by Mike Chen on 10/05/08 at 04:54 PM ET
When you look at #4 in our countdown of The Hockey News’ Top 50 players from the 1998-99 yearbook, so many negative associations come into play: moodiness off the ice, lack of heart, one of the worst mullets of all time. Looking back, though, it’s easy to forget just how damn good this guy was before his career took a wrong turn in Washington. Presenting #4 in our countdown: Jaromir Jagr.
Ten years ago, Jaromir Jagr was still leading the Mario Lemieux-less Pittsburgh Penguins with a significant playmaking and goal-scoring abilities, and a strong points-per-game ratio in the playoffs. It’s hard to argue about Jagr’s skills at his peak—before his disastrous tenure with the Washington Capitals and his resurgence with the New York Rangers.
The question marks about Jagr, of course, remained about his hear t and his head. His competitive spirit post-2000 seemed to waver, only to be revived off and on in his last two seasons in New York (especially his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink playoff performances). However, 1998 Jagr was a thing to behold: marvelous with his stickhandling, precise in his shot selection, and downright scary when combined with his powerful skating stride and long reach.
Today, Jagr’s no longer in the league and it’s kind of strange thinking about how he exited the NHL with little fanfare. If he chose to stick in the NHL, there’s little doubt that he’d be able to get around a point per game, if not better. Would he be doing it for the money? It’s hard to say; while his contract for Omsk of the KHL pays him around $5 million per season, it’s important to remember that that’s on a tax-free basis. In addition, one has to think that Jagr has to get significant kick-backs here and there for joining the upstart league.
Jagr’s 2008 counterpart is Pavel Datsyuk, who seemed to face similar criticism about skill-vs.-heart earlier in his career. While Datsyuk has world-class stickhandling abilities, he can’t score goals at Jagr’s pace, and his overall points-per-game don’t match up either. However, Datsyuk’s defensive abilities—recognized by his 2008 Selke award—and his takeaway skills are something that Jagr could never replicate.
As I’ve with a few other recent countdown entries, I’ve pondered the question of whether or not I’d pick 98 Jagr or 08 Datsyuk. I’d say it’s a wash and nearly impossible to select unless you could know the exact context of what you’d be putting the player into. If I was selecting based on pure skill and point-scoring ability, it’s Jagr for sure. If I wanted an all-around player that could help out in every aspect of the game (and had a better attitude), it’s Datsyuk.
Perhaps that’s the thing with Jagr—as a high-maintenance player, he thrived when the situations were perfect and the chemistry was right. In fact, those circumstances made him one of the best players to ever hit the ice. But when he wasn’t happy, you might as well have spent $11 million trimming his mega-mullet rather than paying him to play hockey.
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