There are two types of athletes in this world: Ones who get to end their careers on high notes, and ones who don’t.
Then there’s Jaromir Jagr, who’s in a unique category of his own. His NHL career ended in very disappointing fashion, and No. 68 certainly deserved a better sendoff than this. The Calgary Flames waived him after scoring one goal and six assists in 22 games. None of the other 30 teams put a waiver claim in for Jagr, so the Flames loaned him HC Kladno – a team he owns in Czech Republic.
You can’t say Jagr played a year too long, because he scored 16 goals and 46 points for the Florida Panthers last season. He was still cutting it as a top-six forward and tremendous leader. It was shocking that Jagr didn’t find a home until Oct. 4, when the Flames signed him just as the regular season was beginning.
But Jagr simply wasn’t a fit in Calgary, and the ageless 45-year-old wonder departs the world’s greatest hockey league under fairly sad circumstances. Yes, he was humble – thanking the Flames and the city for welcoming him. Doesn’t mean he’s happy about how his NHL career ended.
We’re looking at the man who’s second all-time in career points (1,914), third in goals (765), and in games played (1,733). He would had easily surpassed Mark Messier and Gordie Howe if he didn’t spend three years in the KHL, though.
Jagr is the greatest European player in NHL history, and there’s not much of a debate to it. He won five Art Ross Trophies (as the NHL’s scoring leader), one Hart Memorial Trophy (as league MVP), and helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992.
Jagr was overshadowed by the iconic Mario Lemieux during their days in Pittsburgh. But when ‘Super Mario’ had to step aside to recover from injuries and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Jagr quickly became the top player in the NHL not named Wayne Gretzky.
And no matter where Jagr went, he succeeded. When he was traded to an under performing Washington Capitals team, Jagr only posted a pair of seasons in which he surpassed the 30-goal and 70-point mark. He was traded to a miserable New York Rangers team during the 2003-04 season. After the lockout, Jagr and the Rangers became a force in the Eastern Conference – reaching the playoffs in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Nobody knew what to think when a 39-year-old Jagr signed with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2011 offseason. He had plenty of mileage on his body, was nearing his 40s and hadn’t played in the NHL in four years. All he did was score 19 goals and 54 points in 73 games, helping the Flyers reach the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Jagr then kept bouncing around from team to team. The Dallas Stars signed him in 2012, then he was traded to the Boston Bruins at the 2013 trade deadline – and got them within two games of winning the Stanley Cup. He then signed with the New Jersey Devils, and spent one and a half seasons there before being dealt to the Florida Panthers – where he stayed until 2017.
Jagr pledged that he would try working out hard enough to ensure he could play professional hockey until he was 50. It was more about his hard work and dedication to hockey that made Jagr so lovable in his final stint with the NHL. We didn’t care if he scored 100 points or five points in a season. The man pushed his body against guys half his age, even when he had nothing left to prove or win.
But the way his NHL career ended just doesn’t seem right. It’s not that Jagr had to win a Stanley Cup to ensure a perfect ending, but the fact his stint with Calgary was lackluster makes his exit from the NHL harder to grasp. It’s even worse that none of the other 30 teams picked up the ageless wonder.
Then again, Jagr isn’t the only NHL legend whose career ended in a form of disappointment. Wayne Gretzky’s final game was a 2-1 home loss as a member of the Rangers. His team didn’t even make the playoffs.
Mario Lemieux retired early in the 2005-06 season, when injuries and age were catching up to him. And let’s remember that NHL icons Mike Bossy and Bobby Orr had to retire in their early 30s due to injuries, when there was so much great hockey left in them. Joe Sakic and Cam Neely can also relate.
But none of them played in the NHL until they were 45. That’s why Jagr’s exit from the NHL is a bitter taste for hockey fans around the world. A career that spanned nearly three decades and accounted for 1,733 games. And it just had to end like this – nobody wanting The Mullet.
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