Jagr’s reach is long as Lemieux’s and the IRS combined (or as ex-Blackhawks’ star Steve Larmer jokes, he’s got 15’ reach on either side of his body.) He can also deke like nobody’s business, shoot the lights out, is awesome on the boards, and is as comfortable with the backhand as with the forehand anywhere in the offensive zone. Plus, he also gets “Phil Esposito-garbage-goals” to boot.
In 1996-97, when he notched his 140th point, on the way to 149, he became the highest scoring player from Europe. It was just his sixth season.
Like Bobby Orr, when gliding, Jagr passes players, and he splits defenses seemingly with ease – abilities, no doubt, helped by his doing 1,000 squats a day, starting when he was 7. He can pick top corners from tough, tight, angles...He can do the wraparound – and this when everyone in the rink senses that is his plan. But he has 1 weakness: he can’t skate backwards worth a darn. No big deal, teams dig the offense, look past the defense...and hey, on his way to 1,000 assists, he set up 145 teammates.
44-yr old Jaromir sometimes plays on the Florida Panthers’ first line with LW Jonathan Marchessault (who was 2 when Jaromir broke in to the NHL) and C Aleksander Barkov (who wasn’t born!) in this, his 23rd season. Caught up in the excitement of Jagr leading the team in scoring last year, the Panthers, in October, had a bobblehead night, featuring the famed Jagr mullet. (Many feel he MADE the mullet.) "JJ" jokes he loses his power when he gets his hair cut.
Jagr has been consistently great, certainly as goal production goes. For 15 straight years, ending in 2006-2007, he notched 30 goals per season. One wonders what his NHL totals would be if he wasn’t locked out with the rest of NHLers for parts of 2004-2005 and 2012-2013, and if hadn’t, in between, exiled himself to play in Siberia for 3 years for Avangard Omsk in 2008, where he was an All Star each year.
But as for consistently playing great? A lot of fans in Washington, for the two and a half years he played with the Capitals, would disagree – they felt his effort was not always up to snuff, and this despite signing a 77 million dollar contract. In fact, he was ignominiously tagged as a “coach killer.” Jagr doesn’t like to talk about his time there...And since Jaromir left the Penguins every time he plays in Pittsburgh, he’s booed. Fans there jeer because they hurt. Deep down they love the guy.
Here is final proof that "Jags", who grew up on a farm and stood out as a player from little league on, is truly, truly, blessed. His body, he says, reacts well to sugar and sweets. How many mortals can make that claim? KitKat bars are a favorite...
Jagr was born in the Czech Republic in the city of Kladno, population 110,000 just north west of Prague. Kladno is THE place to go for NHL prospects and players: besides Jaromir 8 others from there have played in the big league. In fact his number 68 wasn’t desired because he considered himself an elite player worthy of a higher number (though he was a fifth pick in the 1990 draft) that so many saw in Lemieux’s 66 or Gretzky’s 99 - but was chosen to honor the Prague Spring political liberalization(s) of 1968 in the then Czechoslovakia.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, where he starred his first 11 seasons, may retire number 68. Jagr admits he’s open to that gesture but also acknowledges that after being gone from that organization for 16 years might mean many of his fans are +either “dead” or “not interested.”
Laurels so far include his fellow Czechs via the then President, Václav Klaus, on their National Holiday of October 28th giving Jagr the Medal of Merit. He’s a member of the rare Triple Gold Club for being a Stanley Cup, World Cup, and Olympics winner. He’s been named to the NHL All-Star game 13 times but joked that playing 3 on 3 at his age, in the 2016 game, wasn’t his idea, of a good idea.
Accolades from peers are many and heartfelt. The great captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, Dave Poulin, called Jagr “...a monster, physically.” Luc Robitaille, the highest scoring left winger in NHL history, called him “unstoppable.” Ron Francis, who holds second place for most assists in the NHL, cites Jaromir as “A great student of the game.”
The typical goalie reaction after a Jagr goal is to stare into space unfocused, slump down on their goalie pads, stunned at his ability – but not shocked by his goal-scoring inventiveness. Fellow Panther teammates, and most importantly the coach, Gerard Gallant, marvel at his work ethic, an ethic that still allows him to make plays at an exceptionally high level. (Jagr believes he’s better than he was 15 years ago, he’s vigilant about “listening to his body” but adds, not facetiously, that the rest of the players are faster and stronger, and in better shape, than they were 15 years ago also.)
One play-by-play announcer put it best:
“He’s so difficult to stop legally.”
The only thing that may stop Jaromir Jagr is inevitability. Or Injury. (On Nov. 5th he became day-to-day with a slight groin cramp/charley horse.) We’ve all gotta die sometime. But even Jagr’s got this circle of life squared: he says he’d like to play till he drops - which, knowing this guy - could be, for hockey fans everywhere, a splendidly long, long time away.