Now that he has “fully” returned to the NHL, it seems time to take a look back at the career of Jaromir Jagr – one of the most talented players to ever take the ice. But has he ultimately lived up to his potential?
Jaromir Jagr “The Vince Carter One” (9 time All-Star…8 time All-NHL Team – 7 times 1st…5 Art Ross Trophies…1 Hart Trophy…646 goals…953 assists…1599 points – 9th All-Time…1.26ppg…2 Stanley Cups)
Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau, Mike Ricci – none of these players can touch the above resume, and yet all four were drafted ahead of Jaromir Jagr. Granted at the time there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether Jagr could escape the Iron Curtain – before the draft it looked like he would be there for another couple of years – yet, what followed might be the closest thing the NHL has to Sam Bowie being drafted before Michael Jordan. On the speculation of his talent alone Jagr should have been number one. He was the best player in a deep, deep draft. He was the best player to come out post-Lemieux. One thing is absolutely certain: Jagr should have had a chance to carry his own franchise from day one.
He never could.
Jagr was a once in a lifetime talent, easily the most talented European and winger in the history of the NHL. It is impossible though, to take full stock of his career without mentioning that he was never the NHL’s Alpha Dog and never really had a fair shake at it. By the time he had the opportunity to carry a team of his own, Jagr’s mindset and desire to win had radically shifted. He became, for lack of a truer comparison, the Vince Carter of the NHL.
Jagr exhibited a ridiculous combination of skills: he was big (listed at 6’3 240), fast and skilled with the puck. His finish was absolutely exceptional. He was playing with an “in his prime” Mario Lemieux. Together they combined for two Stanley Cups and one of the most incredible sequences I have ever witnessed on the ice.
Keep in mind please that I was a kid during the following sequence: The Penguins were down 4-3 in a Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals with around four minutes to go. It looked bleak for them and yet, without a doubt I knew that they were going to score multiple times and win the game. Within ten seconds, there was a Lemieux to Jagr goal and then they scored again (the same combo?) and again. The passes were perfect and the chemistry staggering; it was like pairing Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin – two surefire Hall of Fame talents at the outsets of their careers. Putting Lemieux and Jagr on the same team was an almost mystical convergence that created one of the best teams in NHL history. Neither Lemieux nor Jagr was ever the same player after they parted: Mario because of an incredibly bad run of injuries, Jagr because he lost “it” and without “it” he was a ridiculously talented but completely listless star.
When you had Super Mario and Jagr playing together fans felt like they were re-watching the birth of the 80’s Oilers and quickly became convinced they were watching the next dynasty take shape. After the 1992 4-0 sweep in the Cup Finals it appeared that nothing short of the worst possible scenario could derail the mighty Pens.
What happened in the aftermath? Jagr became a high scoring mercenary who never again attained anywhere near the level of success. He won an MVP Award during a year in which Lemieux was injured but could never again climb the mountain; in all honesty he never came close. The Penguins made the playoffs in twelve of thirteen seasons but were never again the threat to take the Stanley Cup until Sid the Kid came to town. Despite great numbers one thing has always been in evidence against Jaromir (and not just the fact that he had what is, without any doubt, the worst hair in NHL history – it was a curly mullet, so horrendous it certainly deserves its own chapter in this tome), quite simply he has never made teammates better. No one has ever played with Jagr and raised their game to match his. As the Whisper wrote, “Jagr (like Lemieux) had one of the best phone booth stickhandling abilities I’ve ever seen, ability to score from seemingly in the crease and the underrated ability to take slashes and crosschecks and retain the puck due to his strength”.
No one can argue that Jagr did not put up astounding numbers but he never enticed his teammates or helped them to do the same. At the end of the day it is was all about him and once he left Pittsburgh that became increasingly clear during his stops with Washington (2 seasons, significantly worse), New York Rangers (never met exceptions despite ridiculous amount of talent) and various Eastern European teams (since 2008). Jagr took an extended NHL break because, to put it simply, things were not as he wanted. The money was not as much as it once was because people had finally come to the realization: he was not a franchise guy.
Should we fault Jagr for this? For the fact that by the time he had to carry a team he had no idea how? For his bumbling leadership? Over the years Jagr became little more than a glorified brat in NHL circles, someone who left the Rangers in a deep hole they have yet to recover from and ran away because he could not take any more abuse from fans. No one ever failed expectations time and again like Jagr. He was given everything but the ability to carry the weight of a franchise on his shoulders. All he played for was money.
In the end that may be enough for Jagr: he won two Stanley Cups as a great number two and never needed more. All he needed was cash which he got in abundance time and again. In 2011/2012 he rejoined the NHL on a retooled contender, the Philadelphia Flyers. Will he redeem himself? Does he have what it takes to lead a team?
Did he ever?
In my opinion, this is the only way to leave Jagr’s electric career – with questions. In all his years, answers have been few and far between.
And I would still take Teemu Selanne over him, nearly any day of the week.
 To the Canucks! Could have f-ing had Jagr! AND BURE! Instead we get saddled with arguably the worst pick the Canucks made in any draft, ever.
 Beats out Selanne, Kurri and Forsburg…by a wide margin.
 At this juncture I should point out he is not Canadian.
 I know this happened because I was watching it, but looking back on it the details are completely fuzzy. How I felt is totally without any lie however.
 Or Crosby and Malkin…and Stahl…
 Exactly what happened: as we have covered before, Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease and the team was never quite the same afterwords.
 I am slightly over-exaggerating: in 1993 the Penguins captured their only President’s Trophy for attaining the best regular seasons record (56 wins) but they did not play in the Stanley Cup Finals. This was the one year a Gretzky – Lemieux Finals was realistically in the cards. Gretzky was finally settled in with the Kings and Lemieux was a back to back Champ. Only Gretzky kept his end of the bargain.
 NHL’s greatest #2’s: Ted Lindsey, Mark Messier, Phil Esposito, Evgeni Malkin, Brett Hull.
 I tried to watch him on the Flyers and could not stop laughing. He was way behind the pace of the game, looked horrendously out of shape and could not match the speed of the game.