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

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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?

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.