Mark Madden: It’s best Jaromir Jagr finishes career elsewhere
Jaromir Jagr’s NHL career is finally over after 1,733 games, 766 goals, 1,921 points and $135 million.
For Jagr, that last figure counts most.
Jagr, 45, will continue his career in his native Czech Republic. He cleared NHL waivers and has been loaned to a club in Kladno, his hometown.
That team plays in Czech hockey’s second division and is owned by Jagr. Conflict between Jagr and management should be minimal.
Some misguided locals think the Penguins should have acquired Jagr. Many of them doubtless booed Jagr every time he touched the puck when he played for the visiting team at Mellon Arena or PPG Paints Arena.
GM Jim Rutherford wasn’t interested. Smart man.
All the tickets are sold. So there was no good reason to indulge a nostalgia trip at the risk of sabotaging the Penguins’ bid for a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
Jagr’s ability finally has eroded below an acceptable level.
This season, Jagr had one goal and six assists in 22 games with Calgary.
When Gordie Howe was 45, he had 31 goals and 69 assists in 70 games with Houston of the World Hockey Association and was league MVP. The WHA wasn’t the NHL, but Howe later scored 15 goals in the NHL when he was 51.
Jagr has more NHL points than Howe. But Howe lasted longer and played at a more productive level deeper into his old age.
Jagr isn’t good enough to play in the NHL now. Every NHL team had a shot at Jagr and his very affordable $1 million salary via waivers. All passed.
Jagr would have been an especially bad fit in Pittsburgh.
Jagr only plays right wing, and the Penguins have at least three who are clearly better. Jagr can’t play fourth line. He doesn’t have the grit or humility.
On the power play, Jagr only plays the right half-wall. That’s where Evgeni Malkin plays, and Sidney Crosby rotates there from down low. The Penguins power play is converting 27.1 percent of the time, making it the NHL’s best. No need for help. Not much room for improvement.
Jagr has a selfish bent, as mercenaries often do.
That boiled over a bit in Calgary, where he undermined coach Glen Gulutzan. Not to a damaging or even distracting level. But he wanted his line’s style to be designed around him. That worked back when. Not at 45.
Jagr is one of hockey’s all-time best. He has the stats. He passed the eye test. No one was tougher to knock off the puck. A lengthier tribute will follow when Jagr ceases playing hockey anywhere. Perhaps the Penguins will retire his No. 68, or bring Jagr to Pittsburgh to be honored at a game.
Jagr played for nine NHL teams during his career and in the Russia-based KHL. Jagr played 11 seasons for the Penguins. His next-longest stay was four years with the New York Rangers.
Does all that wandering dilute his legacy? Does Jagr really have a jersey, especially given his uneven relationship with Pittsburgh since leaving? Teasing a return in 2011 and then signing with Philadelphia didn’t help.
The “Traveling Jagrs” are a group of fans who go to games wearing all Jagr’s different jerseys. They look silly, not least because there’s so many of them.
There’s no doubting Jagr’s greatness.
But it’s a strange kind of great. It’s been a strange kind of career.
It’s good that it’s not wrapping up with one last run as a Penguin.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).