Morning Skate: If a Jaromir Jagr–Calgary Flames divorce is imminent, what’s next for No. 68?
Greg Wyshynski: The end. Sadly, but seriously.
That Jagr found an NHL home for the 2017-18 season was exhilarating. There was no guarantee that he would have gotten a contract had he taken the Kladno-to-Olympics-to-Maybe-The-NHL path instead. The Calgary Flames signing Jagr gave us another chance to watch him, another chance to admire his accomplishments — and added another jersey to the ever-growing closets of the Traveling Jagrs.
But whether it’s the injuries or the age — Jagr turns 46 on Feb. 15 — it’s clear that he’s playing at a different tempo than his teammates and his opponents. We’ve gone from wondering about whether Jagr could potentially catch Gordie Howe for second all time in goals to watching Jagr score just one in 22 games this season.
An ineffective Jagr is not one I wish to watch, nor am I compelled to see him grab third-line minutes with one of the handful of teams that might tender him an offer when the Flames and the legendary winger part ways. The joy of watching Jagr during the last several seasons was to witness him defy his age, not struggle to compensate for it.
Jagr’s legacy should be that of a hockey deity, not a mortal deciding on whether surgery could prolong the inevitable.
I love Jagr, but this should be the end of a career that will never be duplicated in the history of hockey. Then it’ll be time to celebrate him as a Hall of Famer, and wonder what might have been statistically were it not for those lockouts and had he not gone on that KHL sabbatical …
Emily Kaplan: The Pittsburgh Penguins are clawing for a playoff spot. Their stats at even strength are hard to look at. They could certainly use some secondary scoring. If the Flames part ways with Jagr, No. 68 should unequivocally sign with Pittsburgh … for a day. So he can retire as a Penguin — and then move on from the NHL portion of his career.
Perhaps Jagr would give Pittsburgh a lift; he’s a veteran presence with a knack for scoring. The Penguins could plug him into a bottom-six role. The same could be said about the St. Louis Blues, a team Jagr almost signed with last summer. He opted for Calgary (in part, so he could check “play for a Canadian team” off his long list of career achievements).
The truth, I’m afraid, is that the version of Jagr that exists today is not the one we fantasize about. Indeed, there’s still a traveling band of fans and cultish fascination with the man, the myth, the mullet. He’s within reach (35 games) of surpassing Gordie Howe’s record of 1,767 career games played. He needs 36 goals to pass Howe’s 801 for No. 2 on the all-time goals list. There’s no doubt Jagr’s hands haven’t failed him yet. It’s his body that’s hobbled — it’s not just that he’s a step too slow to skate in today’s wicked fast game, but also the injuries that have sidelined him from suiting up for the Flames.
It’s hard to watch a legend walk away, but even harder to watch a legend compete when he’s not himself. That’s why we should appreciate Jagr for all he has contributed over the past three (!) decades. Let him sign with a team overseas — maybe in the KHL, or perhaps within the comforts of HC Kladno, his hometown franchise. It would work out best for everyone. Plus, we’d get to see Jagr play in one more Olympics. In a watered-down tournament, there’s no doubt that Jagr would be the star — and get the proper spotlight and send-off he deserves.
Chris Peters: Say it ain’t so, Jags. This isn’t the way I thought we’d see things play out, but the injury situation being what it is and the pace of the NHL was going to catch up to him eventually. The last two years he had in Florida made it seem like maybe time was no match for No. 68. But sadly, it gets everybody sooner or later.
In the dream scenario, Jagr would get a farewell tour a la Derek Jeter or David Ortiz, with each opposing team giving him some zany gift like an oversized bottle of Mane ‘n Tail or a rocking chair made out of hockey sticks. But if he can’t even crack the lineup, that’s going to be out of the question. I’d still love to see him get one last game in the NHL, so the sendoff can be done right. His health situation is a mystery right now, so perhaps suiting up for Friday’s game at the Florida Panthers is not possible. But it would be really neat if he did, especially since Calgary won’t play in Pittsburgh until March. South Florida was where Jagr had his last great run, those magical age-defying seasons that were just too darn fun and oddly inspiring to watch unfold. It’s probably too short of notice to throw together a ceremony that could be simulcast everywhere so we could all see him on NHL ice one more time. This is all probably just wishful thinking, of course.
It unfortunately feels like this is going to end in anticlimactic fashion, which just doesn’t sit well with me. Jagr is one of the game’s all-time greats and, for those of us of a certain age, one of the last remaining links to our childhood, when hockey took hold of our hearts and NHL ’94 took over our nights and weekends.
If he’s healthy enough, like Emily, I’d love to see him get a shot on the Olympic stage. It’d be perfect, Jagr returning 20 years after the Czech Republic stunned the hockey world and won gold in the first Olympics to feature NHL players. I’m not sure what the Czech player pool looks like, and they’ll be playing on a bigger ice surface in PyeongChang, but I don’t know how you’d turn down Jagr for a sixth and final Olympics if he’s willing.
It would make for some great theater and an opportunity for North American fans to see him one more time in a meaningful event.
Even if he’s done in the NHL, I have a hard time believing he has played his last professional game. He loves it too much to just walk away for good.