I have more depressing Supreme Court analysis in store, but since it’s NHL opening day let’s focus on a story that will warm the heart of lovers of athletic accomplishment and great mullets everywhere.
In 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins won their first Stanley Cup championship. The team’s star, of course, was the tastefully named Mario Lemieux, who missed most of the regular season but put up 44 points in 23 games in the playoffs. One of the pieces that helped put the team over the top was an dynamic 18-year-old kid named Jaromir Jagr, who put up 57 points. The next year, when the Pens repeated, he was up to a point a game, and after a series of excellent seasons he emerged as a full-fledged superstar in 1995-6, scoring 62 goals and 149 points (with, sure, help from Lemieux, having one of his last big seasons.) In Jagr’s first year, he finished sixth in voting for rookie of the year. The top vote-getting forward, Sergei Federov, had his last NHL season in 2008-9, and his last good year was 2003-4.
Earlier this week, Jagr signed to play with the Calgary Flames. I’m a fan of the team, as many of you know, and I’m excited. I’m not excited (just) because one it’s cool to watch a first-ballot Hall of Famer, somehow still playing at age 45. I’m excited because he improves the team. It’s not just that Jagr is still playing — he’s still good. Really good. Here’s how he compares to the typical player in the 3rd line slot he’s expected to fill:
He is still, in other words, performing at an elite level. He’s not a huge goal-scorer anymore and has lost a step, but compensates with exceptional passing and offensive and defensive positioning. He gives the Flames a legitimate top RW they were desperately lacking. Sure, at his age he could decline rapidly or get hurt, but this isn’t just a ploy to sell jerseys — he can still flat-out play. It’s pretty amazing.
Oh, and good for my hometown for standing up to the NHL’s attempted extortion too. The fact that Edmonton got successfully swindled is another reason to hate the Oilers — I really can’t wait for them to trade McDavid for the third-best defenseman on a sub-.500 Las Vegas team, to widespread applause from the local media.