Jagr on verge of almost unheard of distinction this season

Jaromir Jagr (right). (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’re going to go on the assumption here that Teemu Selanne has retired from the NHL for good this time. Of course, you never know with Selanne, but we’re thinking he’s serious about it this time.

That leaves Jaromir Jagr as the oldest player in the NHL this season. And it also gives Jagr a career distinction that not many players can say they share.

When Jagr made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91, he did so as the youngest player in the NHL that season. Born Feb. 15, 1972, Jagr beat out Owen Nolan of the Quebec Nordiques by just three days. Jagr actually had a bit of good fortune in this situation because the three players aside from Nolan who were taken before him in the 1990 draft – Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Keith Primeau – were all late birthdays in 1971 who missed the 1989 draft because they were too young.

Fast-forward 24 years later and Jagr is still playing, and playing very well, for the New Jersey Devils. By the time this season ends, Jagr will be 43 years and two months old, which will make him the 10th oldest player to ever play in the NHL. And it will also give him a distinction shared by the legendary Gordie Howe. When Howe played as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings in 1946-47, he did so as the youngest player in the six-team NHL that season. And when he finished his NHL career with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, he did so as the oldest player in the league at 52.

Not sure how many players can say they were both the youngest and oldest player in the NHL during the course of their careers, but the fact that Jagr and Howe are two who can is a testament to both their prodigious talents as young men and their ability to maintain a high level of play throughout length careers. Some players have one or the other, but a precious few have both. And those who do tend to end up with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Jagr is on the verge of a couple of other milestones this season worth celebrating. With 705 career goals, he is sure to pass Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito on the all-time goals list. But here’s where it gets interesting. If he scores 27 this season – remember, he had 24 last year – he’ll pass Marcel Dionne at No. 4 and if he has a wildly successful season and gets 37, he’ll usurp Brett Hull at No. 3.

With 44 points this season – entirely achievable since he had 67 in 2013-14 – Jagr will pass Ron Francis for fourth on the all-time points list. If he takes 210 shots this season – he had 231 with the Devils last season – he’ll be No. 2 behind Ray Bourque on the all-time career list for shots.

Kind of makes you wonder where Jagr would be if he had decided to stay in the NHL instead of playing in Russia for three years and if he hadn’t been robbed of a season-and-a-half with lockouts. But the same could be said for Howe, who retired for two years and played six more in the World Hockey Association before returning to the NHL. Bobby Hull, with 610 career goals, played six-plus seasons in the WHA before returning for a nine-game stint with the Whalers in 1979-80.

And who knows? Jagr hasn’t hinted at retirement and with his level of play so high, it’s not inconceivable that he could play a couple more seasons in the NHL. Regardless of how long he plays, three years after he decides to hang up his skates there will be a place waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.

Top 10 off-season NHL signings

Christian Ehrhoff (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the beginning of NHL training camps draws closer, it’s natural for fans to debate and discuss which teams had the most productive off-season. And although the answer to that question won’t be confirmed for months, if not years, that won’t stop us from ranking the 10 best off-season unrestricted free agent signings:

10. Thomas Vanek, Wild (3 years, $19.5 million). Granted, Vanek didn’t help his contract negotiating stance with a poor playoff showing for the Canadiens, but his regular-season production has been dependably above-average – and given that Minnesota struggled to put pucks in nets last season (their 207 goals-for was third-worst in the Western Conference), he’ll help a great deal and isn’t locked up to a contract with an onerous term.

9. Ales Hemsky, Stars (3 years, $12 million). The 31-year-old Hemsky hasn’t reached the 20-goal mark since he had 23 for Edmonton in 2008-09, but he’ll play on Dallas’ second line – alongside former Senators teammate Jason Spezza, with whom he enjoyed some solid chemistry in his 20-game stint in Ottawa last year – and should perform well playing in a non-fishbowl market with increased minutes.

8. Radim Vrbata, Canucks (2 years, $10 million). Vrbata has been under most people’s radar playing in Phoenix, but the 33-year-old has proven himself to be a reliable 20-30-goal-scorer. On the rejigged Canucks, he’ll see time on the same line as the Sedin twins and will get first-unit power play minutes. The term of this deal also makes this a win for new Vancouver GM Jim Benning. Read more

Could Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin pull a Kovalchuk and play in the KHL?

Adam Proteau
Ovechkin Malkin (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Until it happens, the notion of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin departing the NHL in the prime of their careers and returning to their native Russia to play in the KHL should be considered a significant long shot. However, you shouldn’t take that to mean there’s no chance it takes place. As we saw this weekend when Russian president Alexander Medvedev commented cryptically on the possibility of Malkin and Ovechkin playing for a KHL team next season, there are many who would love nothing more than to convince the two superstars to shock the hockey world and head home.

First thing’s first: ultra-sensitive Caps and Penguins fans who read the above paragraph must be reminded to do some deep-breathing relaxation exercises before falling on their backs and squealing as if they’d been kneed in a soft personal place. If Malkin and/or Ovechkin chose to leave hockey’s top league, it wouldn’t be an indictment of their respective franchises or the NHL itself. Rather, they would be moving back to: the warm comforts of their own culture; a Kontinental League that would treat them like Faberge Eggs with legs; and friends and family who are an ocean away for three-quarters of every year. If the shoe were on the other foot and North American players had to ply their trade in Europe each and every season, North American fans would treat any prodigal son as a hero for choosing to leave a more prominent situation to play at home instead.

There’s also a whole lot of tax-free money that would be thrown at Ovechkin and Malkin, but – and this is where your trusty correspondent wishes there was a sarcasm font – we all know these decisions aren’t about money. It wasn’t about money when Ilya Kovalchuk dropped jaws in 2013 by leaving the New Jersey Devils just three years into a 15-year, $100-million contract, right? He just wanted to go home, and no financial payday could keep him in North America. (And make no mistake – anyone who would try to argue people expected Kovalchuk to leave the NHL that quickly after signing a contract extension is as disingenuous as they come.) Read more

Fantasy Pool Look: Blackhawks, Penguins off-season outlooks

Kane & Toews (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different and reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. Now we’re really getting into the powerhouses – today we take a look at the Blackhawks and the Penguins.

Chicago Blackhawks

Gone – Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jason LaBarbera, Brandon Bollig, Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Handzus, Nikolai Khabibulin

Incoming – Michael Leighton, Kyle Cumiskey, Brad Richards, P-C Labrie

Ready for full time – Jeremy Morin is NHL-ready. He was NHL-ready last year. And if you want to know why Kevin Hayes took a pass on signing with the strong Stanley Cup favorites, look no further than Morin. Hayes didn’t want to sit in the minors for two or even three more years when there are many teams that would play him right now. Morin was in the same boat. But he should make the team now and even with minimal ice time is a pretty good dark horse for 40 points, upwards of 200 shots and 90 PIM. Read more

NHL logo rankings No. 8: Pittsburgh Penguins

penguinscover

The Penguins win this Battle of Pennsylvania, but it was close.

On Monday, the orange and black of Philadelphia came in at No. 10 on our list of logo rankings and today, Pittsburgh falls in at No. 8. The skating penguin, who lost his scarf somewhere on the pond, was a fairly popular logo in our discussion, but could have ended up a little higher if the triangle was the yellow it used to be.

Think you can design a better logo for the Pittsburgh Penguins? Submit your work to editorial@thehockeynews.com and after our NHL rankings finish next week, we’ll share our favorite redesigns sent in by readers. We’ve got some good ones so far and are hungry for more.

All logos below from Chris Creamer’s website.

HISTORY OF THE PENGUINS LOGO
“The Penguins? No, really, what will the team be called? You can’t call a hockey team ‘the Penguins.’ That’s ridiculous.” – Freelance Pittsburgh artist Bob Gessner in 1967 after the results of a “name the team” newspaper contest were revealed.

Gessner, who was paid $1,500 to design six logos for the Penguins, favored the name “Hornets” for the new NHL expansion team. This nickname had been used for the city’s American League team from 1936-1956 and again from 1961-67. Plus, he designed the Hornets logo when they returned in the ’60s.

“How can you make a penguin look mean? They are slow, small and awkward.”

The first Penguins logo is what I like to call “Beer League Penguin” because it’s the only one with a gut. He’s the most happy, harmless looking logo in the team’s history, with his smile, wide eyes and dangling scarf. But he didn’t appear on a jersey until the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field (the second penguin design was used at the 2008 outdoor game).

The Penguins used the beer-leaguer as their primary logo for just one season and though he appeared on pucks and other merchandise, the team’s jerseys only had “Pittsburgh” printed diagonally down the front.

Though the Penguins’ original primary color was blue, the triangle in the logo represents the city’s downtown “Golden Triangle.” And, eventually, yellow and black would replace the blue altogether.

Learn more about Gessner’s design and other logos he created.

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Leafs, Penguins among the NHL’s five most pressure-packed markets in 2014-15

Randy Carlyle (Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The NHL has always been a pressure-packed league, but from year-to-year, some teams face more pressure than others. Which franchises are going to be dealing with an especially hot seat once the 2014-15 season begins? These five:

5. Washington Capitals. When the Caps missed the playoffs last year and owner Ted Leonsis cleaned house on the management side, some observers expected them to go the same route with their underachieving roster. They did no such thing, and instead doubled down with two high-priced free agent acquisitions (defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen). Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee they’ll even make the playoffs in the mediocre Metropolitan division. And if they fall on their faces again and miss the post-season for the second straight year – the first time that will have happened since 2005-07 – what will ownership’s response be then?

4. San Jose Sharks. Sports has a long tradition of identifying underdogs – i.e., teams not expected to do well because they’re lacking in depth or talent – but the Sharks are now officially overdogs: a team not expected to do well despite having all kinds of depth and talent. San Jose GM Doug Wilson’s criticism of his group of players after last spring’s playoff collapse against the Kings should have everyone walking on eggshells as soon as training camp begins, but any kind of serious stumble during the season could lead to major changes. Read more

Comparing Sidney Crosby with other legends at age 27

Matt Larkin
Sidney Crosby

Happy birthday, Sid the Kid.

Hard to believe Sidney Crosby turned 27 Thursday. It feels like we were just watching him light it up with the Rimouski Oceanic and pop the water bottle behind Jose Theodore as an 18-year-old rookie.

Crosby is now squarely in his prime, probably approaching the latter half of it. He already has a Hall of Fame resume and a safe perch among the most talented to ever play the game. But how does he measure up to the generational talents with whom he’s often compared, the Gretzkys and Lemieuxs of the world? It doesn’t make much sense to weigh them against each other in sheer point production and volume – though Sid is no slouch, with the fourth-best points per game in NHL history – because they belong to different eras. But we can have fun looking at team accomplishments and individual hardware. Here’s a look at what Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin had done at the same point of their careers: the season in which they were 27 for Game 1 in October.

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