Jaromir Jagr, the Hockey Hall of Fame and an impasse with no end in sight | ET REALITY


TORONTO – Standing in the shadow of plaques honoring the greatest players in hockey history, a pair of this year’s Hockey Hall of Fame inductees took a moment to reflect on the greatness of a former teammate which cannot yet be found among those represented in a room called the Great Hall.

“As a rookie, coming into the league and having the experience of playing with Jaromir Jagr, it was a cool experience,” said Henrik Lundqvist, the legendary New York Rangers goaltender. “I was probably 10 or 11 years old when he was dominating the league, and then you get the opportunity to play with a legend like that. It was great.”

“He’s truly one of the elite players to ever wear skates,” added Tom Barrasso, who twice won the Stanley Cup alongside Jagr with the Pittsburgh Penguins. “He is incredible. I ran into him this summer at an event in Pittsburgh and he’s still as fit as he was when he was 30; He still has the desire to play and is still as happy a person as you can see on his face. from the earth.”

Jagr is almost six years removed from his last NHL game and approaching his 52nd birthday, but he won’t be part of a ceremony like the one held here Monday night for at least another three years.

And it will probably be longer.

There is absolutely no debate about the Hall of Fame credentials of the NHL’s second all-time leading scorer, but he remains an active player under the bylaws governing eligibility for induction due to the games he played for the team. Kladno Knights who owns in Czechia. .

It is an unusual situation with no end in sight.

There’s no threat of Jagr attempting to return to play at the sport’s highest levels — the Penguins announced Friday that they will raise his No. 68 sweater to the rafters at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 18 — but he’s not showing up. There is not much left to do with the Czech Extraliga either.

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And although one member of the selection committee half-jokingly suggested that they wish he would retire already, there does not appear to be any movement afoot to make an exception that would allow Jagr to be inducted without first serving the three-year wait. period since his last professional or international match.

“You could ask 10 more years and we’ll probably still be in the same boat,” said Lanny McDonald, president of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

On April 18, 1999, the greatest career in NHL history came to an end with the passing of the torch.

Jagr froze the clock on Wayne Gretzky’s farewell afternoon at Madison Square Garden by corralling the puck in overtime and making five holes to give Pittsburgh a victory over the Rangers. It was Jagr’s 127th point of the season and part of a streak of four consecutive years in which he led the NHL in scoring.

The day after Gretzky retired, it was announced that he was up for early induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and 10 days later, the organization’s Board of Directors formally voted to waive the three-year waiting period for Your income. Then the selection committee made it official in June when it declared that Gretzky had been selected “unanimously” in the player category as part of the 1999 class.

He was the tenth player immediately inducted into the Hall and it was determined that he would be the last. At that time, the board eliminated the selection committee’s right to waive the three-year waiting period in the future, except in certain humanitarian cases, such as a terminal illness.

“Obviously, Gretz was unique,” McDonald said. “Giving up on that, I totally understand.”

The standard has been maintained for more than two decades since then. That meant Hayley Wickenheiser had to wait three years before being inducted in 2019, and suggests that other obvious first-ballot Hall of Famers, such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, will be subject to a waiting period once they are inducted. Hang up your skates.

Jagr too.

Multiple reasons were cited for making Gretzky the immediate last entrant.

There was a growing sense that the policy was almost creating a different level of Hall of Famers, which was not the intention. It was also understood that great players cannot remain retired. Mario Lemieux was inducted directly into the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the class of 1997 and returned to play parts of five more NHL seasons with the Penguins. Gordie Howe led seven more professional seasons between the WHA and NHL after being inducted immediately following his first retirement in 1972. Guy Lafleur returned to the NHL after being welcomed into the Hall in 1988.

Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux played together in the 1996 NHL All-Star Game. Lemieux was inducted into the Hall of Fame the following year. Jagr still hasn’t done it 26 years later. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

There was also a precedent to consider.

The Halls of Fame in baseball (five years), basketball (four years), and football (five years) have a waiting period before induction. And finally, there was a sense that the players themselves appreciated having a period of reflection on their playing careers before receiving the honor.

“There are circumstances where a guy retires and at the end of that year he possibly comes back. Or at the end of two years he comes back into the game,” McDonald said. “Three seems like the right number. “If you’re out of the game for three years, there’s a good chance you won’t come back.”

The rules leave no room for interpretation or exceptions. All a player needs to do is suit up for a professional or international game to delay the start of his draft eligibility clock for one more year.

“One and done,” McDonald said.

There is always an air of mystery around Jagr.

He likes it that way.

As of this writing, it is still possible that 2023-24 is the first of three seasons he would need to sit out before being eligible for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame because he has yet to appear in a game for Kladno. .

He also has not publicly revealed his plans, although Czech journalists interpreted an October 11 Instagram post in which Jagr said he received a call from the general manager telling him to get in shape as a sign that he was preparing to play in a equipment. with which he debuted 35 years ago.

When asked about his plans in official interviews, he made comments such as “we’ll see” or “if the team will need me” or “I will play if I see that I will help the team.”

Jagr has trained with Kladno this entire season. Partly as a player, partly as a teacher. He started the year watching games from the bench and more recently moved to a VIP room further up.

The smart money is on him wearing the sweater in a game at some point.

“I think he will definitely play at some point this season,” a source close to him said.

There are all kinds of reasons for me to continue playing. He obviously loves the game, first and foremost, but it’s also good for business and remains a huge draw for fans. And even at 51, there is evidence to suggest he can still help a struggling Kladno team win games.

He finished last season with eight goals and 19 points in 43 games, totals higher than several forwards on the roster.

“Jaromir, that guy is a machine,” McDonald said. “Being able to continue playing at his age and do so effectively. “Whether he owns the team or not, finding a way to get the job done is amazing.”

Apparently there is no challenge too daunting for him. Recall that Jagr decided to leave the NHL after a three-year spell with the Rangers in which he produced 290 points to sign with Avangard Omsk in Russia. After three years there, he participated in seven more seasons in North America.

His last NHL game was on December 31, 2017 for Calgary: a 4-3 win over Chicago in which he played 11:49 and was held scoreless for the seventh straight outing. He had been dealing with a knee injury and his play was declining, so an agreement was reached for the Flames to terminate his contract.

Without fanfare or warning, he disappeared.

“I don’t really remember how it happened. I just remember one day the Jags left,” said defenseman Mark Giordano, a Flames teammate at the time and now the oldest skater in the NHL at 40 years old.

Jaromir Jagr’s last NHL team was the Flames almost six years ago. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

“He was in great shape. I remember her legs and her ass. He’s a monster, man, just a great human being. Impossible to exit the disk. Like when they plant it, it is impossible to move it.”

That’s helpful in carrying the weight of his career accomplishments: 766 goals and 1,921 points in the NHL regular season, plus another 201 points in 208 playoff games. Five scoring titles. Two Stanley Cup rings. A Hart Trophy, three Ted Lindsay Awards and a Masterton Trophy for “perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Oh yeah, there’s also an Olympic gold, two world championship golds, and too many other honors to list in full here.

“He loves the game and to me, if you want to have a long career, it all comes down to the passion for it,” Lundqvist said. “The way he trained and prepared, he could tell (he was going to move forward). I didn’t see this though. He knew he was going to play for a long time; I didn’t think he would play that long.”

In the last six seasons, he managed to play another 145 games for Kladno when he was between 40 and 50 years old. However, don’t record those totals on a plaque just yet. Jagr’s career seemingly has no end and that continues to delay one of the most automatic inductions into the Hockey Hall of Fame we’ve seen since Gretzky.

“I know he’s doing it for his city and for the community, to keep the team going, but eventually he’s going to hang up his skates,” Barrasso said. “And he’ll walk right in here, no problem.”

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(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athleticwith photographs by Denis Brodeur and Kevin Sousa / Getty Images)

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