Monday, February 22, 2016

Jaromir Jagr’s Longevity, Greatness Are Defying Time

By Louie Centanni

When Jaromir Jagr made his debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett were in attendance. They were both playing against him on the Washington Capitals.

In fact, 35% of current NHL players had yet to be born. Germany had just reunified, smoking was banned on airplanes for the first time, "I've fallen and I can't get up" was the most well-known commercial slogan, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee had just written the first web page.

I'm pretty sure ESPN didn't even have the concept of "the bottom line," meaning you had to wait until the newspaper was printed the next morning to find out that Jagr was a +2 with one SOG in the 7-4 victory.

Twenty-six years later, Jagr has officially become third on the all-time goal scorer list in NHL history. He deserves every congratulations that he gets. His 742nd career goal put him one ahead of Brett Hull, 59 behind Gordie Howe (801), and still forever separated from The Great One (894).

But here's the thing: this isn't some sort of last hurrah for Jagr where other teams are letting him take a victory lap and score for the heck of it. He is currently the points leader on the Florida Panthers, who are in first place in the Atlantic Division.

In fact, not more than a month ago he was asked what he thought of another league's oldest player, Peyton Manning, potentially hanging up his jersey:

"Why do you want to retire when your team won the championship? It wouldn't make sense to me," Jagr said in an early February interview. "People say you should retire when you're the best. What's the reason? It doesn't make sense to me. Are you wanting to die when you hit 35 when you feel the best?"

That doesn't exactly sound like the words of a man who sees the light at the end of the tunnel. By that measure, can you really doubt that this man may, indeed, catch Howe if he sticks around? What a story that would be.

Consider this, too: Jagr left the NHL to play overseas for three full seasons between 2008-2011. He also missed time due to two different lockouts. If you add up all of the "what might have been" minutes, it's not unrealistic to think Jagr would be approaching Gretzky's mark.

So as Jagr, who turned 44 just about a week ago, continues to excel at an age when most hockey players are getting their three-piece suit measurements to stand behind a bench, take a moment to appreciate arguably one of top five players to ever wear an NHL sweater. While I'd normally say we may not have much time left to watch, it would seem that #68 is going to remain the one constant in an ever-evolving league.

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