Jaromir Jagr is the third best forward in hockey history.
Repeat that statement in parts of Canada or Michigan or Connecticut (or Western Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for that matter) and expect a pretty negative response. As Jagr, who was traded to the Florida Panthers before the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline, continues to amass goals and points and play at a high level despite being 43 years old, his place in hockey history is starting to come more into focus.
Jagr is by no means the third most iconic forward. He's certainly not the third most popular. Critics of the statement above will immediately turn to words like leadership and toughness to try and prove it wrong.
That's OK, but Jagr's ability to dominate during his prime, which happened to be one of the toughest eras in the history of the NHL to produce offense, along with his excellence well into his 40s is why he deserves to be considered the best forward not named Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux.
Jagr in his prime was an incredible medley of skill and power. He used his incredible core- and lower-body strength to protect the puck better than any forward in the history of the game, warding off defenders to make highlight-reel plays.
Even in 2015, when he's one of the oldest players to ever play in the NHL, few in the League can work with the puck along the wall or with a defender snugly marking them like Jagr. He's been an incredible puck possession player in the past few seasons, and if that data was available from earlier in his career, Jagr's brilliance would be even more revered.
He's on pace to miss five games or fewer for the 15th time in his 21 NHL seasons. Given how physical the game was during his prime, his durability should be feted as a sign of his toughness. The way his old mentor Lemieux was physically defended is always part of the Mario vs. Wayne debate, and it was the same for the best players of the late '90s and early '00s as well.
Watch highlights from the late 1990s. Trying to score goals then was a far more difficult task than it is now. Jagr was hooked and held and cross-checked (even in open play, let alone in the most contested areas of the ice) far more than players who played a generation before him or the ones who have reached the NHL since the rules changes at the start of the 2005-06 season.
The other players who would be in this discussion played all or the majority of their careers before goaltending took an exponential leap forward, before every team in the NHL deployed rigid defensive systems and used video, meticulous scouting and now analytical data to try and keep players like Jagr from producing goals.
That is part of why it is so hard to compare across different eras in hockey. Baseball has remained largely the same game since certain points in its history, but hockey has gone through drastic evolutions.
One rudimentary way is to try and normalize the League average for offense. During Jagr's 21 NHL seasons, each team has averaged 2.92 goals per game (that's the average of 21 seasons of averages). Teams scored at much higher rate early in Jagr's career, so if we took out his first two seasons before he became a dominant player, that number dips to 2.86.
||NHL All-Star Team***
|*Games played in the NHL, WHA or first division in a European country
**League leaders in goals (before the Richard Trophy as well)
*** NHL First Team All-Star
NHL teams scored 2.85 goals per game during Gordie Howe's 26 NHL seasons. He has 84 more goals and 64 more points than Jagr, but has also played 234 more games.
NHL teams scored 3.36 goals per game in Mark Messier's 24 NHL seasons. Teams scored 15.9 percent more goals in Messier's first 21 seasons (3.47 per) than in Jagr's 21. If Jagr collected points at the same rate, but played in the 21 seasons Messier did, he'd have 284 more points, far more than the 99 he needs to pass Messier for second all-time.
None of this includes the three seasons Jagr spent playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. Or the nearly two full seasons he missed because of lockouts. Or his international resume.
Players like Howe, Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau are icons of sport, not just hockey. Messier is considered one of the greatest leaders in any sport. Others like Bobby Hull, Steve Yzerman, and multiple Russians who spent most or all of their careers away from the NHL also deserve to be part of this debate.
Jagr is not universally beloved. He should be universally respected for being one of the greatest players of all time. Third best, among forwards, seems about right.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.
1. Los Angeles Kings
Andrej Sekera does not have the traditional counting statistics of someone like Keith Yandle or James Wisniewski, but he was certainly one of the best defensemen moved before the deadline. His ability and low salary-cap figure made him worth a first-round pick and a pretty good prospect.
The Kings could have used another depth forward, but that player might still be Mike Richards, should he return from exile in the American Hockey League, or Nick Shore, if he can translate his skills at the NHL level a little better with more experience.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Another defenseman who should provide more value than what the back of his hockey card might suggest, Braydon Coburn handled most of the tough situations for the Philadelphia Flyers this season and: a) did so without Kimmo Timonen's help, and b) held his own despite playing on a poor puck possession team.
Coburn and a healthy Matt Carle would give Tampa Bay possibly the best defense corps in the Eastern Conference. Either Coburn or Carle would become one of the best No. 5 defensemen in the League, and given the offensive firepower on this team, that should be a scary thought for the opposition.
3. Detroit Red Wings
Speaking of subjects that could be uncomfortable for opposing coaches, the New Jersey Devils have allowed fewer scoring chances per 60 minutes (as defined by war-on-ice.com) with Marek Zidlicky on the ice than any other defenseman on the team this season. Sure, Zidlicky saw a lot of offensive zone starts and relatively lighter competition, but his reputation for being substandard on the defensive side of the play is misguided this season.
Now put Zidlicky, in likely a similarly sheltered role, on the best team in the NHL at preventing shot attempts. And add rejuvenated veteran forward Erik Cole to an already deep group of forwards. Currently on track to face each other in the Eastern Conference First Round, Tampa Bay-Detroit could be one of the best series of the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs and not unlike the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks showdown from a year ago when several pundits predicted the winner of that series could win the Stanley Cup (but also had no idea who would survive the series).
4. Chicago Blackhawks
If the Blackhawks can play long enough for Patrick Kane to get healthy, they'd instantly be the favorites to win the Cup (they still are, according to some oddsmakers). Was adding Timonen and forward Antoine Vermette enough to accomplish that?
If Timonen is close to his 2013-14 level, the answer might be yes. Adding him and a healthy Trevor van Riemsdyk would make the Blackhawks' defense corps incredibly talented and deep. Vermette had a strong start to his time with the Arizona Coyotes the last time he was traded near the deadline (2012), and there is still talent up front to score enough goals. Getting past two of those teams in the rugged Central Division will be no easy task though.
5. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are the highest riser this week and for good reason. General manager Bob Murray hit a home run before the deadline passed that might have landed across the street where Mike Trout and Albert Pujols play. The Ducks were scuffling and had a glaring weakness on defense. Murray fixed it.
James Wisniewski and Simon Despres are strong skaters and skilled at moving the puck. Put them with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, a healthy Sami Vatanen and Francois Beauchemin, and the Ducks might have the deepest defense corps in the League. Murray also deftly removed Eric Brewer from the equation (as the Toronto Maple Leafs continued to use their financial might to add draft picks and young assets), leaving one less aging, slow defenseman that could be available for selection on a given night.
In case it wasn't clear, there is a theme here. More and more teams are figuring out that loading up on defensemen who can make skilled plays with the puck is the answer, not ones that favor the simple play, which is code for giving the puck back to the other team.
6. Nashville Predators
GM David Poile went to the whip early, and said he planned to stop adding at the time. Defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli have made the Predators deeper. A third line of Santorelli, Calle Jarnkrok and Colin Wilson might be the best in the West.
That did prove to be his only move. Considering how high the prices were later in the process, it looks like savvy business at this point, but do they have enough at center? Unfortunately, people forget about the market value in a trade if the season ends earlier than expected.
7. St. Louis Blues
Another team that was already strong on the blue line and added to its strength. Zbynek Michalek has been underrated in both tours of duty with the Coyotes. He also didn't fit as well as hoped the first time he left (to play with the Pittsburgh Penguins).
His style of play and skill profile should work well in St. Louis. Robert Bortuzzo is big, but moving Ian Cole for him was a puzzling transaction. Olli Jokinen could be useful, but he might not crack a healthy lineup.
8. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens are not the third-best team in the East according to several advanced metrics, but with their additions they could trend in that direction and Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty can make up the difference. Montreal was one of the most improved teams after the deadline last season.
This season they added defenseman Jeff Petry, who can help in an area of need. It will be interesting to see if conformation bias clouds the general perception of Petry in Montreal as it did for some in Edmonton. They also added some depth forwards, but slotting forwards into roles in the lineup has been a cause for consternation much of the season for analytically-inclined Canadiens fans.
The biggest key for Montreal could be finishing first in the Atlantic Division, which would almost certainly mean the Canadiens could only face Detroit or Tampa Bay, but not both, at some point in the postseason.
9. New York Rangers
The next four teams are all connected (how will become obvious shortly). There is very, very little separation between them. If Henrik Lundqvist is healthy and playing really well (not just well, like he was before the injury) then the Rangers are the best of these four teams. If he's not his typically elite self, they probably aren't.
Yandle could be a great addition, but he probably doesn't reduce the minutes being given to Dan Girardi. He might even take some away from Dan Boyle, who has been better than expected for the Rangers (not Anton Stralman great, but not as far off as many analytics-friendly writers predicted). James Sheppard might be better than Kevin Hayes as the third-line center (with Hayes shifting to the wing), but probably not by much. Moving Lee Stempniak means there is one less veteran in front of Tanner Glass on the depth chart, which could be a problem.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Jim Rutherford era has been fascinating. It seems like every other move he makes earns praise from the analytics crowd. Signing Marcel Goc and adding Rob Klinkhammer were hailed as savvy depth moves. Trading Goc for Max Lapierre was about as anti-fancy stats as it gets. Maybe the Oilers really wanted Klinkhammer, but putting him in the package for David Perron (a great addition) left the Penguins searching for depth forwards again.
Daniel Winnik is a very nice addition. Removing Zach Sill was a wise and underrated component of that trade. Adding Cole for Bortuzzo was a deft move. Trading Despres for Ben Lovejoy when combined with the Cole addition might be a net positive, but on its own seems peculiar.
Put all of the moves together dating back to adding Perron and what do the Penguins have? Their two biggest question marks are the two players Rutherford has publicly supported the most, Marc-Andre Fleury and Brandon Sutter. Fleury is having a great season, but … yeah, everyone knows what comes after the but with him.
They're better, but so is everyone else that matters in the East. They're also short a lot of future assets, and lacking young talent at forward is why they continue to have try and patch a capable group together. Like the Rangers, they are "going for it," but neither team found any separation and each paid a pretty heavy cost.
11. New York Islanders
Adding Michal Neuvirth was a sneaky great play. Chad Johnson has struggled, so Neuvirth even in a backup role could be the difference between finishing first or third in the Atlantic Division. He's also a much better insurance policy should Jaroslav Halak, not historically the most durable of goaltenders, gets hurt.
And while Halak's addition was celebrated, he hasn't been that great since a hot start to the season. Neuvirth has been at times for the undermanned Buffalo Sabres. It's not that far-fetched that Neuvirth could outplay Halak in the final five weeks of the season.
Tyler Kennedy doesn't hurt, and could help if used properly. Given how so many of the teams ahead of the Islanders on this list loaded up on defense, it's hard not to see that as an opportunity missed. They could have used someone like Coburn or Wisniewski, not only to bolster a potential playoff run in 2015 but as insurance in case Johnny Boychuk does not return next season.
If either goaltender gets hot and Kyle Okposo is back at an optimum level, the Islanders can win the East. If whichever goalie that plays only stops 89 percent of the shots he faces and trying to re-calibrate the lines leaves something amiss, they could be out in the first round.
12. Washington Capitals
The Capitals are a good hockey team, and on many nights they are really good. They feel like an example of why the top half of the NHL is better this season than it's been in recent years. The teams who were ranked Nos. 11 and 12 in this space at the end of last season were the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, and this Capitals team (and the next two teams on this list) are almost certainly better than those clubs were at that point.
Washington already had one of the best No. 5 (based on role, not on talent) defensemen in the NHL, so it decided to get Mike Green a more trustworthy partner. Tim Gleason might not be better at hockey than Nate Schmidt or Jack Hillen (or a healthy Dmitry Orlov, if he's ever going to be an option this season), but Green has played well in the past with more conservative partners. If having Gleason around gets Green more minutes, that might be a bigger positive than the negative impact of going from Schmidt to Gleason.
Curtis Glencross was effective and underrated for a long time, but he might not be at that level anymore. If Glencross arriving keeps Andre Burakovsky out of the lineup for an extended period, that trade might cost the Capitals more than just two pretty high draft picks for a complementary rental forward.
13. Minnesota Wild
Jordyn Leopold became the star of deadline day, but the other two acquisitions GM Chuck Fletcher made are likely to be more important than her father. Sean Bergenheim has been a fancy stats darling for a few years now. Given his travels, it is hard to tell if teams are undervaluing him, or if it's a good sign because he appears to be in demand when made available.
Bergenheim and Chris Stewart give the Wild more snarl up front. Stewart has played a lot better the past six weeks or so and is playing for a contract. Where they end up fitting in the lineup could be interesting, but the Wild needed reinforcements without Jason Zucker and Matt Cooke.
Oh, and if Devan Dubnyk counts, the Wild already won the deadline weeks ago.
14. Winnipeg Jets
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff liked making trades for NHL players so much, he just kept on hoarding. After the marquee move for defenseman Tyler Myers, forward Drew Stafford and two quality prospects from the Buffalo Sabres for injured Evander Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian and a less quality prospect, Cheveldayoff also added forwards Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak.
That trio of forwards certainly makes Winnipeg deeper, and hopefully puts the Dustin Byfuglien position shuttle out of commission for good. The goaltending has gotten leaky again after such a strong start to the season, but the improvements up front make this club more dangerous. It would be wise for their first-round opponent to win those first two games at home, because Games 3 and 4 at MTS Centre are going to be crazy.
15. Florida Panthers
They traded for the third-best forward of all time. And he's already sparked the power play and bolstered the second line with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. They need Roberto Luongo healthy, but their competition for the final playoff spot in the East, the Boston Bruins, made one trade and that guy is already injured and likely to miss the rest of the regular season.
Florida could have used another defenseman, but the Panthers might sneak into the playoffs with a young team that should continue to get better next season.
16. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks added a player who has struggled to find a place in the lineup for a division rival and team competing with them for a playoff spot, and gave up a second-round pick to do so. They didn't do anything else, but the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks subtracted players and the Canucks received another dose of good fortune because of Mark Giordano's absence for the rest of the season.
Any of these three teams could have made an impactful move and cruised into a postseason spot. Maybe all three GMs surveyed the landscape in the West and saw how the market was favoring sellers and decided it wasn't worth it. If so, they were probably right.