December 21, 2015
SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 10: Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Florida Panthers warms up during a game against the Washington Capitals at BB&T Center on December 10, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
There are different types of “what ifs” in professional sports.
They usually involve how injuries squandered a player’s potential, or how the window closed on a potential champion, or how a trade could have potentially altered a franchise’s fate.
Most of these “what ifs” are born from someone or something failing to achieve greatness, which is why Jaromir Jagr’s “what ifs” are so fascinating: It’s like asking if a god could ascend to some higher form of deity ... if the NHL and its players had an amicable labor relationship and if Jagr didn’t [expletive] off to Russia for three seasons.
The Florida Panthers forward passed Marcel Dionne for fourth place on the NHL’s all-time goals list on Sunday with his 732nd career tally. Dionne did it in 1,348 games, while Jagr needed 1,581, but in fairness, Jagr played in an era with team defense, and goaltenders that actually knew what they were doing.
Jagr is fourth in goals behind Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801) and Brett Hull (741). His 1,826 points (through Sunday’s games) rank fourth behind Wayne Gretzky (2,857), Mark Messier (1,887) and Gordie Howe (1,850).
It’s conceivable he’ll catch Hull in goals and Howe in points this season, and then who knows what’s next? Considering, you know, Jagr is probably going to continue to play until the sun explodes.
But he’s 43 in human years, so we can’t really be assured of anything regarding his longevity. Which brings us back to the “what ifs.”
As in, “what if Jagr hadn’t lost that time in the NHL?”
Let’s start in 1994-95, when an NHL lockout snatched away half the season. Jagr was 23 years old, playing on an exceptionally talented (though Mario-less) Pittsburgh Penguins team. Let’s assume 80 games played: Based on his scoring ratios for that season, that’s another 21 goals and 47 points on top of what he achieved in 48 games.
Then we had the stolen season of 2004-05. Let’s assume the NHL and the NHLPA got their heads together and avoided the lockout; and, in turn, that the rules changes that would turn the League’s fortunes around were enacted. Let’s go with his ratios from the 2006-07 season, because the first season after the lockout was a crazy-pants anomaly that wouldn’t be repeated. So that’s another 30 goals and 94 points to the total.
Then we have the KHL years. Those stupid, regrettable KHL years. Jagr recently spoke about them with Sportsnet Magazine:
“One reason I came back to Europe, my parents sacrificed their life for me. The way I’m saying sacrifice, it’s a different way than parents do it here for their kids today. Some parents say, ‘Oh, we sacrifice our Sunday to wake up with our kid.” This is not sacrificing like in Czech’
“I decided to go back, but I started missing the NHL—the full arenas, the excitement, the playoffs. You go there, there are some arenas it’s only 3,000. It’s just like, “What the [expletive] is this, what am I doing here?” [Laughs.] I’m used to a full arena—20,000 people, another million watching on TV when you play finals. There, it’s like 3,000 watching you live and 500 on the Internet, so what am I doing here? So I said, ‘I’m gonna try to come back.’”
Jagr played for Omsk from 2008-11. We used his offensive ratios from his last NHL season, his first NHL season back and their median to project points and goals. With that:
2008-09: 25 goals, 71 points in 82 games
2009-10: 23 goals, 66 points in 82 games
2010-11: 21 goals, 70 points in 80 games
So, with all of that projected, we get what Jagr’s current stats might be:
852 career goals, 2,174 career points in 1,937 career games.
The point total is massive, but not within shouting distance of Gretzky’s career mark.
But that goal total … just 42 in back of one of the NHL’s most heralded records, playing through the trap years and against goalies with pads?
Look, this is all just fantasizing. Injuries, slumps, bad linemates … we’re obviously just fiddling with the career averages.
But the point of a “what if” isn’t to-the-number accuracy, but a general sense of what an alternative history might have been. And in Jagr’s case, it would have take what was already one of the greatest offensive players in hockey history and positioned him to become the greatest goal-scorer of all-time.
All that said: Please don’t ask us to project Mario’s stats were it not for illness. Our computers might not have that kind of processing power …