Playing the “What if?” game with Jaromir Jagr’s career

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Philadelphia Flyers winger Jaromir Jagr broke his tie with Joe Sakic for eighth place on the NHL’s all-time points scoring list, adding another bullet point to a no-brainer Hall of Fame career.

The Czech-born forward has played 1,327 regular season games in his NHL career and 169 more in the playoffs, so it’s hard to say that things could have gone any better.

Even with that in mind, there are three moments in his playing days that could have put his amazing run under the spotlight that much more. With that in mind, let’s play the “What if?” game with Jagr’s career – in chronological order.

1. What if he beat out Eric Lindros for the 1994-95 Hart Trophy?

Jagr narrowly lost two Hart Trophy races – both against good old Canadian boys with remarkably similar numbers. The first one came with Eric Lindros won his only league MVP in a strike-shortened 1994-95 season. With the help of hockey-reference.com, here are some quick numbers that show how close the two were.

Points: Jagr and Lindros tied with 70 (Jagr played in 48 games; Lindros played in 46)
Goals:  Jagr was second in the NHL with 32 (Peter Bondra had 34) while Lindros had 29.
Point shares: Jagr barely edges Lindros 27.2-27.1 … whatever that means.
Teammates: Ron Francis was the Penguins’ second leading scorer with 59 points; Mikael Renberg had 57 for Philly
Misc.: Jagr started the season at 22 years old; Lindros was 21. Even their teams were remarkably similar as the Penguins had 61 standings points and the Flyers had 60.

Seriously, Lindros and Jagr might as well have split the Hart that season.

source: Getty Images2. What if Jagr edged Joe Thornton for the 2005-06 Hart Trophy?

Much like the Lindros-Jagr scenario, the Thornton-Jagr voting could have gone both ways, too.

Jumbo Joe lead the league in assists (a ridiculous 96) and edged Jagr in points (125-123), but some might factor into more-difficult-to-get goals into the argument (Jagr was second overall in the NHL with 54 to Thornton’s 29). You can consult the history-reference season summary to quibble over different things such as goals created, but the stats are all very close – again.

Context didn’t do much to distinguish the two, either. Sure, Thornton made Jonathan Cheechoo a mufti-millioniare and 56-goal scorer, but Jagr racked up those crazy numbers with linemates like Michael Nylander and Martin Straka in New York.

3. What if he didn’t go to the KHL?

OK, so maybe those Hart Trophy coin-flips don’t do it for you. The most intriguing hypothetical question is: where would Jagr be if he didn’t go to the KHL for three seasons?

There are so many variables – particularly wear and tear/burnout from not knowing what he’s missing in the NHL – but it’s still intriguing to wonder where he’d rank on the all-time lists if he played in those seasons. I’m not going to speculate on where he’d be, but just look at the point and goal marks that would be within his feasible grasp.

Points:

4. Ron Francis: 1,798
5. Marcel Dionne: 1,771
6. Steve Yzerman: 1,755
7. Mario Lemieux: 1,723
8. Jagr: 1,643

Goals:

3. Brett Hull – 741
4. Dionne – 731
5. Phil Esposito – 717
6. Mike Gartner – 708
7. Mark Messier – 694
8. Yzerman – 692
9. Lemieux – 690
10. Luc Robitaille – 668
11. Jagr – 663

***

In the grand scheme of things, Jagr maximized his potential in his NHL career. Few players could dream of the money he made, games he managed to play and numbers he put up.

Still, it’s interesting to ponder how people would feel about his career if he had, say, three Hart Trophies and was in the top five in both points and goals, right?

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87: