The NHL has likely seen the last of Jaromir Jagr. On Monday, Jagr officially ended his tenure with the Calgary Flames, setting him up to play in Europe for the remainder of the season. The 45-year-old played out the season as long as he could, but injuries and time caught up with him.
Now, Jagr will head off to the Czech Republic to play with Kladno, a team he owns in the second-tier Czech league. That was Jagr’s previous plan before the season when it looked like no NHL team would scoop him up in free agency. Thanks to his contract termination with the Flames, Jagr is no longer beholden to an NHL team — maybe for good this time.
This wasn’t how Jagr’s last NHL season was supposed to go. Sure, life rarely goes the way we plan it, but Jagr felt like the exception to the rule. He already was the exception, considering he played NHL-caliber hockey until age 45. Jagr famously stated he was willing to work hard every day to continue to play at age 50, and even possibly at 60. Those goals were highly unrealistic, of course, but it spoke to the kind of character Jagr possesses even now.
Jagr’s presence in today’s modern NHL was like glimpsing through a window to the past. The NHL veteran started his career in 1990, saw all four of the league’s lockouts, and played most of his prime years during the league’s Dead Puck Era, where scoring overall was in decline. Jagr played alongside greats such as Mario Lemieux and Mark Messier, and modern stars in Claude Giroux and Johnny Gaudreau. He was beloved everywhere he went, and even inspired a fan troupe based around his famous mullet and signature goal-celebration — the Jagr Salute.
That’s also to say nothing of his on-ice accomplishments. Jagr holds records for the most consecutive 30-goal seasons (15), the most consecutive 70-point seasons (15), the most career game-winning goals (135), and is the only player to play in a Stanley Cup Final game as a teenager and at over 40 years old, among other things. Only recently had Jagr passed Messier to be the NHL’s second all-time scorer in league history with 1,914 points, and he’s third overall in the league in goals (765), fourth overall in total games played (1,711), and fifth overall in assists (1,149).
In a time where long-time NHL veterans — and sports stars in general — have been given farewell tours, Jagr’s departure from the league feels unceremonious and hollow. Not every player will get a perfect sendoff such as Kimmo Timonen got with Chicago when they won the Stanley Cup in 2015, but Jagr’s record-breaking career deserved much more than we got.
There are reasons as to why the remaining 30 NHL teams passed on acquiring Jagr. This season, Jagr has been hampered with injury and had just played 22 games with the Flames. In those games, Jagr had just one goal and seven total points in what will be the worst numbers of his career. His declining speed makes him a liability on more than a few number of teams and his playmaking and scoring ability has not been nearly at the level its been in the past.
If this were any other player with declining numbers, there wouldn’t be many second thoughts about the league passing on them out of their prime. Considering Jagr’s history and impact on the NHL at large, however, it is indeed a shame that his career had to end on a whimper with a contract termination instead of a much-deserved farewell tour.
There will no doubt be time to celebrate Jagr’s legacy when he eventually retires from hockey and makes the rounds across the league. Jagr will still be here, and he is still playing hockey for at least a little while longer. However, if this is the last we’ve seen of Jagr in the NHL, it’s more than OK to be disappointed with how it ended.