Post to Post: What If Jaromir Jagr Never Left the NHL?

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistDecember 29, 2016

Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) gives the thumbs up sign to the crowd after an assist, giving him 1,888 goals, second most in NHL history during the third period of play against the Boston Bruins in an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Joe Skipper/Associated Press

Jaromir Jagr’s career has been one of the finest in NHL history. Just before Christmas he moved into second on the NHL’s all-time points list, and he’s unquestionably headed for the Hockey Hall of Fame whenever he eventually retires.

The crazy thing is there was room for him to achieve even more. Even if we ignore the three separate lockouts that cost him games over his career, Jagr took a three-season detour to the KHL before returning to the NHL in 2011. What if he had spent those years in North America instead of Europe?

Obviously, there’s an element of path dependence to that question. We can’t know how playing three years overseas has affected Jagr’s career. There’s a big difference between playing 50-odd games in those larger KHL rinks than there is playing 82 contests per year in the close quarters of North American hockey. Injury and/or earlier retirement are real possibilities, though it's possible he would have just kept playing anyway.

What we can do is approximate how he might have played in the NHL over those three seasons.

The first way to do this is with NHL equivalencies. First introduced by Gabriel Desjardins and later updated by Rob Vollman, these numbers seek to translate performances from other leagues to the NHL, based on how players making the jump from one level to the other have performed.

We’ll use Vollman’s number to project Jagr’s actual KHL performance to the NHL. For each season, we have taken the percentage of the KHL schedule (both regular season and playoff) that Jagr played and applied it to an 82-game NHL campaign.

Jagr's KHL scoring translated to the NHL
EliteProspects.com, HockeyAbstract.com

At first glance, those numbers look realistic. Jagr scored 0.87 points per game in 2007-08, right before heading overseas; when he returned in 2011-12, he managed 0.74 points per game. The projected numbers slot nicely between those two points. He’s also been remarkably durable both before and after his Russian sojourn, so the games-played totals feel right.

However, those projected totals are actually conservative. In the three seasons he’s played since coming back, Jagr has posted 0.78 points per game, better even than the projected totals from when he was younger during his time in Russia! Thus we can safely use them as a low-end estimate for Jagr’s time overseas.

What do those additional numbers do to his placement on the all-time list? Jagr’s overall ranking changes as follows:

  • moves from fourth in all-time games played (1,664) to first (1,896), passing Gordie Howe (1,767) for the top position
  • moves from third in all-time goals (755) to second (834), closing to within 60 of Wayne Gretzky for first place
  • moves from sixth in all-time assists (1,134) to third (1,231), closing to within 18 of Ron Francis for second place
  • remains in second in all-time points (from 1,889 to 2,065), and remains 792 back of Gretzky for first place

Jagr isn’t the only player whose career achievements aren’t properly reflected solely by looking at NHL career totals. For example, Howe starred for six seasons in his late 40s in the World Hockey Association; counting those years he’s still well ahead of even our adjusted Jagr in terms of longevity!

NHL Should Add Playoff Play-In Games

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

In an interview earlier this month, Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told TSN’s Gary Lawless he’d like to see the NHL add a wild-card play-in game to its playoff format:

I’m all for an extra team in each conference qualifying for the playoffs and having a wild- card play-in game. It would add excitement down the stretch for many more teams fighting for the additional wild-card spot and two extra teams would be involved in the playoffs. Those play-in games would be dramatic.

It’s not a particularly new idea—the 2005 collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA included a provision allowing the league to experiment with a playoff qualification round—but it is a good one.

The chief argument against a format with one or more play-in games is it devalues the 82-game regular season, but that isn’t actually true. In fact, such an approach increases the reward of performing well during the regular season, because teams at the top of the standings have one less chance of being eliminated early on. Depending on the scheduling, there could also be a significant rest advantage for high-seeded teams.

This change would check off a lot of boxes. Doing well over the entire regular season would have more value. More teams would be in the playoff race late, which would not only help sell tickets but also prevent decade-long stints in the league basement. Perhaps most importantly, it would create another high point in a long season that can become a grind.

Does Daniel Alfredsson Belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

OTTAWA, ON - DECEMBER 4: Daniel Alfredsson #11 of the Ottawa Senators steps onto the ice on the day he signed a one day contract and announced his retirement for the ceremonial puck drop prior to an NHL game against the New York Islanders at Canadian Tire
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

There isn’t much question as to Daniel Alfredsson’s place in Ottawa Senators history. What is open to debate is whether he belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to Alfredsson’s entry is the fact he was a good player for a long time but was never regarded as the best player at his position for any extended stretch. He only made one year-end all-star team over his NHL career (second team, 2005-06) and at the height of his powers finished in the top-five in voting four times over a span of six seasons.

As for year-end awards, Alfredsson’s only major victory was the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1995-96. He was 23 years old at the time and narrowly beat out Eric Daze (three years his junior) in that vote.

Fortunately for Alfredsson, the HHOF voting committee long ago started including players who had long, distinguished careers even if they weren’t generally regarded as the best in the league at their positions in their prime years.

Alfredsson belongs to a group of players with 1000-plus points and about a point per game. It’s one that includes current HHOF outsiders like Theo Fleury, Alexander Mogilny and Rod Brind’Amour but also members like Rod Gilbert, Dino Ciccarelli, Lanny McDonald and Joe Nieuwendyk.  

Using the Hall's current standards, Alfredsson isn't a slam dunk, but he's definitely in the conversation. 

Statistical information courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.