Jaromir Jagr didn’t get a storybook ending to his NHL career, but don’t feel sorry for him as his legendary NHL career comes to a close.
Let the record show that, in all likelihood, Jaromir Jagr’s last NHL game was New Year’s Eve in a 4-3 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He registered one shot and two shot attempts and logged 11:49 of ice time, spending the last eight minutes of regulation time and all 52 seconds overtime on the bench. He was minus-1 on the night, blocked a shot, received the last minor penalty of his career when he was called for hooking Jonathan Toews in the third period and drew his last shift with Mikael Backlund as his center and Matthew Tkachuk as his left winger.
Of course, you never know with this guy, but it looks very much as though the NHL has seen the last of Jagr, one of the most brilliant players in the history of the game. The Calgary Flames, his ninth NHL team, assigned him to HC Kladno of the Czech League where Jagr will be able to play until he’s 50 if that’s what he wants. After all, it’s pretty tough to get rid of a guy when he happens to own the team.
There has been much said and written about Jagr in the past couple of days. One of the sentiments that is difficult to get one’s head around, however, is that somehow Jagr deserved better, that somehow he was owed the right to go out on his terms, that the Flames dealing him the ignominy of placing him on waivers, then sending him back to an inferior league, was an affront to a player who has given the game so much.
My only question to that line of thinking is: How else did people think this was going to end? When a player chooses professional sports as a line of work, there are one of two ways that things will end for him. He’ll either go out on his terms or somebody else’s. Mark Recchi, who won the third Stanley Cup of his career with the Boston Bruins in 2011, probably had a little more to give at the age of 43, but retired. He left on his own terms. Jagr did not. Neither did Marcel Dionne, who was put on waivers as Neil Smith’s first official transaction as a GM. Sometimes these things end in messy ways.
And this could have been worse. Instead of terminating his contract, the Flames chose to loan him to Kladno, which means Jagr will be paid for the remainder of the $1 million contract he signed when he joined them this season. (There’s a chance Kladno would reimburse the Flames, which means as owner, Jagr would technically be paying himself. But you get the idea.)
The problem is there was no better way to end this. And with Jagr, it was always destined to end in a bad way. That’s because Jagr has been making it clear for a number of years now that he will only retire essentially when every team in the NHL tells him his services are no longer wanted. Well, when the Flames put him on waivers and he passed with nobody selecting him, that very thing happened. The night Jagr moved into second place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list he said, “I love the game and I’m willing to do anything to play as long as I can.”
And for the longest time, that was enough. His work ethic, which succeeded in providing a template for younger players, kept him in the league when his skills and speed were clearly diminishing. The Flames signed him early in the season in the hopes that he might be able to provide them with that little bit of extra secondary scoring. He couldn’t and the relationship ended. There’s nothing wrong with that. Because even when you’re Jaromir Jagr, the game really doesn’t owe you anything.
According to capfriendly.com, Jagr has career earnings of just under $130 million as an NHL player. His path to the Hockey Hall of Fame will be cleared three years from the moment he decides to stop playing for good in the Czech Republic. He has won two Stanley Cups, five scoring titles and an MVP award. He has been a superstar in two leagues. He had an outstanding run and, like all great things, it came to an end. No bad guys here and certainly no reason to feel sorry for Jagr as he rides off into the sunset.