leader we see today has not gone unnoticed.

Frequently one of the first on the ice, Jagr has passed on tips and advice to youngsters in Dallas, Boston and now New Jersey since returning to the NHL and seems to have a love for the game more common in junior players and rookies than grizzled veterans.

But his time in Washington still leaves a bad taste for many. It’s the period of his career which could forever be the black mark against him, the thing that keeps him from being seen as truly great. His reputation as a serious gambler at that time does little to help; and as the hockey world celebrates the careers of greats like the sadly departed Jean Beliveau or Gordie Howe, these past troubles set Jagr awkwardly apart from other greats of the game.

But for a period from the mid 90s to early 2000s, Jagr was the best player in the world – dominant in a way only the true greats were, and on a weaker team than many others enjoyed being part of.

In 806 games with the Penguins, Jagr registered a stunning 1,079 points (1.34 points-per-game on average) – all during one of the toughest eras in NHL history in which to excel, as goaltending standards improved and ‘clutch and grab’ hockey became more prevalent.

Now, his longevity and transformation as a player add another dimension to his story – leaving exceptionally few able match Jagr’s career for its mixture of success, elite level talent and life span.

Were it not for three years in Russia (or two further seasons lost due to three NHL lock outs…), his numbers might be even more impressive.

Had he not lost/sacrificed those season, is it so hard to imagine him passing Gordie Howe’s 1,767 games? Or Mark Messier’s 1,887 points?

Jagr will never break the holy trinity of Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr when it comes to the ‘best ever’ conversation. Chances are he’ll never been mentioned in the same breath as Beliveau, Howe, Messier or Maurice Richard either.

The misty eyed may even talk about the likes of Bryan Trottier, Guy Lafleur or Peter Stastny before they come the Jagr; but there is no escaping the brilliance of his career – warts and all.

Comparing across generations can be tough, but it’s hard not to look back on the player Jagr was, and the way he transformed himself, and not consider him to be one of the best the NHL has ever seen.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on December 4, 2014, in Hockey, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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