Does Jaromir Jagr deserve to be listed among the top 10 players in league history?

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Jaromir Jagr cleared waivers on Monday, and the Calgary Flames announced that the 45-year-old winger was joining HC Kladno of the Czech 1 Liga in the Czech Republic. Jagr leaves the NHL as the league’s third-leading goal scorer, behind only Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky, and he ranks second in points and third in games played.

Where does Jaromir Jagr rank among all NHL players, all time? And where does he rank among skaters?

Greg Wyshynski: It’s bizarre to think that Jagr, the second-leading scorer in NHL history behind Wayne Gretzky, might be just inside the top 20 players ever and right at the edge of the top 10 skaters ever. Yet here we are.

The fact is that having an elephantine career point total doesn’t automatically place you on the short list of GOAT players. Ron Francis, Marcel Dionne, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic are all top-10 all-time scorers, but none of them would be in my all-time top 20.

In fact, they weren’t: I co-authored a book called “The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History (and Other Stuff),” applying a formula that measured (among other things) statistical achievement, peak years, awards and accolades, as well as cultural impact. With that in mind, we ranked Jagr at No. 18 all time. For all of his dominance, he only won one Hart Trophy, although his peak years run from 1995-2001 — he racked up 690 points during the trap years — which was rather extraordinary.

Among skaters, we had him at No. 10 overall, behind the following players, in order: Wayne Gretzky (1), Gordie Howe (3), Mario Lemieux (4), Maurice “Rocket” Richard (5), Bobby Hull (8), Phil Esposito (10), Jean Beliveau (12), Sidney Crosby (14) and Alex Ovechkin (17).

Longevity is a tricky thing to factor into these conversations. In the cases of Mark Recchi and Dave Andreychuk, some players get labeled as compilers. In the case of Chris Chelios, it’s a defining attribute for an immortal player. Jagr is a freak, scoring 322 points after he turned 39, and after a few seasons over in the KHL. (That definitely cost him the all-time games-played record and potentially cost him an assault on some of Gretzky’s marks.)

As an offensive player, few can match Jagr’s effective play through several incarnations of the NHL, going from a speedy comet on the wing to an immovable object later in his career. But a few players were better all around, and a few players had great impact in a specific era. In the end, there were better players than Jaromir Jagr. But there was still only one Jaromir Jagr.

Emily Kaplan: It’s an interesting question, and one that’s asking us to divorce the folklore of Jaromir Jagr from the actual player. The most remarkable feature about Jagr, no question, is his longevity. We can’t ignore, however, that in the waning years of his career, Jagr was in no way as effective as he was at his peak (from roughly 1994-95 to 2000-01). He hasn’t been a 30-goal scorer since 2006-07. We tend to overvalue winners when it comes to any “greatest” ranking, and so it must, of course, be noted that Jagr is a member of the exclusive Triple Gold Club (he has won a Stanley Cup, a World Championship and Olympic Gold — one of just 27 players to do so).

If we’re looking through the lens of the NHL only, however, let’s also note that while Jagr won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, in 1991 and 1992, he was only a complementary player for those Pittsburgh teams. He was not the star who carried those teams. He has won five Art Ross Trophies and was selected to 13 All-Star teams, which are gaudy stats in themselves. Four of those Art Ross Trophies came in consecutive seasons; the only others to accomplish that feat: Gretzky, Esposito and Howe.

Moreover, we have to remember that Jagr bridged generations and skated through iterations of the NHL that differed widely in style and tempo. He debuted before the league even kept track of ice time. He has had three 120-point seasons over the past 20 seasons. The rest of the NHL has combined for two during that stretch.

All of this is to say that when we look at Jagr’s career, we have to grade it on a curve. I put Jagr squarely as my No. 20 player of all time. In no particular order, here is who I would put ahead of him: Beliveau, Martin Brodeur, Ray Bourque, Mike Bossy, Crosby, Gretzky, Howe, Doug Harvey, Hull, Guy Lafleur, Nicklas Lidstrom, Lemieux, Mark Messier, Stan Mikita, Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard, Patrick Roy, Terry Sawchuk and Yzerman. That puts Jagr as the No. 17 skater of all time. What say you, Chris?

Chris Peters: Well, Emily, I say he’s higher on my list. Jagr is such a unique player when you try to put him in historical context. For all of the reasons you both mentioned, the case for him being a top-10 all-time player has been laid out pretty well. He had a long prime, and later pulled off one of the most freakish — to borrow Greg’s terminology — returns to the NHL after his self-imposed KHL exile. He wasn’t the same player, but he still was a good player.

Greg mentioned this on this week’s ESPN on Ice podcast, but it’s something I also keep coming back to myself when looking at the totality of Jagr’s career. It’s about how he adapted his game so he could still make an impact, even though he no longer had the legs to keep up with the NHL’s faster pace. So many players have seen the game pass them by, and that’s it for them. Jagr loved playing too much to let that happen. The insane work he put into keeping his body as strong as it possibly could be is a feat on its own. He still had the hands, he could still finish and I came away with a better appreciation for his overall hockey sense. The man had a feel for the game that rivals that of any player I’ve been able to watch as either a fan or someone who covers the sport.

Jagr is still likely to be on the outside of a lot of top-10-greatest-player lists in the coming years, and I think that’s fair. We all have different tastes and value systems, but he’s a top-10 player for me. Before leaving for the KHL, Jagr averaged 1.25 points per game in his NHL career to that point, which is among the greats of his or any generation. It’s comparable to Crosby, in fact. Jagr won five scoring titles — including four straight between 1997 and 2001, when it was starting to become harder and harder to score. While he only won the Hart once, being one of only five players to win the Art Ross five or more times is the bigger deal to me. Additionally, he won what is now known as the Ted Lindsay Award — MVP, based on voting by his peers in the NHLPA — three times.

From the heights of his prime to the late stages of his career, when he redefined what was feasible for an older player, I think Jagr’s legacy should be that of one of the best and most unique talents to ever play.



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