How Does Jaromir Jagr Measure Up to Mario Lemieux as an All-Time Great?

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IDecember 9, 2013

MONTREAL 1990's: Mario Lemieux #66 and Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Pittsburgh Penguins sit on the bench during the game against the Montreal Canadiens in the 1990's at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)
Denis Brodeur/Getty Images

Jaromir Jagr just passed Mario Lemieux in career goals and is within 16 of achieving the same thing with assists and points. How does that help Jagr stack up against one of the NHL's all-time greats? It all depends how you value his long-term productivity against Lemieux's shorter but more dominant career.

Even if you primarily value the latter, it's quite the accomplishment just to have one's name mentioned at the same time as Lemieux's.

For example, Bryan Trottier won the scoring race with 134 points in 1978-79. Until Jarome Iginla topped the league with 96 points 23 years later, nobody except Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr finished the season atop the NHL (though a couple of players did finish tied). That's some good company!

Jagr has certainly earned the right to be compared to Lemieux, but how closely does his accomplishments measure up?

Though their paths were different, we'll see if they arrived at the same destination by comparing their career totals and achievements. This can also help determine how Jagr stacks up with the NHL's other all-time great scorers. Given that Jagr's career isn't over, we'll finish with a look at just how much farther the 41-year-old Czech can go.

Jaromir Jagr vs. Mario Lemieux

Drafted fifth overall in 1990, Jagr joined Lemieux's Penguins in time to hoist both Stanley Cups. It didn't take Pittsburgh fans long to realize that the letter's in Jaromir Jagr's first name could be rearranged to spell Mario Jr. 

The two would play together for six seasons until the conclusion of the 1996-97 season when injuries forced Lemieux, the NHL's leading scorer, to retire. Jagr would take over as the league's scoring leader for the next three seasons. When Lemieux made his comeback in 2000-01, helping the Penguins reach the Eastern Conference Finals, Jagr would win the scoring race for a fourth consecutive time.

Unfortunately that seventh season together would be their last. As the Penguins couldn't afford both salaries, Jagr was dealt to the Washington Capitals (in exchange for very little), where he signed one of the NHL's richest contracts.

Over those seven seasons together on the Penguins, Jagr outscored Lemieux by 15 goals, seven assists and 22 points. Of course, this took an extra 224 games.

While no one could claim that Jagr is better than Lemieux on a per-game basis, his overall scoring totals match up because his durability allowed him to play 62 percent more games than the Magnificent One.

Jagr and Lemieux as Teammates

That trend held up throughout their careers. While Lemieux was certainly far more productive on a per-game basis, Jagr's consistency and durability allowed him to match most of his accomplishments over the long term.

For example, Lemieux won six scoring races, and Jagr won five. Lemieux competed in 10 All-Star Games, Jagr competed in nine. Lemieux was named a first- or second-team All-Star nine times, Jagr eight times. Lemieux won the Hart Trophy four times, Jagr won once and was a finalist four other times. He also won the Ted Lindsay three times (known as the Lester B. Pearson at the time), an award that Lemieux also won four times.

Amazingly Jagr has never led the league in goals, something Lemieux achieved three times, but he was runner-up four times. And, of course, they both have two Stanley Cups together, and one Olympic gold each. Jagr's came in 1998 in Nagano, and Lemieux's four years later in Salt Lake City.

Their career scoring totals, including both time when they played together and when they were apart, are also nearly identical. Although, once again, Lemieux did it in far fewer games than Jagr.

Jagr vs. Lemieux

Obviously Lemieux was a better offensive player on a per-game basis, but Jagr's relatively close talent and superior durability allowed him to match his overall career accomplishments. Where would that place him among all of the NHL's all-time scoring greats?

Jaromir Jagr vs. the World

Once he inches his way past Mario Lemieux, where would that put Jagr relative to all the NHL's other all-time greats? According to the career totals posted at Hockey Reference, it places him in the top 10, and within striking distance of the leading positions right behind Wayne Gretzky.

Jaromir Jagr's Milestone Watch

Jagr is eighth in all-time goal scoring, just two back of Mark Messier, and a couple of 25-goal seasons back of Brett Hull in third place. With just 16 more assists, he'll knock Lemieux out of the top 10, and be within easy reach of Marcel Dionne and Gordie Howe. And with 14 more points, he'll pass Lemieux to become the seventh all-time leading point-getter.

If it weren't for his three seasons in the KHL, Jagr would already be ahead of Lemieux on the all-time leader board. He was a KHL all-star for all three seasons, scoring 66 goals and 80 assists for 146 points in 155 games for Omsk Avangard and leading his club in scoring two of the three seasons.

How many points might he have scored in the NHL? Using the method that I published for ESPN at the time, that level of KHL scoring would have been equivalent to 67 points over a full 82-game NHL schedule. That could have added up to another 200 points—or enough to already place Jagr in second place behind Gretzky.

Is it too late for Jagr to climb up to second place on the all-time scoring list? Potentially.

It's not like Jagr's offensive talents have escaped him. In 2011-12 he helped Claude Giroux to an amazing 28 goals and 93 points, and Scott Hartnell to 37 goals and 67 points. Hartnell had previously only topped 50 points once in his preceding 10 seasons and has just 22 points in 57 games since then. 

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 15:  Jaromir Jagr #68 of the New Jersey Devils skates in an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings at Prudential Center on November 15, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Jaromir Jagr Today

Jagr's advantage over Lemieux is his durability. Despite being just a few months removed from his 42nd birthday, Jagr is a first-line player, among New Jersey's leaders in ice time and is leading his team in most offensive categories.

Lemieux, for all his greatness, lacked that same durability. Injuries initially forced him to retire at age 31, and when he came back for five more seasons from age 35 through 40, he played in only 41 percent of the Penguins' games.

If Lemieux had continued to play until he was 41 or 42, would he be as effective as Jagr is today? Jagr is currently leading the Devils in goals (11), assists (11), points (22) and shots (69). All 11 of his goals have been at even strength, and no other Devil has more than four.

He is second only to frequent linemate Travis Zajac among the team's forwards in average ice time. This is thanks in large part to working 59.2 percent of New Jersey's power-play minutes. That's 39th in the NHL according to Extra Skater. The results? New Jersey's power-play percentage has improved from 15.9 percent last season to a more competitive 17.4 percent so far.

Jagr's even more effective when playing five-on-five. In fact, two-thirds of all the scoring that takes place when Jagr is on the ice is done by the Devils, again according to Extra Skater. The Devils get outscored with all but a handful of their other players.

And this is hardly a soft and sheltered assignment. Jagr faces the team's toughest competition whether you use the estimations from Behind the Net or from Extra Skater.

So Jagr is playing top minutes, every game, against top opponents and leading New Jersey in every single offensive statistical category. Long story short: Jagr still has it.

If Jagr continues to average exactly 0.75 points per game as he has in the three seasons since his return to the NHL, would that enough to catch Messier? Probably not.

At this pace he can score 39 more points this season to move up close to Yzerman. A single 50-point season in 2014-15 could then move him all the way up to fourth behind Gordie Howe, but it would take yet another 88 points to catch Messier. That would obviously require two more seasons, requiring Jagr to play until he was at least 45. That's possible, but incredibly difficult.

Closing Thoughts

Jaromir Jagr is one of the greatest offensive players in history. Even in his twilight seasons, it's still amazing to watch what he can do. It's too bad New Jersey doesn't have more young talent, because that would have to be incredibly inspirational and instructional for anyone wanting to learn firsthand what it takes to achieve that level of excellence.

Jagr is also a player of tremendous longevity. While Mario Lemieux is obviously the more dominant player on a per-game basis, Jagr has had the ability to play as close to Lemieux's level as probably anyone else really can and has done so for almost 25 years—and counting.

Once Jagr officially passes Lemieux's career totals potentially some time in January, how high can he go? That all depends on how many more seasons he can continue playing at a top-line level. At the moment he has earned the right be compared to Lemieux, but may need to produce a fair bit more because his achievements are considered a match.

All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted. 

Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.