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Playing the “What if?” game with Jaromir Jagr’s career

Mar 2, 2012, 8:00 AM EDT

Jaromir Jagr AP

Philadelphia Flyers winger Jaromir Jagr broke his tie with Joe Sakic for eighth place on the NHL’s all-time points scoring list, adding another bullet point to a no-brainer Hall of Fame career.

The Czech-born forward has played 1,327 regular season games in his NHL career and 169 more in the playoffs, so it’s hard to say that things could have gone any better.

Even with that in mind, there are three moments in his playing days that could have put his amazing run under the spotlight that much more. With that in mind, let’s play the “What if?” game with Jagr’s career – in chronological order.

1. What if he beat out Eric Lindros for the 1994-95 Hart Trophy?

Jagr narrowly lost two Hart Trophy races – both against good old Canadian boys with remarkably similar numbers. The first one came with Eric Lindros won his only league MVP in a strike-shortened 1994-95 season. With the help of hockey-reference.com, here are some quick numbers that show how close the two were.

Points: Jagr and Lindros tied with 70 (Jagr played in 48 games; Lindros played in 46)
Goals:  Jagr was second in the NHL with 32 (Peter Bondra had 34) while Lindros had 29.
Point shares: Jagr barely edges Lindros 27.2-27.1 … whatever that means.
Teammates: Ron Francis was the Penguins’ second leading scorer with 59 points; Mikael Renberg had 57 for Philly
Misc.: Jagr started the season at 22 years old; Lindros was 21. Even their teams were remarkably similar as the Penguins had 61 standings points and the Flyers had 60.

Seriously, Lindros and Jagr might as well have split the Hart that season.

source: Getty Images2. What if Jagr edged Joe Thornton for the 2005-06 Hart Trophy?

Much like the Lindros-Jagr scenario, the Thornton-Jagr voting could have gone both ways, too.

Jumbo Joe lead the league in assists (a ridiculous 96) and edged Jagr in points (125-123), but some might factor into more-difficult-to-get goals into the argument (Jagr was second overall in the NHL with 54 to Thornton’s 29). You can consult the history-reference season summary to quibble over different things such as goals created, but the stats are all very close – again.

Context didn’t do much to distinguish the two, either. Sure, Thornton made Jonathan Cheechoo a mufti-millioniare and 56-goal scorer, but Jagr racked up those crazy numbers with linemates like Michael Nylander and Martin Straka in New York.

3. What if he didn’t go to the KHL?

OK, so maybe those Hart Trophy coin-flips don’t do it for you. The most intriguing hypothetical question is: where would Jagr be if he didn’t go to the KHL for three seasons?

There are so many variables – particularly wear and tear/burnout from not knowing what he’s missing in the NHL – but it’s still intriguing to wonder where he’d rank on the all-time lists if he played in those seasons. I’m not going to speculate on where he’d be, but just look at the point and goal marks that would be within his feasible grasp.

Points:

4. Ron Francis: 1,798
5. Marcel Dionne: 1,771
6. Steve Yzerman: 1,755
7. Mario Lemieux: 1,723
8. Jagr: 1,643

Goals:

3. Brett Hull – 741
4. Dionne – 731
5. Phil Esposito – 717
6. Mike Gartner – 708
7. Mark Messier – 694
8. Yzerman – 692
9. Lemieux – 690
10. Luc Robitaille – 668
11. Jagr – 663

***

In the grand scheme of things, Jagr maximized his potential in his NHL career. Few players could dream of the money he made, games he managed to play and numbers he put up.

Still, it’s interesting to ponder how people would feel about his career if he had, say, three Hart Trophies and was in the top five in both points and goals, right?

  1. abrienza428 - Mar 2, 2012 at 8:11 AM

    I always wondered where he might be if he hadn’t missed those 3 seasons. He very well probably would be in the top 5 of both goals and points. And a bigger “what if”, but if he stayed in Pittsburgh, he might’ve beat out Lemieux as their all-time leading scorer.

    Despite being a Pens fan and all the drama this past summer, I’ll always have a special place in my memory for Jagr. Skill that you just can’t help but admire.

  2. icelovinbrotha215 - Mar 2, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    Isn’t that the beauty of sports? It’s just like life, the “what if?” game is played all the time. It would have been nice to see Jags stay in the NHL the whole time. Still one of the greatest NHL players of all time.

    • florida76 - Mar 2, 2012 at 10:05 AM

      Jagr will go down in history as a great player, but definitely not one of the greatest of all-time. The biggest “what if” question for his career would be carrying his team to a title. Jagr has been a great scorer, but to be considered best of the best, your legacy must transcend statistics.

      Just can’t put Jagr in the best ever grouping with the likes of Gretzky, Mario, Orr, and Howe.

      • icelovinbrotha215 - Mar 2, 2012 at 12:00 PM

        That’s 4 players you have mentioned. And you say Jags can’t be recognized as one of the greatest players to ever play? I get it. He isn’t from North America but he is top 10 in points and was just as dangerous as anyone else during his prime. I am a Flyers fan through and through so I was geared to dislike Jags growing up. For me to still here and say that he isn’t one of the greatest hockey players seems somewhat short-sighted.

      • alfredelchami - Mar 2, 2012 at 3:01 PM

        Gretzky never won a “single” Cup without Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Anderson and Fuhr.

        Messier never won a Cup without the affermentioned players and Leetch.

        Lemieux never won a Cup without Francis, Jagr… (also Lemieux without Jagr only made the playoffs once in 8 seasons).

        Orr never won a Cup without Esposito.

        Trottier never won a Cup without Potvin, Bossy and Smyth.

        Lafleur never won a Cup without Dryden, Savard, Robinson, Gainey, Demers…

        All great players had great teams.

        Outside of the years Jagr played alongside Lemieux, how many of the players he played with in the Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame worthy?

        Shanahan in New York? Maybe but he was old and way passed his prime.

        Bondra? Oates, Kolzig? All borderline Hall of Fame players.

        All the other greats that Jagr is compared to played with other sure shot Hall of Fame players.

        Jagr is top 10 in every offensive category in playoffs history including PPG, game winning goals, points, overtime game winners.

        He won 5 Art Ross trophies (4 without Lemieux while Lemieux only won 2 without Jagr).

        When Jagr was the leader of his teams, his teams had no business usually even making the playoffs and they got there on Jagr’s talent alone.

        See 1998-2000 Penguins and 2006-2008 Rangers as examples.

      • tribesofneurot - Mar 2, 2012 at 3:21 PM

        Trottier won a cup in Pittsburgh.
        Don’t use Gretzky as a reference point.It will be frowned upon.

  3. blomfeld - Mar 2, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    Planet of the Apes ? …

    When I clicked on this story friends, for some inexplicable reason, visions of my last visit to the zoo immediately came to mind ? … I’ve no idea why and it’s very “quizzical” to say the least ?

  4. tribesofneurot - Mar 2, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    He was a great player but an awful Captain.
    But he doesn’t belong in the same grouping as Lemeiux,Gretzky,Howe,Orr,Yzerman or even Messier. They were leaders and Jagr was not a leader.

  5. trigzter - Mar 2, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    gretzky was in a league of his own. don’t compare howe or messier to him its not even close.

    • tribesofneurot - Mar 2, 2012 at 12:48 PM

      Yeah,ok

    • trigzter - Mar 2, 2012 at 12:55 PM

      being 900+ points back despite playing 270 games more than gretzy puts you on the same level? I would love to see an intelligent arguement for that.

      • tribesofneurot - Mar 2, 2012 at 1:01 PM

        Nobody was saying he was better than Gretzky. Just saying that he wasn’t a leader like Gretzky and the others. So don’t get all butt hurt over it.

      • trigzter - Mar 2, 2012 at 1:03 PM

        he? who are you even talking about?

      • tribesofneurot - Mar 2, 2012 at 1:07 PM

        Jagr. That’s what the story is about. Don’t you read?

      • trigzter - Mar 2, 2012 at 1:13 PM

        why do you even bother replying at this point? do YOU read? I never said anything about jagr.

      • tribesofneurot - Mar 2, 2012 at 1:23 PM

        Then why did you come in here running your yap about Gretzky’s numbers? When nobody said he was going to surpass his records.All was said is that Jagr will NEVER BE A LEADER like Gretzky,Lemieux,etc.
        Yeah Jagr put up points but he never had the leadership quality to be a great player like the rest of aforementioned.

      • trigzter - Mar 2, 2012 at 2:22 PM

        you just don’t…..get it. You are still talking about jagr and comparing him to gretzky, I never did that. I never said anything about anybody being a leader. People were putting messier and howe in the same sentence as gretzky as if they were comparable players. They were not, and the points total and PPG clearly shows it.

  6. rsl22 - Mar 2, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    As a life-long Caps fan, my feelings on Jagr have really run the full gambit of emotion.

    In his time as a Pen, I absolutely hated having to watch the Caps face him (and inevitably lose).

    When he came to the Caps, I was absolutely one of the blind who thought he would lead the team to a Cup. But although he put up solid numbers (just over a point/game), it was clear, and he has admitted, he did not give it his best effort. The Caps had Jagr, Bondra, Kolzig, Oates, Gonchar, Zubrus, Lang, Nylander, some real solid lineups, but didn’t win a single playoff series in his three season (only made it to playoffs once).

    But after going to the Rangers and Philly, I actually started to like the guy. Now that he’s a bit older, I really appreciate his rare talent, that combination of size and hands is special. I don’t think he’d be a top 5 draft pick if you put all the players in history together, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he went top 10.

    • tribesofneurot - Mar 2, 2012 at 1:03 PM

      I will give you this.That lineup you posted should have won a Cup for sure.That is solid list.

  7. tribesofneurot - Mar 2, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    I never compared him to Gretzky as far as for point totals. To do that would be absurd
    I mentioned Gretzky,Lemieux,Howe,Orr,Yzerman and Messier as LEADERS and their LEADERSHIP qualities.
    But off course Wayne accumulated all those points by himself and didn’t get any help? Not even from Mess?

  8. lsxphotog - Mar 2, 2012 at 3:48 PM

    I started watching Jagr when I was 6 years old. I grew up emulating him and Bure for their speed, strength on their skates, and overall skill. Never could I have imagined he would become one of the greats of the game. He’s a special player that a lot of people tend to hate on simply because he’s a Czech and lost a bit of his spark when he bounced from Washington to NY. He’s back, and he’s in control.

  9. alfredelchami - Mar 2, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    tribesofneurot

    Trottier was a role player playing on the 3rd line when he won a Cup with Pittsburgh.

    Guess who was on that team? No other than Lemieux and Jagr and Francis.

    I will never deny Gretzky’s talent and place in history (in my books he’s 4th to Howe, Orr and Lemieux) but to use the Cup argument against Jagr is not fair.

    Jagr was never surrounded by teams that were threats to win Cups in all those post-Lemieux years.

    The teams Jagr led in the late 90’s and in the 2000’s never had the talent, depth, goaltending and defense to compete with the likes of the Avalanche, Red Wings, Stars, Devils, Flyers or even Blues in that era.

    People want to talk about the Capitals. That team was weak and despite Jagr not trying his best, still outscored Bondra, Oates, Lang… in that time span.

    Jagr still put up over PPG in Washington and in their one trip to the playoffs in his time there. Jagr led the Capitals in playoff scoring.

    What was he to do? Play in net, play on defense and play on all 4 lines? He was asked of to be an offensive player (coached by Cassidy who was the worst coach in NHL history and despite being asked to score, was never allowed to do so and was asked to play dump and chase hockey which was never his style).

    All Stanley Cup winning teams had depth. When Jagr played on any non-Lemieux teams, they were usually a one-line team and relied heavily on Jagr to score. More times than non, Jagr did his part and then some.

  10. alfredelchami - Mar 2, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    BTW this article starts off by talking about Jagr’s Hart trophy losses mentioning the Lindros-Jagr and then Thornton-Jagr debates in 1994-95 and 2005-06 respectively but the article fails to mention that Jagr lost an even tighter Hart trophy race in 1999-00 when Pronger beat Jagr by just 1 pt to capture the Hart trophy.

    Jagr would win the Pearson that season. He missed 19 games and still came within 1 pt of capturing his second straight Hart trophy. He also won the Art Ross that season.

    Had he won the Hart, he would have been only the 4th player in NHL history (after Howe, Esposito and Gretzky) to win all 3 major awards in back-to-back years.

    As it stands in 1998-99 and 1999-00 he won a total of 2 Art Ross trophies, 2 Pearsons and 1 Hart. He was as dominant as they came.

    North American fans need to get past their hatred for Jagr. He was “one of the greatest” to ever lace them up.

    He’s a sure top 15 player and when he finally retires (depending on what he does in the next few years and if he can win a Cup or two as the main scoring threat) then he has a shot to enter the top 5-10 best players list.

    He was a Hart finalist 6 times in his career (twice finished 4th in voting as well), only Lemieux, Gretzky, Beliveau, Esposito, Howe and I think Orr and Mikita have had equal or better Hart trophy shared finishes.

    Give the guy his due and credit that he has always deserved. He dominated the “Dead Puck Era” when bigger defensemen were allowed to hook you, slash you, hug you and do what ever it took to impede your way to the net and yet despite all that and despite all the double teams he faced, he made NHL defensemen look like pee wee hockey players on a consistent basis.

    In my books, only Orr and Lemieux had more pure talent. He was the perfect example of the combination of skill, speed, strength, flash, heart (yes he played hurt almost his entire career, see the 1999 playoffs round 1 series against the heavily favored, 1 # seed Devil as an example of this).

    In his prime, he was the league’s best playmaker (led the league in assists 3 times which is almost unheard for a winger, finished top 3 in assists in another 4 times), was a top 2-3 goalscorer (he never led the league in goals but was 2nd in 1994-95, 1995-96, 5th in 1996-97 despite missing 19 games, 2nd in 1998-99, 3rd in 1999-00 despite missing 19 games and 2nd in 2005-06.

    He was the league’s best stickhandler, he was the strongest player to knock off the puck (usually required 3 guys who were 6’6 and 230 + lbs on him at the same time andf they were usually unsuccessful). He was a premier skater and was considered the perfect skater as he used his massive legs for balance and to power through players.

    if anything, Jagr might be the most underrated player of all-time.

  11. Dr. Kronner - Mar 3, 2012 at 4:36 PM

    You want to talk ‘What Ifs’ – How about “What if the Red Wings had drafted Jagr at #3 in 1990 instead of Keith Primeau?” How many cups would they have won in the 90s with Yzerman and Federov playing alongside Jagr…

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