Saturday, July 05, 2008

Jagr's legacy

It's really hard to believe this is it for Jaromir Jagr in the NHL.

He's one of the few standbys left in the league from the early '90s, and certainly one of the only stars from that era that's still productive. Even coming off a "down" year, with 25 goals and 71 points at age 36, Jagr still had a legitimate shot to become the NHL's second-leading scorer of all-time.

That's incredible in and of itself, but consider the other factors at play. Jagr's already the ninth-leading scorer in history, despite the fact he didn't play a game in the high-flying '80s, played through two labour stoppages and is now leaving the NHL three or four years before his time.

Jagr's seventh all-time in points per game (1.26), fifth in even strength goals, ninth in shots on goal and second best in career game winners (112).

And he's only 288 points behind Mark Messier, which would mean four 72-point seasons to slide in behind Gretzky in the career scoring race.

Even if he's checked out of the NHL for good (and I'm not entirely convinced he has), Jagr will go down as one of the greatest offensive players the league has ever seen, despite the fact many will look at him as someone with a mixed legacy.

Let's face it, there are large segments of the fanbases in Pittsburgh and Washington that will never forgive him for the way he left town, and that's understandable. What was always so infuriating about Jagr is how incredibly different and disengaged he was — even for the fans and media who knew him so well, no one really ever got that close in 18 years as one of the game's brightest lights.

I've always said it's a copout to write about European players as "enigmas," when really the failing of those who write about players from other countries is that they don't approach them for what they are instead of what they "should be." What Jagr was was an 18-year-old from Kladno, Czechoslovakia: shy and reserved, with broken English, a little bit cocky, and definitely a child of his homeland.

Jagr's always been fiercely patriotic, wearing No. 68 in honour of his grandfather, who died that year in prison after the Prague Spring Rebellion against the country's Soviet rulers. He has always talked about returning home to play his final days in Kladno, and that's still the plan.

I don't think any of us, however, saw those days coming so soon.

It's easy to say he's following the money by heading to Russia next season, but he had an $8-million offer to play in the NHL next season that would have kept him on essentially the same salary he's had every year postlockout. Ultimately, he said it was a matter of stability, that he wanted a three-year contract and a place to call home, even if that means going to an outpost like Omsk, which is far more a part of Siberia than continental Europe.

It's a strange exit, to be sure, but one of the things that I've been really struck by the past 24 hours is the outpouring of support from Rangers fans over the loss of their captain. Jagr may have went out somewhat of a villain in his two previous NHL stops, but in New York, he finally grew into the spotlight and became more hero than enigma.

He was more vocal, he was re-engergized — heck, he was even a leader of sorts, something no one would have predicted based on his early play. And yesterday, he had a bit of a teary exit from the Big Apple, with nothing but good things to say about the management and staff.

Now he's off to play hero to a new league in a city where he's already beloved. Jagr took a star turn in Omsk during the lockout, racking up 16 goals and 39 points in 32 Russian league games three years ago, and that played a role in the oil barons forking over as many millions as they did to bring him back.

"The NHL gave me an opportunity to play hockey," Jagr said yesterday. "And I played with so many great players. Especially in Pittsburgh with Mario and Ron Francis and Bryan Trottier and Paul Coffey — all those great players. I had a chance to learn hockey from them. I was very lucky."

For the longest time, Jagr existed in the league as an unknown entity, a spoiled brat, really, to many North American hockey fans, but he leaves an old friend.

So long, Jags.

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At 12:24 p.m., July 05, 2008, Blogger itchit said...

Great stats to be sure, but I'll always remember Jagr first for his crowning glory - his awesome "achy breaky big mistakey" mullet. The best hockey hair ever?

At 12:36 p.m., July 05, 2008, Blogger James said...

he'll always be loved in NY

At 12:48 p.m., July 05, 2008, Blogger Big Picture Guy said...

Jagr may be "fiercely patriotic" but I'm not sure Czech hockey fans are thrilled by his decision to go to Omsk. Here's a poll from Aktuálně.cz (a major news site):
He made a mistake, Russia does not lead the way back (41.1%)
I do not know what to say. Rather, he went after the money (35.3%)
It's good, I will follow him (23.6 %)

The stilted English is from a web translation engine but I think you get the point.

At 12:55 p.m., July 05, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...his awesome "achy breaky big mistakey" mullet. The best hockey hair ever?

No doubt.

When he was on, he was fantastic to watch. Remarkable career.

At 1:29 p.m., July 05, 2008, Blogger Doogie2K said...

Sort of slanted response options, though.

At 1:38 p.m., July 05, 2008, Blogger itchit said...

The Pensblog has a link to an article in the NY Post where Jagr says "people like Mike Milbury who made their living criticizing me all the time, they can kiss my (ass)!
First Kevin Lowe, now Jagr is firing back at the vapid media whore numbnuts of the league. Zing! Zing! +2 for the good guys.

At 1:42 p.m., July 05, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jags had nice words about returning to Europe but he also showed that coming over here at 18 he didn't finish his school.

From his home to Omsk is almost the same distance as to New York. Obviously it's much faster to fly from Praque to NYC with direct flight than to fly from Praque to Omsk via Moscow.

The real reason is money and it's an acceptable reason even for him because he lost so many millions on Wall Street when internet bubble bursted.

Jags should've invested in Len Barrie's Bear Mountain. Barrie (and his investors) have been offered 450M bucks for the remaining undeveloped land they own.

Also Barrie could have give Jags his three year deal if they were partners. Just kidding.

Amazing player who never seemed to be happy with his life. I could be wrong but that's an impression he left to many fans and viewers.

His grandpa should forgive him playing in Russia because he also made a big statement with his 68.

At 1:44 p.m., July 05, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you say "carpet bagger" in Czech?

At 4:14 p.m., July 05, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it should be mentioned that he also got all those goals and points when the league was in it worst clutch and grab state.

At 5:19 p.m., July 05, 2008, Blogger usually frustrated caps fan said...

As I Caps fan I can't think of anything good to say about the person that is Jagr but the Hockey player that he is still has talent and when he wants to play it shows through. I'm glad he left NY on good terms but not as glad as i was at the end of this season when the Caps stopped having to pay him for nothing.

It's all about money - think about the irony of wearing number "68" for his grandfather whilst playing in Siberia.

At 10:29 p.m., July 05, 2008, Blogger mennoknight said...

puffnuts, you will be missed.

At 2:27 p.m., July 06, 2008, Blogger Matt said...

I'll certainly miss him. He was a new man in NYC. Unfortunately, though, he wanted something (a two year+ deal) at a price ($7M+) the Rangers couldn't give. Either way, it was a joy watching him.

At 11:17 p.m., July 06, 2008, Blogger stokes said...

Jagr was an unreal talent. I'm a Pens fan, and although i used to boo him in the immediate years after his departure, eventually i got over it, as the rest of Pittsburgh should.

As much of a prima donna that Jagr was, his talent was undeniable; first and foremost, that should be his legacy. His whiny-bitch attitude and whatnot, they can all be over looked when he's putting up numbers like he has all his career.

I, for one, will miss Jagr.


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