Jaromir Jagr

Is it time for Jaromir Jagr to hang up the skates?

The man is a legend. As the oldest current player in the NHL at 45 years old, Jaromir Jagr has had a phenomenal, record-breaking career.

The man’s name is painting the record books. He is top-five in the categories of regular season goals, OT goals, game-winning goals and games played.

He is classified right alongside the most elite like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, who aren’t bad company to keep.

THE LAST TWO SEASONS

Jaromir Jagr

Jagr during his time with the Florida Panthers.
(Photo from News At Speed)

Jagr’s 2015-16 season was an incredibly impressive one. It would be an impressive one for any player in the NHL, let alone someone his age. With 27 goals and 39 assists, Jagr was a force to be reckoned with. As the Florida Panthers’ scoring leader, they were forced to re-sign Jagr even with his age in question.

The next season saw a slight decline in production for Jagr, going down to 16 goals and 30 assists. By no means are those embarrassing figures, but perhaps the Panthers saw this as the beginning of the end for Jagr.

Postseason Jagr found himself in free agency with limited interest from teams, and no offer from the Panthers.

CURRENT SEASON

On Oct. 4, 2017, Jagr signed a one-year deal with his first ever Canadian NHL team, the Calgary Flames.

The young Flames really seemed like they could use the guidance of a seasoned NHL veteran like Jagr. Sure they have Mark Giordano and Matt Stajan, but they don’t quite fit in with the company Jagr keeps.

It’s safe to say that Flames fans and players were excited to see a legend come to Calgary.

“He’s one of the best to ever play the game. We’re getting a legend,” Michael Frolik said, according to ESPN.

Coach Glen Gulutzan said that Jagr’s hockey IQ was through the roof and would bring a lot to the team.

He even had a fan club based in Alberta called “The Traveling Jagrs.” Considering that they started the fan club before Jagr came to Calgary, they were pretty excited about the signing. (Video from Sportsnet)

Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived. Jagr’s numbers have plummeted during his time with the Flames. He’s been hindered by injuries likely due to age, which have caused him to miss many games this season.

With only one goal and six assists this season, it seems as though Jagr’s hopes of playing in the NHL until he is 50 are being quickly stripped away.

The Flames have now gone into talks about working on an exit strategy for Jagr. It is unsure at this time whether or not Jagr is in agreement with the Flames, but only time will tell.

IS IT HIS TIME

As a hockey fan and lover of all great legends, I would really hate to see Jagr go. Just purely because it is going to be so sad to see an end of an era.

As a reasonable human being and former athlete myself, I say it is time. To play any sport until nearly 50 years old takes a major toll on the body. To play hockey specifically until that age is a feat of immortals. Well, almost.

Jagr had two pretty stellar years before this one, so it is likely no one will even remember this season should he choose to end it here.

I would hate for him to go out like Chris Chelios and just battle a little too long to stay in the big leagues. Granted, nothing will take away Jagr’s accomplishments, not even one or two bad seasons.

The NHL will surely miss his presence as will the young Flames, at least from the hockey knowledge perspective. But I don’t think that Jagr has much time left in the NHL, if any at all.

 

Featured image from SB Nation

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Calgary Flames

Those Flames are so hot right now

The quintessentially average Calgary Flames have finally found their stride and it may be for real this time.

THE SLUMP YEARS

The last time the Calgary Flames made a legitimate run for the Stanley Cup was in 2004 against the Tampa Bay Lightning (spoiler, the Flames lost).

The last time the Flames won a Stanley Cup was WAY back in 1989 and that is their only Cup.

So, it’s been a while since the Flames have tasted victory and it seems as though they are finally getting hungry.

The Flames have failed to make the playoffs in six of the last ten NHL seasons. Those seasons were chaotic, unsure and frustrating.

Calgary Flames

Miikkaa Kiprusoff may be the best goaltender the Flames have ever had. (Photo from Reddit)

After losing Miikka Kiprusoff (who may be even more missed than Jarome Iginla) to retirement before the 2014-15 season the Flames struggled to find someone to take command between the pipes. They went through Jonas Hiller,  Kari Ramo, Reto Berra, Brian Elliot, Chad Johnson and most recently Eddie Lack.

Even when the Flames had Kiprusoff they lacked solid secondary support in the crease which caused the Flames to overplay Kiprusoff and potentially lead to his somewhat premature retirement.

In addition to their goaltending woes, the Flames also had an extremely slow and old group of players.

Calgary Flames

Here is a breakdown of the average ages in the NHL in 2010-11. (Screenshot from QuantHockey.com)

Veterans are beneficial to a team, but you don’t want a whole team of veterans.

The Calgary Flames were above the NHL age average from the 2009-10 season until the 2012-13 season. Two of those seasons they were second in age average (at nearly 30 years old) to only the Detroit Red Wings.

A COUPLE GOOD MOVES

Extending the contracts of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were clutch moves (albeit obvious). Their connection is absolutely incredible and adding Michael Ferland to that line has made a huge positive difference.

Picking up Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic and the rise of Michael Stone have bolstered the Flames D-line to be one of top defensive cores in the league.

Picking up Mike Smith is one of the best things that’s happened to the Flames since Gaudreau became an unexpected star.

THE PAST TEN GAMES

In their last four games of December the Flames went 1-3. Not due to lack of effort. The Flames shootout loss against the San Jose Sharks was one of the best games I have ever watched.

On New Years Eve the Flames turned it all around. They were playing the Chicago Blackhawks and came out on top with a great all around effort. That victory sparked a seven game win streak which is still in progress. During the win streak the Flames have matched up with and beaten extremely strong opponents, such as the league leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Anaheim Ducks and the LA Kings.

The biggest difference between this current streak and some of the Flames’ past streaks is the quality of the teams they are beating. In addition to this, the Flames are seeing offensive contributions from more players than just their first line, including key contributions from their defensemen.  

The Flames are seeing depth not only from their forwards and defensemen but also their goalies. It seems like for the first time in over a decade the Flames may have found a decent backup in David Rittich who has gone 4-1-1 since being called up with a 2.03 GAA and a .932 S%.

LOOKING FORWARD

Two members of the Flames were named to the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week; with Johnny Gaudreau at number one and Mike Smith at number two.

If the Flames continue to execute on special teams and keep their possession numbers up there is no reason why they shouldn’t be in the playoff picture.

Things are really starting to look up for the Flames, so if they can keep this level of confidence the rest of this season should be smooth sailing. 

Featured image from Calgary Herald

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NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game: The stars, the surprises and the snubbed

On Wednesday the NHL announced the roster for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game (ASG) in Tampa Bay, FL.

Most of the players that made the cut were obvious choices: Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Nikita Kucherov, etc.

However, a good amount of players that made the team don’t quite fit the bill. There were a lot of quality players that didn’t make the cut in favor of less qualified players.

THE STARS

There are two different categories for the stars in the ASG.

You have the obvious, always have and will be all-stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, McDavid and more.

There are the stand alone stars who’s teams are seeing mediocre seasons but they still stand out such as: Mike Green, Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel.

Granted the Penguins, Oilers and Blackhawks are having less than stellar seasons so Crosby, McDavid and Kane could all be included in this group too, but lets face it; it’ll be a cold day in hell when these guys aren’t on this roster.

THE SURPRISES

Here we have a category of players who either surprised me (in a good way) individually this year or they come from a surprisingly good hockey team (looking at you Vegas).  In this group we see: James Neal, Marc Andre-Fleury and John Klingberg (are you kidding me, 33 assists as a D-man?).

Some additions in this group of surprises are: Josh Bailey, right winger for the New York Islanders, who is sporting impressive numbers this season in goals and assists for the floundering team. Bailey has a career plus/minus of -31 so this season is definitely a turn around for him.

Aleksander Barkov a center for the Florida Panthers is also somewhat of a rising star this season.  With 14 goals, 21 assists and a +4 rating; Barkov has definitely surprised hockey fans (especially with his flashy shootout moves). (Youtube link from Puck Daily)

In addition to these positive surprises I also have a list of “how the hell did you make it on this roster”.

Starting us off. Carey Price. I get that they are picking a player from each team, but even the shockingly bad Canadiens have better to offer this season.  After missing a handful of games due to injury, Price returned and has since been sporting a 2.89 GAA and a .911 S% over 29 games.

Our second victim in this category is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. This is by far the worst selection of the ASG. Sitting at 6 goals and 13 assists with an absolutely HORRENDOUS plus/minus of -34, Ekman-Larsson’s name doesn’t belong anywhere near the word all-star. Honestly, just give Shane Doan an alumni appearance in his place.

The final selection for the (bad) surprises is Rickard Rakell. He isn’t a bad player, he just isn’t the best the Anaheim Ducks or the Pacific has to offer. He has a respectable goal count with 15 but he only has 16 assists and a -6 rating.

THE SNUBBED

Speaking of that surprise selection from the Ducks, where is Ryan Getzlaf on this roster? I get that he only has 4 goals this season, but with 20 assists, a +9 rating and his leadership qualities he seems like a better choice for the ASG.

Mark Giordano somehow slipped under the radar for this year’s ASG. Coming from one of the best defensive cores in the NHL it is amazing that no D-men from the Calgary Flames made this roster. Dougie Hamilton could’ve easily been taken in place of Ekman-Larsson as well.

NHL All-Star Game

These are the top five forwards for the Vegas Golden Knights.   (Screenshot from NHL.com)

Finally we have the omission of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

Marchessault leads the Golden Knights in points with 40 (16 goals and 24 assists) and Karlsson is right behind him with 36 (22 goals and 14 assists). James Neal made the roster in favor of these two which is shocking to me, especially if you look at the statistical breakdown of the Golden Knights’ forwards.

 

 

 

The Wrap Up

Overall, I am not impressed by this year’s ASG roster. Just bring back the fan vote (I want to see more John Scotts in the ASG) or the draft because that at least would make things more exciting and dramatic.

The 3-on-3 format is nice because it’ll keep things moving and showcase more speed so at least that will be interesting.

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Johnny Bower

Johnny Bower: The pioneer of hockey toughness

In honor of the passing of Johnny “The China Wall” Bower over the holiday break, I thought it would only be right to dedicate this article to one of the original “tough guys” of hockey.

A Brief History of Johnny Bower

Bower grew up in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to a poor, working class family. Growing up in a family of nine children meant his family couldn’t even afford hockey equipment. So Bower created his own using an old mattress for pads and a tree branch for a stick.

At the age of 15, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War II. In 1943, he was discharged due to rheumatoid arthritis.

That didn’t stop Bower from being active. Less than two years later, Bower made his professional hockey debut with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL.

Bower bounced between the AHL and NHL for many years before finally getting claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1958.

The Toughness of Johnny Bower

If joining the Army at 15 years old and then playing professional hockey with rheumatoid arthritis isn’t evidence enough of how tough he was, then let his teammates, the statistics and the nature of his position convince you.

Being a goalie in this era of hockey was absolutely brutal. With no masks and minimal padding, injuries were an expectation, not an inconvenience.

Johnny Bower

Johnny Bower played most of his career in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo from AZ Quotes)

Dick Duff, one of Bower’s former teammates, said in an interview with CBC Radio, “[goalies] … the leg and arm, they would be yellow, green, black from stopping the pucks.”

Not only was Bower tough, but he was also talented. He won the Vezina Trophy two times. His name appears on the Stanley Cup four times (three of which were in consecutive years). He also remains the career leader in wins in the AHL.

When speaking of Bower specifically, Duff called him “fearless.”  Others refer to Bower as a “legend.” One thing for sure is that Johnny “The China Wall” Bower will live on in hockey history forever.

Hockey Toughness Through the Years

Bill Meltzer hit the nail on the head when he said,

“‘Hockey toughness’ is not about an individual player’s physical strength or fighting prowess. It’s about teammates protecting and defending one another, preserving together through adversity and pain. It’s not about a lack of fear but, rather, a willingness to face it head on.”

On Nov. 18, 2016, halfway through the second period during a game between division rivals Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers, Blue Jackets’ left-winger, Matt Calvert, took a nasty slap shot to the face courtesy of the Rangers’ Nick Holden. (Video is bloody, be advised) (YouTube link from jguth95)

He was quickly helped off the ice and taken to the dressing room where he received 36 stitches.

One would assume that he would not see the ice again that night, but after passing a concussion test, he took to the ice again midway through the third period. Not only did he come back to play in the same game, but he also scored a short-handed goal, which proved to be the game winner.

Calvert’s return to the ice that night after what should’ve been a game-ending injury serves as only one example of why hockey players are some of the most physically impressive athletes in professional sports. On top of the physical toughness, they also possess great amounts of mental toughness. Having to insert themselves into such a physically demanding situation when already injured takes insane amounts of courage.

Calvert isn’t the only hockey player to have displayed this kind of perseverance. Here’s some ‘tough’ hockey history.

In the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals, Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Bobby Baun injured his leg badly enough that he had to leave the ice on a stretcher. He returned for overtime where he scored the game winner. It was later revealed that he did indeed have a broken leg. (YouTube link from NHL)

Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers returned to the ice after breaking his jaw in a 2014 playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Boston Bruins’ Gregory Campbell blocked a shot during the 2013 playoffs, which resulted in a broken fibula.  Campbell got up and finished killing the penalty before leaving the ice. (YouTube link from Fred Murtz)

The list goes on and on. Endless amounts of lost teeth, stitches, breaks and sprains. Injuries that would often force the best of athletes to sit from anywhere between one game and a few months show us why hockey is a sport that demands respect, if for no other reason than the unmatched toughness of the players.

 

Feature image from Pictorial Parade/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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