Where Kucherov hitting 115 points fits in recent NHL history

Nikita Kucherov isn’t merely content to shred defenses and poor, helpless opposing goalies. He’s like a hot knife going through butter when it comes to the best seasons in recent NHL history, too.

With an impressive two-goal, two-assist night in the Lightning’s 5-4 win against the Red Wings on Thursday, Kucherov now has a blistering 115 points this season. Kucherov has done so in just 71 games, so if he maintains his current (about 1.6197 points-per-game) pace and plays all 82 games, he’d finish either with 132 or 133 in 2018-19.

Just look at this nonsense, as Kucherov unlocked the “destroy the Gatorade achievement” for one of his goals:

Even if Kucherov stopped here, he’d be in some absolutely elite company.

The last player to reach at least 115 points was Sidney Crosby, who managed 120 back in 2006-07. A year before that, Joe Thornton (125) outdueled Jaromir Jagr (123) in a remarkable race for the Art Ross/Hart Trophy in 2005-06.

But, again, if Kucherov stopped at 115, he’d have put together one of the best runs since the calendar hit 2000. Here’s a short list of the best seasons since 2000-01:

1. Joe Thornton, 125 in 2005-06
2. Jaromir Jagr, 123 in 2005-06
3. Jagr, 121 in 2000-01
4. Sidney Crosby, 120 in 2006-07
5. Joe Sakic, 118 in 2000-01
6. Kucherov, 115 in 2018-19
7. Thornton, 114 in 2006-07

Remarkable.

If Kucherov came in around 132 or 133 points as he’s projected, he’d top Jagr’s 127 points from 1998-99. You have to reach back to Mario Lemieux’s 161 points in 1995-96 to see a better total than that projected 132-133 points, and players have only hit 130+ on nine occasions (eight players, with Lemieux doing it twice) since 1992-93.

Kucherov’s 115 points ties with Eric Lindros’ 115 points from 1995-96 as the 25th-best total since 1992-93 already.

This is truly jaw-dropping stuff, and it increasingly feels like Kucherov might only be stopped by injuries, or maybe a decision to give him a breather before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His points break down as 35 goals and 80 assists, so he’s just two helpers away from being a point-per-game player based on assists alone. That’s the sort of stuff we expected from Gretzky.

With all due respect to Connor McDavid, the other player to hit 100 points already (again), it’s tough to imagine any other player threatening Kucherov’s grasp on a much-deserved MVP trophy this season. Interestingly, Kucherov’s hit this mark with substantial ice time (19:42 TOI average), but not nearly being asked to carry the same burden as other potential finalists in McDavid (23:01) and Patrick Kane (22:26).

It’s a truly special season, one where Kucherov’s built on already-strong work to hit another level. At 25, it’s not outrageous to picture him approaching this level again, although he’s setting the bar incredibly high.

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.

Jagr, back from injuries, plays in Czech second-league game

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HAVIROV, Czech Republic (AP) — Jaromir Jagr is back again.

The Czech winger and 13-time NHL All-Star has recovered from a series of injuries that prevented him from playing for more than a year and appeared in a game Monday for the Kladno Knights, the hometown club he owns in the Czech Republic.

Jagr, 47, played on the top line alongside center Tomas Plekanec, another former NHL player.

He didn’t score in nearly 18 minutes but celebrated as Kladno, boosted by his presence, won 2-0 at Havirov in a Czech second-league game.

”Above all, I’m happy that I was finally able to play,” Jagr said. ”It’s not easy in my age just to train.”

Kladno, in fourth place, is seeking to reach the playoffs and qualify for the top league. It is 13 points behind first-place Jihlava but trails second-place Vsetin by three points with three more regular season games to go.

Jagr returned home after the Calgary Flames released the NHL’s second all-time leading point-scorer on Jan. 28, 2018, but he was injured in his fifth game for Kladno.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Jaromir Jagr hits the ice with Kladno, eyes return this season

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The owner of Rytiri Kladno of the Czech Republic’s WSM Liga hit the ice on Wednesday with his players and stated a goal of being ready to play games at some point in September.

That owner wasn’t a random rich person playing out a fantasy beer league dream, however. The No. 68 on the back of his helmet and the tied mullet would give away his identity to any fan since it was Jaromir Jagr.

“It’s not easy. I was glad I survived the first training, but I’ll do the best to make it better every day,” Jagr told reporters after practice (via iSport).

The 46-year-old Jagr is co-owner of Kladno and returned there after a stint with the Calgary Flames during the 2017-18 season lasted only 22 games before he was sidelined with a knee injury. The Flames waived Jagr before assigning him to Kladno for the rest of the year. He only scored once and finished with seven points after signing a one-year, $1 million contract in early October.

“I would be more happy if I was in the NHL now, but as a second option, this is the place I want to be,” he told the New York Times in April. “I got an opportunity and for whatever reason I didn’t play my best and I got injured.”

In his return to Kladno, Jagr played only five games as the Knights fell short of winning promotion to the Czech first division for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Despite battling through the knee injury, Jagr wasn’t ready to retire. He’s stated he wants to play beyond the age of 50 and that was looking like a decent bet after two years with the Florida Panthers where he played 79 and 82 games, respectively. Only time will tell if last season was reality at age 46 or an aberration for the legendary fitness freak.

Kladno has a 10-game preseason schedule which begins July 31 before the regular season opens up on Sept. 8. Jagr said his goal is to be ready for the season opener.

“I believe that before the season begins I can prepare enough to be able to play the whole game. That’s at least in my plan,” he said.

Jagr, who made his NHL debut during the 1990-91 season, noted that at the moment he does have some restrictions when it comes to training, but added, “I believe that when the leg and the whole body strengthens with more frequent workouts and those outside the ice, it will only improve.”

MORE: PHT Time Machine: Remembering Jaromir Jagr trade nobody won

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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.

Why Pittsburgh loves Marc-Andre Fleury

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Let me start by asking you a question.

What makes your favorite player, your favorite player?

Why do you like them?

Is it the way the play, what they accomplished, a specific moment, something they did off the ice, a personal interaction you had with them? What was it?

There has to be something that drew you to that player.

The reason I bombard you with all of these questions is because on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh Marc-Andre Fleury will be making his first appearance in the city as a visiting player. It is going to be some kind of a wild scene because in the history of the Penguins — heck, in the history of Pittsburgh sports — there are few players that will ever reach the level of popularity that Fleury had among a large portion of the city.

A lot of players — important players, good players — that were a part of Stanley Cup winning teams have returned to Pittsburgh as visitors and received a wide range of receptions. Jaromir Jagr, a legend, spent years being booed every time he touched the puck. Most players get a nice round of applause. Some get standing ovations.

None of them will compare to the one Fleury gets on Tuesday night when the roof will probably blow off the building. There will almost certainly be a non-zero number of people in the stands wearing Penguins jerseys that are actively cheering for a player in the opposing colors to win.

That relationship always fascinated me, and it still does.

Looking at his career as a player objectively there is nothing that really stands out all that much versus any other goalie from his era.

Do not get me wrong, he certainly was not a bad player, and he was always extremely durable. A goalie that could play 65-70 games a year at a — at worst — league average level is a pretty valuable commodity.

But he was never the best — or even second best — player on his own team, and he was never really among the top players in the league at his position.

The league’s general managers never saw fit to vote him higher than seventh for the Vezina Trophy (and only twice voted for him at all). He played in two All-Star games in 13 years and only finished higher than 10th in save percentage once. He had some downright forgettable postseason performances that probably at times made him a detriment to the team’s Stanley Cup chances. Twice he was replaced by other goalies, and while he is a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins, he wasn’t the goalie in the crease for the clinching game for two of them and didn’t even play a role in the playoffs for one of them.

This isn’t meant to be critical, it’s just facts.

Still, if you were to poll Penguins fans on who their favorite player over the past decade has been a significant portion of them is going to have Marc-Andre Fleury at the top of that list. He is going to get a heroes welcome.

So again, we’re back to the question of why he is so fiercely loved.

A lot of comes from the fact that anyone that has had any significant interaction with him has never had a negative thing to say about him. Hearing his former teammates talk about him and tell stories about him shows how much reverence they have for him as a player and a person.

That carries over to the fan base because they hear things like this from Ian Cole.

How would you not want to root for a player like that?

Even though he is a highly competitive person behind the scenes, on the ice and on camera he always has that same smile on his face and just seems to be genuinely happy to be there, never taking things too seriously. It is easy for fans to root for a person like that. When Fleury was on his way out of Pittsburgh this past summer having been sent to Vegas as part of the expansion draft, Sean Gentille wrote at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “this would all be easier if he were a jerk. People would be more rational, if nothing else.”

But he was not — and is not — a jerk.

He also is not boring.

His style of play is just … exciting. Not always the most effective, but never boring. A fundamentally sound goalie that always has himself in position to have the puck hit him in the chest isn’t going to appeal to people. It isn’t going to make highlights. Fleury has never been that goalie. He has always relied on freakish athleticism to play the position and has always been capable of making mind-melting saves.

When his career comes to an end he is going to have a lot of great numbers when it comes to wins, championships, saves. It is going to be one of those very good for a very long time careers, instead of one that was dominated by objective greatness over any number of seasons. Or even individual seasons.

But he still had his moments of greatness, and they tended to be HUGE moments.

There was that breakaway save on Alex Ovechkin early in Game 7 of the 2009 playoffs. There was the Stanley Cup clinching save on Nicklas Lidstrom later that spring. The best stretch of play in his career is probably largely forgotten because it didn’t result in a Stanley Cup win, but his performance during the 2007-08 postseason was game-changing, and it would have made him a worthy Conn Smythe contender had the Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings that year. As it stands, he was the only reason they won two games in that series against a team that steamrolled them in all six games. With his team facing elimination in a Stanley Cup Final game he stopped 55 shots in a triple-overtime win.

Then there was the 2017 playoffs when he briefly got his job back from Matt Murray and helped propel the team through the first two rounds of the playoffs despite the fact they were probably outplayed by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals.

That stuff sticks with fans, too.

Then there is the hope he provided.

When the Penguins traded up two spots to select Fleury with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft things were not great for the organization. It was a bad team that had sold off all of its best players for pennies on the dollar, while the future of the team was still very much in doubt.

Fleury was supposed to be the beginning of a new era, and for an entire generation of fans he was the first core building block for what would become a championship level team. He was there before Sidney Crosby. Before Evgeni Malkin. Before Kris Letang. They threw him right into the deep end of the pool, making him their starting goalie on opening night as an 18-year-old, something that is still unheard of today.

He showed up in bright yellow pads and played behind a team that was so unspeakably awful they got outshot by a completely mediocre Kings team (one that missed the playoffs!) by a 48-11 margin on opening night. Fleury, the 18-year-old, stopped 46 of those shots, including a penalty shot. In his next start a week later he stopped 31 shots to beat a Red Wings team that would go on to be one of the best in the league that season for his first career win.

That stands out with fans, the fact he was the beginning of a new era that would probably become the most successful era in franchise history (and from a championship standpoint, it has been).

Was he ever a great player for the Penguins? If we define greatness as being the best on the team or one of the best at his position, the honest answer is no, probably not.

But he was a great person and a great teammate. He was a great ambassador for the team and the league. He provided great hope at a time when there was no hope for the team. He had great moments that led to great success for the team.

That stuff all adds up over 13 years, and sometimes in the eyes of fans it is all worth more than just simply being a great player.

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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.

Jagr a smash success in Czech return; Nedved had to be there

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Despite being wary about how much he can play on an injured knee, Jaromir Jagr made quite the triumphant return to hockey in the Czech Republic this weekend.

Suiting up for Kladno of the WSM Liga, he helped his team win 7-2 against HC Benatky, and that game checked off quite a few “How cool is that?” boxes.

  • Despite dealing with that wonky knee, Jagr collected three assists.
  • Mike Johnston of Sportsnet notes that demand for the game prompted an arena change from a 2,000-seat spot to one that could accommodate 7,500 fans.
  • While looking through this roughly translated game summary, you may notice the name “Nedved.” Yes, it turns out that was Petr Nedved, another memorable former NHL player who enjoyed some famous moments with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

NHL.com’s Igor Eronko notes that Nedved had quite the game himself, scoring a goal and an assist; he actually ended up playing 24 minutes to Jagr’s 20. Nedved returned to play this specific game because Jagr was there. Jagr’s team ended up beating Nedved’s on this day.

Yes, that’s extremely cool.

[After returning home, Jagr says he’s far from finished.]

  • This crowd reaction is fun, as is Kladno’s vaguely Jagr-ish logo:

  • This might be the best footage to come of it:
  • Breathe easy: it looks like his mullet is intact:

Is it too hasty to demand an NHL return for Jagr already? Please?

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.