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The day Jaromir Jagr (probably) saved the Penguins

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With Jaromir Jagr officially off to the Czech Republic to continue what is left of his professional hockey career it is entirely possible that we have seen the last of him in the NHL.

It would not exactly be a fitting farewell for what is, by pretty much any objection evaluation, one of the most productive careers in the history of the sport. But then again Jagr’s career was always full of sudden changes and moves.

Throughout a career that touched three different decades, Jagr played for nine different NHL teams (Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, New Jersey, Florida, and Calgary) and also took a three-year hiatus to play in Russia.

He won scoring titles, an MVP award, two Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and ended up in the top-three for games played, goals and total points in league history.

He had his moments for pretty much every team he played for, but his time with the Penguins, the team that drafted him in the first-round of the 1990 NHL draft (No. 5 overall) is what his career will probably end up being defined by. He was at his most dominant with the Penguins, he won his two Stanley Cups with the Penguins, and along with Mario Lemieux helped form one of the most dominant duos the league has ever seen.

Having been born in Pittsburgh and still living there to this day, my boss here at PHT, Sean Leahy, asked me if I had any particular memories from Jagr’s time with the Penguins that were worth sharing after watching him for so many years.

Most people from Pittsburgh that watched Jagr up close might look at one of the Stanley Cup Final runs and one of the many huge goals he scored on the way to a championship — such as his overtime goal against New Jersey in 1991, or the incredible individual effort against Chicago in 1992 to complete the Penguins’ epic Game 1 comeback. Or perhaps just marveling at the numbers he put up during the NHL’s dead-puck era.

But the moment that always stood out to me was his performance in the first-round of the 1999 playoffs against the New Jersey Devils, specifically his effort in Game 6 of that series.


The late 90s Penguins were a bizarre team to look back on.

Lemieux had retired for the first time, Ron Francis had left as a free agent, and Jagr was the focal point of a team that, other than him, was usually pretty mediocre.

They never really had a top-pairing defenseman, they struggled to find a true No. 1 goalie, and while they had a couple of really good forwards like Alexei Kovalev and Martin Straka, it really wasn’t a team that was built to win — or even seriously compete for — a Stanley Cup.

But because Jagr was so dominant and so game-changing that they always at least had a chance to make the playoffs.

The 1998-99 season was a particularly challenging one for the Penguins off the ice because the team was going through bankruptcy proceedings with Lemieux working on his plan to ultimately rescue it.

There was serious talk that the team might actually be dissolved if Lemieux’s plan failed.

Not relocated. Dissolved.

The Penguins still managed to make the playoffs that year as the No. 8 seed and ended up with a first-round matchup against the top-seeded Devils. They were heavy underdogs, not only because of the fact the Devils simply had a better team, but also because Jagr was dealing with a severe groin injury that sidelined him for four of the first five games of the series.

He was able to return to the lineup for Game 6 with the Penguins facing elimination.

Even though he was clearly not 100 percent, he not only played the game on what was basically one leg, he played 29 of the 68 minutes in the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win.

And he was by far the best player on the ice, turning in one of the most single dominant performances of his NHL career. He tied the game with just over two minutes to play in regulation, then won it in overtime to force a Game 7 in New Jersey two nights later (the Penguins, led by Jagr, won that game as well to advance to the second round).

But it wasn’t just the two goals that stood out. It was simply the way he played. Take a look at the highlights from that game. New Jersey never had an answer for him.

Given the context of everything around that day — the financial state of the team and its uncertain future, the fact the Penguins were expected to lose, Jagr playing through a major injury and dominating — it was just a mind-blowing performance.

Back in 2013 Jagr recalled that game and called the overtime goal one of the biggest goals of his career.

“I remember that like it happened yesterday,” Jagr said. “I pulled my groin in the first game. We were losing 3-2 in the series and if we would lose the first round I think the team would move to Kansas City because they had no money. We had to make the second round to get the (money) for the payments.

Jagr continued: “I came back and I tied it with a minute-and-a-half to go and then I scored in overtime. That was probably my best game ever, I would say. My most important for sure. I’ll probably never score a goal that important.

“Probably if I hadn’t scored that goal the team wouldn’t be in Pittsburgh right now. (Sidney) Crosby would be in Kansas City.”

The Penguins ended up losing in the second-round to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there was no denying how important it was in a financial sense for the team to get to the second-round that season.

Lemieux ultimately ended up rescuing the team from bankruptcy and ended up returning to the ice for another run with Jagr.

After the 2001 season Jagr’s Penguins career to an end with the trade that sent him to the Capitals for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk, marking the beginning of the second half of his career that saw him bounce around the NHL every couple of years.

Including playoffs, Jagr scored 844 goals in the NHL, with 504 of them coming as a member of the Penguins.

Given what it meant for the long-term viability of the franchise, there is an argument to be made that none were bigger than the two goals he scored in the spring of 1999, even if they did not result in a Stanley Cup that season.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins hope trade deadline additions get going vs. Stars

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite holding the NHL’s best record, the Bruins added some nice pieces at the trade deadline. They weren’t big-budget blockbusters, but Nick Ritchie and especially Ondrej Kase could serve as “sleeper hits.”

Now they just need to stop hitting the snooze button.

Ritchie faced some growing pains in first Bruins game after trade deadline

Ritchie (traded for Danton Heinen) and the Bruins didn’t exactly earn rave reviews from Bruce Cassidy as they fell 5-2 to the Flames on Tuesday.

“[It was] clearly not good enough. I thought some guys came to play and some guys didn’t. [Some guys] didn’t break a sweat, some of them it looked like,” Cassidy said following that loss, via NBC Sports Boston. “I’m sure there was effort [and that] they were trying. They were just in-between, couldn’t execute or whatever. At the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough.”

A challenging upcoming schedule won’t make it easier to acclimate, either.

The Bruins host the Stars in Boston on Thursday, but then things get bumpy. They play three in a row and five of their next six on the road. Actually, there’s almost a month of road-heavy play, with eight of 11 away from home from Feb. 29 through March 21.

Ritchie noted that everything’s new when you get traded to a new team, and that’s a fair point for any trade deadline addition.

Actually … that concept might be where the Bruins hold a leg up. After all, the Bruins got both Ritchie and Kase from the Ducks, so they have familiarity with each other. (Kase didn’t get to debut yet, but may play on Thursday.)

That familiarity could benefit Ritchie, in particular.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Adding Kase to Bruins is a cause for excitement

If you’re a bit of a “fancy stats” nerd (raises hand), then you’ve looked at Kase as a hidden gem for quite some time. Pick your chart, and Kase will probably come out looking great.

With that in mind, a possible line of Kase, Ritchie, and David Krejci strikes as quite interesting. Especially in tandem with that buzzsaw Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak line, and getting depth from the likes of Charlie Coyle.

Krejci provided some insight into playing with Kase a few days ago, noting that Kase is “fast and can score.”

“You kind of have to adjust your game a little bit, but you have to get a feel for each other,” Krejci said, via NBC Sports Boston’s Nick Goss. “You’ve got to be on the same page with the breakouts, neutral zone. He’s a right-handed shot, so — I’m not sure what’s going to happen (Tuesday vs. the Flames) — but it’s always nice to have a right-handed shot on your line.”

There might be some room for frustration, mind you. Ritchie may create some groans with an ill-timed penalty. Kase’s a player to get excited about, although he might not always get the bounces. The Ducks traded Kase as his shooting percentage was mired at a career-low 5.2 percent, and his career average is modest at 9.5.

But … overall, the possibilities are exciting. Maybe Jake DeBrusk will end up being a better option than Ritchie, but we’ll see.

If they can score against the stingy Stars, that would present one heck of a first (or for Ritchie, second) impression.

John Forslund, Pierre McGuire and analyst Mike Milbury will have the call from TD Garden. Thursday’s studio coverage will be hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Coronavirus could hinder NHL plans for China preseason games

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The NHL has not announced plans to hold preseason games in China this fall as they continue to keep an eye on the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re monitoring,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Daly this week, via NHL.com. “It’s hard not to monitor it. It seems to be coming closer to us every time, every day that goes by. Certainly, it impacts what our plans will be in China in the future and in the relatively near future.”

According to NBC News, China’s National Health Commission reported on Thursday 29 new deaths linked to coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths on the mainland to 2,744. The Centers for Disease Control has said the the outbreak has been found in 37 locations around the world, including the U.S.

The NHL last went to China in 2018 when the Flames and Bruins played games in Shenzhen and Beijing. Due to celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding, the NHL did not send teams there this past fall. In August, Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals visited Beijing as an ambassador for the league.

Player stick supplies have been affected and a planned PWHPA tour has been canceled due to coronavirus. Two Friday games in Switzerland will be played in front of empty arenas in order to prevent spreading.

As the NHL continues to plan for the 2020-21 season, the longer a lack of an announcement takes, the less of a hope the league returns to China this coming fall for preseason games.

“Obviously we haven’t announced any games there for next year,” Daly sad. “I think there was certainly a hope that we would be able to play preseason games there next year. I would say that hope probably continues to exist, but as time goes on, it becomes far more problematic.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: ‘No easy fix’ for emergency backup goalie situations like Ayres’

David Ayers NHL tries to fix emergency backup goalie situations EBUGS
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Bill Daly told reporters that there “are no easy fixes” for the NHL regarding emergency backup goalie situations like David Ayres suiting up for the Hurricanes. Ah yes, the league definitely must do something about the scourge that is getting a feel-good story that landed on outlets such as “Today Show” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Why would any league want scores of cheap attention if it comes with even an ounce of embarrassment? Preposterous! (Sportsnet)

• You’d think hockey people didn’t need to hear this, but stories like Ayres’ is why we love sports. (The Portage Citizen)

• Great stuff from William Douglas on memorable former NHL player Mike Grier, who ranks among four black assistant coaches in the NHL. Grier explains that his father Bobby Grier inspires his work ethic, as the elder Grier once was an assistant coach for the New England Patriots. (NHL.com celebrates Black History Month)

• Plenty of big names for the U.S. roster heading into the women’s world championship, including Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Brianna Decker. If a familiar face isn’t there, it might be due to them having children. (Olympic Talk)

• Great news for the Blues, and really for hockey: Vladimir Tarasenko may return sooner than expected. As in, before the end of the regular season. (NHL.com)

• Blues GM Doug Armstrong explains why the team was quiet at the trade deadline. Frankly, Armstrong’s made enough splashes over the years that it’s understandable to sit one out. Plus, the Blues can make people roll their eyes by saying Tarasenko is their “trade deadline acquisition.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• If you only look at points, John Carlson ranks as the next Erik Karlsson when it comes to seemingly easy Norris Trophy calls. That said, the Capitals experienced a high-scoring blueliner getting downgraded before when Mike Green was at his fauxhawk’d peak. Could it happen again? Kevin Klein went into deep, fascinating detail on that question. (Japers Rink)

• Speaking of Capitals-related no-brainers, what about Alex Ovechkin playing a game in front of a Russian crowd? Daly says the league is working on it. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Adam Gretz argues that Conor Sheary can score enough to stick with Sidney Crosby on the Penguins’ top line. Pittsburgh showed off its new look in a narrow loss to the Kings on Wednesday. (Pensburgh)

• When Viktor Arvidsson is rolling, the Predators often roll with him. Amid a turbulent season, it seems like Arvidsson is finding his way. That’s extremely promising for Nashville’s chances. (A to Z Sports Nashville)

• Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman lays out his plan, explaining that the draft and young players are “the lifeblood of your team.” (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Senators fans waved goodbye to key players in multiple trades now, from Karlsson to Mark Stone to now Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Could Pageau be the end of that line? (TSN)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Fleury’s shutout helps Golden Knights win 7th in a row

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Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. Fleury is starting to get on a roll for the Golden Knights and continued that on Wednesday night with his fifth shutout of the season in a big 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers. The win extend stheir lead in the Pacific Division. Fleury has now won each of his past five starts and is starting to get back on track after a mid-season slump. Vegas acquired Robin Lehner just before the NHL trade deadline to give the team some goaltending depth, and with Fleury playing the way he has lately they should have one of the best duos in the league going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Golden Knights’ winning streak now sits at seven consecutive games.

2. Cal Petersen, Los Angeles Kings. Petersen was the difference in the Kings’ 2-1 win over the Penguins on Wednesday, extending their losing streak to four games. He stopped 35 shots in the win including some great scoring chances in the closing seconds to secure the win. With Jack Campbell now in Toronto, Petersen is going to get an opportunity to be the primary backup for the Kings and he put on a great show against the Penguins. Read more about the Kings’ win right here.

3. J.T. Compher, Colorado Avalanche. With the Avalanche’s current injury situation they need their depth to come through. It did so again on Wednesday night in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, and it was Compher making the biggest impact with a goal and an assist. His goal late in the third period ended up being the game-winner to help the Avalanche extend their winning streak. Read more about their win right here.

Highlight of the Night

Avalanche rookie Martin Kaut scored his first NHL goal in their win over the Sabres.

Blooper of the Night

Dustin Brown accidentally crushed his own teammate.

Suit of the Night

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar really got into the spirit of military night in Denver. This camo, though, seems more suited for duck hunting night.

Factoid of the Night

Scores

Colorado Avalanche 3, Buffalo Sabres 2
Vegas Golden Knights 3, Edmonton Oilers 0
Los Angeles Kings 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.