Sometimes Great NHL Careers Simply…End
Last week, the Calgary Flames parted ways with aging right wing Jaromir Jagr. The oft-injured 45-year-old passed through unconditional waivers and was loaned to HC Kladno (his hometown club) in the Czech Republic for the remainder of the regular season.
This move likely marks a disappointing end to Jagr’s 24-season NHL career. It’s not the finish his fans envisioned. Some pundits and bloggers feel Jagr deserved better.
But that’s the way most great NHL careers come to a close. Few get a long and emotional send-off like Wayne Gretzky or a storybook conclusion like Lanny McDonald. Most simply end with little or no fanfare.
A few years ago, Sportsnet’s Sean “Down Goes Brown” McIndoe (then writing for the late and dearly missed Grantland) listed “The Forgettable Final Years of 17 NHL Veterans.” The compilation includes such Hall of Famers as Darryl Sittler, Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Mats Sundin, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Jarri Kurri. Were McIndoe to update that piece today, Jagr would likely join that listing.
Jagr’s amazing longevity and durability are worthy of admiration and appreciation. In the final half of his career, he played alongside and against players who idolized him as children. Over half of his Flames teammates weren’t even born when Jagr made his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 1990. Heck, he was the last player standing from the classic “NHL 94” video game.
More than a little sentimentality was attached to the hopes of Jagr carrying on a little longer an an effective NHL player. After all, he was the last active link to the early 1990s, when the NHL product was more free-wheeling, colorful and full of regrettable hairstyle choices.
But time and the grind of nearly a quarter-century of professional hockey finally caught up with Jagr. Indeed, all that wear and tear was taking a toll last season with the Florida Panthers. After tallying 66 points in 79 games in 2015-16, he followed up with only 46 points in 82 games.
Before the Flames inked him last October to a one-year deal, some pundits and bloggers wondered if any NHL teams would take a chance on him. Given how this season panned out, it’s obvious now why so many of them didn’t.
It would’ve been a nice ending to Jagr’s career had he been able to do more than his aging body would allow. With 1,733 games-played, Jagr could’ve broken Gordie Howe’s record of 1,767. Maybe he would’ve moved up higher among the all-time top-10 playoff scorers.
Sadly, that won’t happen now. While there’s a faint hope that he could return to the Flames if they reach the playoffs, they’ll likely go with younger players for the postseason.
It can be argued that Jagr made the mistake of hanging on too long. Despite the way his NHL career ended, he is still among the greatest players in NHL history. A certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, his accomplishments far overshadow his forgettable final year.
Like those before him whose great careers came to a disappointing finish, Jagr’s last season will be overlooked by hockey fans. While his career didn’t get the Hollywood ending, his legacy as one of the NHL’s most dazzling stars remains secure.