With both Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr committing to at least one more NHL season, there’s an underrated and interesting race that will bear watching in 2012-13. And that is, which of the two will end up as the most prolific scoring European in the history of the NHL?
Selanne enters his 20th season with 663 goals, just two fewer than Jagr has scored over the course of 18 NHL seasons. That one of the two will hold onto the NHL’s all-time goal record for Europeans for a long, long time is a given, considering the next player on the list is Jari Kurri at 601 and the next highest active player among Europeans is Marian Hossa at 417.
At 339, Alex Ovechkin is the only player who even has a slim chance of catching either Selanne or Jagr and that will only happen if Ovechkin (a) recaptures his scoring touch in a hurry or (b) plays another dozen seasons in the NHL scoring 30 goals a year.
And even then, that might not be enough. Can Selanne or Jagr, or both, hit the 700 mark before their careers end? Probably not this season, but if one of them is going to do it, my money is on Selanne. It would be inhuman for him to score 37 goals as a 42-year-old, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
The reason why both could hit the 700 mark is there’s nothing to suggest 2012-13 will be their last seasons. Selanne has turned his retirement watch into an annual event, but something always draws him back to the Anaheim Ducks. And the way he’s been playing since his knee was surgically repaired during the lockout, there’s no reason he can’t play another couple of seasons if he wants to. The same goes for Jagr, whose devotion to off-ice conditioning is something to behold. He obviously doesn’t have the sublime skill level and ability to speed and power past opponents he had earlier in his career, but a 19-goal season after three years in the Kontinental League means he can still be a top-six forward on most teams in the NHL.
Which got me to thinking, which of the two is better, and where would Jagr and Selanne rank on the all-time list of European players? For what it’s worth, here’s my top 10. Let the debate begin:
1. Dominik Hasek
If the six Vezina Trophies don’t clinch it, the two Hart Trophies put him over the top. There are some who would argue that ‘The Dominator’ is the best goaltender in the history of the game and they’d have a pretty solid case.
2. Nicklas Lidstrom
The greatest defenseman of his era and one of the finest of all-time, Lidstrom was the epitome of poise and consistency. The only thing that puts him a slight notch below Hasek is the absence of Hart Trophy credentials.
3. Jaromir Jagr
He goes into next season with a lead of nearly 250 points over Selanne in the all-time European points race in almost an identical number of career games. When Jagr was at his best, he was one of the most magnificent physical talents the game has ever seen.
4. Teemu Selanne
My money is on him winning the all-time European scoring race, largely because of his capacity to still be dangerous on the power play. Blessed with equal amounts of speed, skill and instinct, Selanne has slowed over the years, but hasn’t come close to stopping.
5. Peter Stastny
Players who tried to physically intimidate him when he first came to the NHL marvelled at how he could take such a beating and still be so productive. His skills were legendary, but it was his underrated mental and physical toughness that made him so great.
6. Valeri Kharlamov
My guess is he would have been a Russian Jean Beliveau if he had ever been allowed to play in the NHL. He was quite simply one of the best players of his generation.
7. Jari Kurri
One of the greatest two-way players the game has ever seen, Kurri benefited from playing with Wayne Gretzky, but Gretzky reaped the rewards of playing with Kurri, too.
8. Pavel Bure
If Bure had stayed healthy, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be talking about Selanne and Jagr as the most prolific European goal-scorers of all-time. Bure’s selection to the Hall of Fame this summer rectified one of the Hall’s most glaring injustices.
9. Sergei Fedorov
Anyone who spent a significant period of time as one of the top five players in the NHL deserves to be on this list. Fedorov might have been the best two-way European ever to play the game.
10. Alexander Mogilny
Many will debate his inclusion on this list, but his skill and speed made him one of the most dangerous players in the game. As his career progressed and he matured, Mogilny also became the kind of player you could count on in crucial situations.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.