Jaromír Jágr (IPA , born February 15, 1972 in Kladno, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic) is a professional ice hockey right winger, who plays for Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. Jágr wore the number 68 in honor of the Prague Spring rebellion that occurred in Czechoslovakia in 1968, also the year in which his grandfather died while in prison. Jágr is currently in the top fifteen among players in NHL career goals, assists, and points, and is regarded as one of the game's all-time great players.
Before he had a clean grasp on the English language, he could be heard reading the daily weather forecast on Pittsburgh radio station WDVE in his broken, thickly accented English. He and teammate (and fellow countryman) Jiří Hrdina were promoted as the "Czechmates", a play on the term "checkmate" from chess. Some Penguins fans realized that the letters in his first name could be scrambled to form the anagram "Mario Jr.", a reference to teammate Mario Lemieux.
In the 1994-95 NHL season Jágr won his first Art Ross Trophy as the scoring champion of the NHL. He tied Eric Lindros with 70 points but won based on his 32 goals to Lindros' 29. The next year, Jágr set a record for most points, 149, by a European-born player. Both his 62 goals and 87 assists from that season still stand as career-highs. His 1995-96 totals for assists and points stand as the records for right-wingers in those categories. After the 1997-98 season, Ron Francis signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, leaving Jágr the Penguins' captaincy. From 1997-98 to 2000-01, Jágr would win four straight NHL scoring titles. In 1999, Jágr would win the Hart Memorial Trophy, as the NHL's Most Valuable Player as well as the Lester B. Pearson Award. In 1998, he led the Czech Republic's team to a gold medal at the Nagano Olympics.
In addition to his hockey skills, Jágr was also well-known for sporting a mullet throughout much of his career.
In 2000-01, Jágr was struggling to find his scoring touch and faced criticisms about his relationship with coach Ivan Hlinka. With the return of Mario Lemieux from retirement, the Penguins had two superstars but friction developed between the two; Jágr held the captaincy but many fans regarded Lemieux as the talisman of the team. Also, the struggling, small-market Penguins could, with Lemieux back, no longer hope to afford Jágr's massive salary. Thus on July 11, 2001 they traded him (along with Frantisek Kucera) to the Washington Capitals for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk.
This prompted the Caps to unload much of their high-priced talent in order to save money—not just a cost-cutting spree, but also an acknowledgement that their attempt to build a contender with high-priced veteran talent had failed. Disgruntled, the Washington ownership spent much of 2003 trying to trade Jágr, but a year before a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was to be signed, few teams were willing to risk $11 million on Jágr. On January 23, 2004 he was traded to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter and an agreement that Washington would pay approximately four million dollars per year of Jágr's salary. Jágr also agreed to defer (with interest) $1 million per year for the remainder of his contract to allow the trade to go ahead.
Jaromír led the Czech Republic to Gold at the 2005 World Hockey Championships in Austria; and was elected a tournament all-star in the process. He also became a member of hockey's prestigious Triple Gold Club, players who have won a Stanley Cup, a World Hockey Championship, and an Olympic gold medal.
Prior to the 2005-06 season, the Rangers had missed the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons. Following the firesale of the high-priced underachieving veterans that made up the team's roster, as well as the retirement of long-time captain Mark Messier, many experts picked the Rangers to be the worst team in the NHL. Jagr disagreed and promised the team would surprise a lot of people and make the Stanley Cup playoffs. He started strong during the beginning of the 2005 season and the return from the lockout of the NHL. He became only the fourth player in NHL history to score 10 or more goals in less than 10 games at the start of a season. His return to dominance helped the Rangers return to the Stanley Cup playoffs, but injuries to Jágr and others contributed to a quick Ranger exit in a first round sweep of the Broadway Blueshirts by the archnemesis New Jersey Devils.
Jágr scored his 1,400th point on a power play goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 2, 2006, pushing him past Jari Kurri into second place all-time among European-born players. He later passed Stan Mikita to become the all-time leader.
On March 18, 2006 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jágr became only the sixth Rangers player in team history to break the 100-point barrier, and became the only Ranger right winger to score 100 points in a season.
On March 27, 2006 against the Buffalo Sabres, Jágr had a goal and an assist, which tied both the Rangers' single-season goal record of 52 (Adam Graves, 1993-94) and the Rangers' single season points record of 109 (Jean Ratelle, 1972-73). Two nights later, on March 29, 2006, Jágr passed Ratelle when he was the primary assist on Petr Prucha's first-period goal against the New York Islanders' Rick DiPietro. 9 days later, on April 8, against the Boston Bruins, Jágr scored his league-leading 53rd goal of the season, breaking the Rangers' single-season goals record.
After leading the league in points and goals for most of 2005-06, Jágr was passed by the San Jose Sharks' duo of Joe Thornton (125 points) and Jonathan Cheechoo (56 goals), losing both the Art Ross and Maurice Richard trophies in the final week of the season. Jágr finished with 123 points, 54 goals, and 24 power-play goals, second in the league in all three categories. He finished third in the league in both assists, with 69, and +/-, at +34. Despite being inched out by Thornton for the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy (league MVP), Jágr won his third Lester B. Pearson Award as the league's outstanding player. However, just as in Washington, playoff success was not to be for Jágr, whose Rangers were swept four games to none by the New Jersey Devils. Jágr suffered a dislocated shoulder in the third period of the first game of the series, which kept him from playing at his top form for the rest of the series. Jágr had surgery on the shoulder after the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs.
On October 5, 2006 before the first game of the 2006-07 NHL season against the Washington Capitals, Jágr was named as the 24th captain in the history of the New York Rangers, replacing Mark Messier, who retired before the 2005-06 season. Jágr then proceeded to score a goal on his very first shift in the game, just under 30 seconds into the new season.
On November 19, 2006 he scored his 600th career NHL goal on Tampa Bay goalie Johan Holmqvist, making him the 16th player in NHL history to do so. Powerplay linemate Brendan Shanahan had scored his 600th goal almost three weeks earlier, making them the first teammates in NHL history to score their 600th goal in the same season.
On February 10, 2007 against the Washington Capitals, Jágr earned an assist on a goal by Michal Rozsíval to record his 1,500th career point. He is only the 12th NHLer to reach this mark. He is the 4th fastest player to score his 1,500th point after Marcel Dionne(3), Mario Lemieux(2), and Wayne Gretzky(1).
On April 5, 2007 against the Montreal Canadiens, Jágr scored his 30th goal of the 2006-07 NHL season to record 15 consecutive seasons of 30 or more goals. This tied the NHL record of consecutive 30-goal seasons held by Mike Gartner.
After a regular season slowed by a weak shoulder, he led the New York Rangers to a sweep of the Atlanta Thrashers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Rangers would fall to the Buffalo Sabres in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
On November 14, 2007 against the New Jersey Devils, Jágr scored his 4th goal of the 2007-08 NHL season at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey making him the only player to score a goal in 53 different NHL arenas.
On July 3, 2008, Jagr, now a free agent for the first time in his career, was informed by Rangers GM Glen Sather that the club was moving on without him. Sather admitted that the two sides never engaged in detailed negotiations for a new contract, and that after many months of speculation, Jagr was "seriously considering" going to Russia to finish his career. A day later, these reports came true, when Jagr agreed to a two-year deal with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League; the deal will reportedly pay Jagr the equivalent US$5 million annually. With Omsk, Jagr will play alongside Alexei Cherepanov, the Rangers' first round pick during the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Jagr has expressed desires to finish out his career at his father's club, HC Kladno.
By his own admission, Jágr states that his main idol growing up was US President Ronald Reagan, whose "peace through strength" policy contributed to the fall of European Communism. Jágr kept a picture of President Reagan in his academic notebook, which if discovered would have led to certain punishment.
|1994–95||HC Kladno||Czech Rep.||11||8||14||22||10||—||—||—||—||—|
|2003–04||New York Rangers||NHL||31||15||14||29||12||—||—||—||—||—|
|2004–05||HC Kladno||Czech Rep.||17||11||17||28||16||—||—||—||—||—|
|2005–06||New York Rangers||NHL||82||54||69||123||72||3||0||1||1||2|
|2006–07||New York Rangers||NHL||82||30||66||96||78||10||5||6||11||12|
|2007–08||New York Rangers||NHL||82||25||46||71||58||10||5||10||15||12|
Jagr has represented his country many times, but his play has been hindered by injuries. In 1994 he and Martin Straka arrived in the middle of the World Championships. The fans' expectations were high as Jagr was an NHL star, but before they were able to integrate into the team Czechs lost their quarterfinal game and were out of the tournament. Jagr was also hurt in numerous other games.
The 1996 World Cup of Hockey also did not see Jagr at his best. His performance was hampered by the flu and it only underscored the poor play of the whole team. After losing 7-3 to Finland, 3-0 to Sweden and 7-1 even to relatively weak Germany, the team did not qualify for the playoffs.
All this was forgotten in 1998 when the Czech Republic won the gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. It was only the third gold medal for Czech or Czechoslovak sportsmen from the Winter Olympics and it is still fondly remembered.
Jagr did not play in the 1996, 1999, 2000, or 2001 World Championships where the Czech Republic won the gold medals. He was a member of the team on the 2004 World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic where the expectations were high, especially after the team won all the games in the group, but they lost in the quarterfinals game.
It was the 2005 World Championships that finally brought a gold medal to Jagr. Although he broke his finger in an early game against Germany, he played with it bandaged during the rest of the tournament and led his team to victory.
More injuries struck Jagr in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. He was injured after a hit from Jarkko Ruutu in the game against Finland; he required stitches to his eyebrow. However, the injury was not as serious as it first seemed, and Jagr was able to play in the following games. He was unable to finish the bronze medal game due to muscle injury. Despite this trouble Jagr won the second Olympic medal in his life — bronze this time.