I figured this was noteworthy since it involved a very popular star player who Ranger and Devil fans were lucky enough to see play for their respective teams. It’s amazing that Jaromir Jagr still is good at hockey and playing at age 44. He’ll be 45 on Feb. 15, 2017.
I can’t think of enough cool things to say about number 68. While Henrik Lundqvist gets all the credit for the Rangers revival post-lockout, they don’t succeed without the character, leadership and world class skill of Jagr.
Doubted by all the experts, the ’05-06 Rangers were picked 30th. Jagr guaranteed the playoffs and then backed it up by besting Adam Graves’ single season goal record with 54 and established a franchise best 123 points. That included 24 power play goals and 368 shots-on-goal. Also team bests for a single season. He only stayed for three full seasons after coming over in a trade for Anson Carter in ’03-04.
Jagr’s impact was remarkable. It still says here that No. 68 was robbed by the media when he didn’t win the Hart which instead went to Art Ross winner Joe Thornton, who was traded mid-season from the Bruins to Sharks. No disrespect to Thornton. But Jagr deserves to win his second MVP. He led the Blueshirts to consecutive second round appearances in ’07 and ’08 with the team coming close to upsetting Buffalo.
Of course, Jagr would leave the NHL and return to Russia to play for the KHL’s Omsk Avangard for three seasons spanning ’08-09 thru ’10-11. A promise he made and kept. What if he hadn’t gone back? He’d be over 2,000 career NHL points and be over 800 goals. Who knows? He might even have had a chance at Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal mark of 894.
Jagr is a throwback player who loves the game so much that he will play until he can’t anymore. Ever see a Jagr interview? His enthusiasm and sarcasm are what make him so much fun. Never has a player captivated hockey fans more.
Since returning to the NHL first with the Flyers and then well traveled with the Stars, Bruins, Devils and Panthers, Jagr even has his own traveling Jagrs who wear different 68 jerseys and the classic Jagr mullet wigs. He’s the hockey version of a rock star.
In tonight’s 4-3 shootout Panthers’ win over the Sabres, Jagr tied Mark Messier for second all-time on the NHL scoring list. He did it in true fashion with three assists including one on the game-tying goal with under four minutes left. So, now it’s Jagr and Messier tied for second in points with 1887.
Florida’s next game is Thursday when they host the Bruins on the NHL’s last busy night before the Christmas Break. He can do it in style by doing it on home ice in the sunshine state. After a slow start, Jagr is up to 19 points (6-13-19) in 33 games. Good for third in team scoring with his 13 assists tied for the Panthers’ lead with another ex-Blueshirt Keith Yandle.
Jagr is someone who’s easy to root for. As Hasan noted in his brief two-year stay in New Jersey before Florida acquired him, he has this aura about him. A unique charm. If only every athlete had his winning personality, sports would be a lot more fun to watch.
Somehow, even now number 68 remains an ambassador for the sport. Someone who continues to shine. His hockey IQ and playmaking and puck possession skills make up for his lack of speed. His work ethic is admirable. The man from the Czech Republic who teamed up with Mario Lemieux for two Stanley Cups at the beginning of his career and won Olympic gold in Nagano with Dominik Hasek in ’98 has done it all.
When he does pass Messier, it will be special much like his brilliant 24-year career. The future Hockey Hall of Famer is everything right about the game. It took him two decades to make another Stanley Cup Final doing so with the ’12-13 Bruins. Even though he didn’t score a goal, Jagr had 10 assists in a Boston gut wrenching six-game series loss to the Blackhawks. One best remembered for the Hawks’ two consecutive goals to stun Boston in Game 6.
With the Panthers having a down year, we might not see Jagr in the playoffs again. It’s anyone’s guess how long he’ll hang around. Whatever he has left, cherish it.