The date is June 16, 1990 and BC Place, the home of the Vancouver Canucks, is packed with a crop of some of the National Hockey League’s next great players. With the first four picks currently completed, the Pittsburgh Penguins are on the clock, carefully contemplating their future talent. Passing on names like Derian Hatcher, Keith Tkachuk and Martin Brodeur, Pittsburgh elected to take Jaromir Jagr, a 6-foot-3 forward from Czechoslovakia, who some considered the top pick in that year’s draft. As the baby-faced, mullet-rocking, European stepped down from the podium, Canada’s biggest sports network, TSN, ran a highlight reel of Jagr – whose last name they mispronounced on a couple of occasions – which led right into an interview where an interpreter had to relay the level of excitement for the 18-year-old.
His potential was limitless at that point but no one could’ve predicted just what lay ahead for Jagr.
Fast forward almost 27 years and the now 45-year-old is one of the greatest players in history, with a lengthy list of NHL records under his belt, including the most game-winning goals (135), the most overtime goals (19) and the most points (1,921) by a European-born player. He ranks second all-time in points, eleventh all-time in goals (766) and fifth all-time in playoff points (201) – and let’s not forget that Jagr missed four NHL seasons, three because he went to play in the KHL and one because of a lockout. Add in five Art Ross Trophies, awarded to the player who leads the league in points, one Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s most valuable player, three Lester B. Pearson Awards, given to the most outstanding player, and one Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy, awarded for sportsmanship, and there’s almost no reason to believe No. 68 won’t be a first ballot Hall of Famer when the time comes.
And that time could be coming sooner rather than later. Earlier this month, it was reported that both Jagr and the Calgary Flames were working on a mutual exit plan and after being placed on injured reserve Sunday – which is retroactive to Dec. 31, so he can be activated at any time – it appears No. 68 might have to find a new team – which, as we all remember almost didn’t happen last offseason. While several teams, such as Pittsburgh and the Florida Panthers, have been rumored, there is a slim possibility that he signs with those teams and, perhaps, it’s more likely that he returns to the KHL. Or, who knows, with NHL talent out of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyongyang, South Korea, there’s always the possibility for the Czech Republic native to participate and emphasize the value he can still provide.
Since his return from the KHL to the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011, Jagr has played for six different teams and after tallying 66 points with Florida during the 2015-2016 campaign, it seemed almost inevitable that the league’s oldest player would make a serious push to play until he reached 50.
But this season, it looks as though Father Time might have caught up with Jagr. Some of the slow start could be attributed to the fact that the two-time Stanley Cup champion didn’t sign with Calgary until seven days before the start of the season, which means he had little time to prepare — despite working out like a madman in his free time – with the team and build upon the chemistry. After remaining pointless in his first two games, Jagr began to get on the right track, obtaining five points over the next six games. Since then, the points have been few and far between, adding just two assists in the last 14 games, while failing to appear on the scoreboard in his last seven games – leading to his exit in Calgary.
In total, he played 22 games in Calgary, tallying one goal and six assists while battling a nagging ailment.
It was a low risk move bringing Jagr in on a one-year, $1 million contract, one that had the potential to pay dividends for the organization and, as Flames President Brian Burke told Sportsnet, the team “would do the Jagr experiment again tomorrow if [it] had the opportunity” and explained missing training camp, getting a late start in preparing for the season and battling injuries certainly didn’t help his chances. If another team signs Jagr, it’ll be an experiment just like it was in Calgary. It might add some depth as well as leadership for the postseason push but, as evident by time starting to catch up, few teams will be interested in a player who turns 46 next month. Not to mention, seeing this hockey deity dwindle away to a shell of his former self would be anticlimactic – and probably not the way even Jagr would want to fade off into the sunset. But the fire and passion to win and once again hoist the Stanley Cup remain.
There’s no reason to think he doesn’t still have a little left in his tank but maybe it’s time for him to call it quits and, judging by the little interest last summer, that might just be the case. Players like Jagr only come around once or twice a generation, which makes it that much harder to watch him go but it seems pretty evident we’ve likely seen our last salute from No. 68 – at least here in the United States.