Thursday, October 30, 2008

An in-depth look at the wildly underappreciated career of Jaromir Jagr

People who read my stuff about the Stars (and previously about the Kings if you go in the way back machine) would probably be surprised to know that once my snarky armor is pierced, my hockey heart sports a Pittsburgh Penguins logo.

The Penguins were an easy team to love. Over the years, man-crushes were developed for Stu Barnes, Alex Kovalev, Martin Straka, Johan Hedberg and Ron Tugnutt. Some sports fans hold grudges when a player leaves but those guys always reserved a soft spot. And, of course, Mario Lemieux is the Patron Saint of Pucks.

But I became a fan of the Penguins after the years of their mini-dynasty and Lemieux only occasional graced my hockey viewing presence. When he did he owned the sports world. Eli Manning leading the New York Giants to the Super Bowl made my sports year, but I still don't know if it tops Lemieux's post-retirement run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Loving Lemieux and many supporting cast members is easy, but if there's one player in Penguins history who divides fans it's Jaromir Jagr.

We may disagree about Jagr's legacy, but I think we all frown upon his ludicrous Brazilian.

Many fans booed him every time he touches the puck. They made (admittedly pretty damn funny) "dying alive" references, mocked his John Daly-ian gambling mishaps and never forgave him for the way it ended. Make no mistake about: Jagr and the Penguins had an ugly divorce. Really, it might have submarined the franchise if not for the Crosby lottery. It might have left spurned Penguins fans muttering Kris bleepin' Beech in the same way Boston Red Sox fans once cursed Brett Boone's less talented brother.

A lot of fans forget how great Jagr was. They let the diva antics, the bad divorce, the Capitals disaster and unfortunate facial hair cast a shadow over a Hall of Fame career.

I'm not one of those fans.

Really, the early-to-mid 90s were a tragic era for hockey superstars. As much as I hated Eric Lindros and disliked the (retrospectively justified) Lemieux comparisons heaped on Peter Forsberg, the stars of the obstruction/neutral zone trap era may never get their due. Scoring 100 points in the 80s usually meant that you were an all-star. Hitting 100 in the New Jersey Devils' "golden" era was a sure sign of a superstar.

The bottom of the post chronicles Jagr's underrated dominance of the NHL throughout his unappreciated career. But here's a few bullet points to make Jagr haters grit their teeth.

  • Jagr is ninth all-time in points. In NHL history. And this is after forfeiting the last two or three years of his prime.
  • Oh yeah, and the only guy above him who played a majority of his games during the 90s is Joe Sakic (who has 1638 to Jagr's 1599 points). But Sakic played in 100 more games so it's still safe to say that Jagr was the most prolific scorer of his generation. Suck on that.
  • The thing that made Jagr so damned unstoppable was that he was just as likely to score a goal as he was to set one up. He ranks 12th all-time for goals scored. Brendan Oldmanahan DOES have four more goals on his resume ... of course, he needed more than 200 extra games to do so.
  • Want evidence that people hate him just a little too much?
Take a look at these stats and play a little game of "one of these things is not like the other."

Art Ross trophies: 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001
Lester B. Pearson trophies: 1999, 2000, 2006
NHL first team All-Star: 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006
Hart trophies: 1999

That's what happens when you leave the voting up to the media. It happens in the NBA (where the Shaq-Kobe debate for best player in the NBA seemed to happen everywhere but on media ballots during their LA years) and other sports: the sexiest story beats the bland perennial dominator. And when that bland perennial dominator is a diva with a mullet, then getting black balled is only natural.

(To be fair, MVP voting isn't usually as bad as coach of the year voting ... since this year's coach of the year could be next year's unintentional studio analyst)

  • He holds a bunch of all-time records for right wings and for the New York Rangers.
  • Considering the venom spewed at Jagr, you would think he never showed up when it mattered the most but Jagr was extremely clutch. He has 181 points in 169 career playoff games.
  • He's tied with Mats Sundin for all-time postseason overtime goals with 9 (kind of irrelevant, but it gave me a chuckle).
  • He's also won two Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal.
  • Consistency might not be a word associated with Jagr, but really that's just another example of rampant hate. Two of his career records (most consecutive seasons with 30 goals and most consecutive 70-point seasons, both at 15) show that he was a machine for a decade and a half.
  • He's second all-time with 112 game winning goals.
  • Seriously, you can manipulate stats in any way you see fit ... but Jagr's career numbers are just plain staggering. So reach down deep inside what remains of your soul and admit that Jagr is the best forward of his era. Even if he never was the league leader in warm-and-fuzzies.
Take a look at Jagr's prime years in context and it becomes clear just how special he truly was:


94 points in 81 games.


99 points in 80 games. (9th best in NHL)

1994-95 (the other lockout)

Tied for first in scoring with Eric Lindros (70 points each in under 50 games played)


Mario Lemieux (161 points in 70 GP!)

2. Jagr (
149 in 82 GP)

Joe Sakic (120 in 82 GP)

Sure, Lemieux helped but he still beat Sakic by
29 points!

Montana - Rice; Jordan - Pippen; Lemieux - Jagr.


Missed 19 games, but was still 6th in the NHL with 95 points.


1. Jaromir Jagr (35 goals,
102 points overall in 77 games)

2. Peter Forsberg (91 in 72)

3. Pavel Bure (90 in 82)


1. Jagr (44 G, 83 A and
127 points in 81 games)

Blew away second place
Paul Kariya by 20 points!


Managed to lead the league in scoring with 96 points
in only 63 games played. Pavel Bure came in second with 94 points in 74 games. The only top-10 guy with similar GP was Joe Sakic who managed 81 points in 60 games.


Another scoring title for Jagr (52 G, 69 A and 121 points in 81 games) although Sakic was breathing down his neck (54 G, 64 A and 118 points in 82 games).


His run with the Capitals didn't go too well, but he still put up some numbers. He matched Sakic's 79 point performance, only Burnaby Joe played in 82 games compared to the Mulleted One's 69. That was good enough to tie them for 5th place.

(This year goes down in Hart Trophy voting infamy when Jarome Iginla was denied the MVP because some abysmally racist hockey writer LEFT IGINLA -- THE SCORING LEADER ON A SHITTY FLAMES TEAM -- OFF HIS BALLOT ALTOGETHER.

Look on the bright side Mr. Racist Hockey Writer ... it's not like Iginla made you look like a tool by becoming the Flames all time goal scoring leader while Jose Theodore turned out to be a flash in the pan. Or anything. You douche bag.)

That shit still makes me mad. Although, maybe it's my naivete and it wasn't racism after all?

He didn't make the top 10 in (2002-03, 2003-04)

2005-06 (post lockout)

1. Joe Thornton's magical trade year mostly w/ SJ: (29 G, a ridiculous 96 A, 125 points in 81 games)

2. Jagr (54 G, 69 A for 123 points in 82 games) on what was, in my opinion, a far inferior New York Rangers team.

3. Alex Ovechkin's Calder trophy lookatmenotCrosby year (106 points)

It's hard to argue with Jumbo Joe winning that Hart Trophy, but who knows how many people chose him over Jagr because he took the scoring title by two points...


No. 8 in scoring with 96 points including 30 goals.


A down year with only 71 points, although he often carried the New York Rangers in the playoffs with an impressive 5 G, 10 A and 15 points in only 10 playoff games.

My main sources for Jagr's career stats were the immortal and the run by mortals Wikipedia.


Alexander Dubcek said...

I enjoyed seeing the clip from the '92 finals and the Czech banners at the Igloo. I especially liked the one that rendered "He shoots, he scores" into literal (and thus) awkward Czech. It's literally "He shot, he scores," but it sounds really weird because that's not remotely close to anything in Czech hockey jargon.

jamestobrien said...

With all the great goals Jagr scored, that's still the one that blows my mind the most.

Curse my not-yet-aware-of-hockey youth for never seeing that one live.

jamestobrien said...

OH and a quick note: I DO NOT think Jaromir Jagr was better than Mario Lemieux. Discussing his "era" is a little bit murky, but that point I wanted to make clear.

Feel like I dodged a train wreck, even if people make short work of my "best forward of his era" claim.