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Jaromir Jagr is an all-time NHL great and still only the Penguins third-best player

The Penguins retired jersey No. 68 in honor of their legendary former forward, Jaromir Jagr, on Sunday, February 18, at PPG Paints Arena.

It was an excellent evening in Pittsburgh, as several of Jagr’s old teammates were in attendance to pay tribute to him for what he accomplished during his 11-year career as a Penguin–including back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 1991 and 1992.

Jagr totaled 1,079 points during his 11 years with Pittsburgh–including 439 goals and 640 assists. Speaking of trophies, Jagr earned a lot of them as a Penguin. He won the Art Ross Trophy, given for that year’s scoring leader, five times–including four-straight seasons from 1998-2001. Jagr won the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, in 1999. He won the Lester B. Pearson Award, given to the league’s most outstanding player in the regular season as voted on by the NHL Players’ Association, in 1999 and 2000.

And those are just Jagr’s accomplishments as a Penguin. Jagr was traded following the 2000/2001 season and became a bit of a mercenary for the remainder of his NHL career. Jagr played with eight different teams before leaving the NHL following the 2017/2018 season. Believe it or not, Jagr, who turned 52 on February 15, still plays professionally for the team he owns in his home country of Czechoslovakia.

With 1,921 points, Jagr finished his NHL career as the league’s second-leading scorer all-time behind the great Wayne Gretzky.

When people discuss the NHL’s all-time greats, Jagr is usually in the top 10, sometimes as high as fifth or sixth.

That’s rarefied air.

It’s no wonder the Penguins made Jagr immortal by retiring his Penguins No. 68.

And to think, Jagr is still only the third-best player in Penguins history.

One of Jagr’s teammates when he first broke into the NHL in 1990 was Mario Lemieux. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Lemieux, who dealt with injuries and health issues his entire career, is regarded by many as the second-best player in NHL history. If you ask Penguins fans, they’ll tell you that Lemieux would have been the greatest, if not for those aforementioned injuries and health issues that initially forced him into retirement in 1997 before making a comeback in 2000. In 915 career games–or well over 500 less than Gretzky–Lemieux scored 1,723 points–including 690 goals and 1,033 assists. Had he been healthy enough to play as many games as The Great One–1,487–there is no doubt Lemieux would have challenged No. 99 for the all-time lead in points, and even if he didn’t, he surely would have set the record for goals, which Gretzky currently holds with 894. As a Penguin, Lemieux won two Stanley Cups; two Conn Smythe Awards, named for the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs; six league MVPs; four Ted Lindsay Awards (formerly the Lester B. Pearson Award) and three scoring titles.

The Penguins employed two of the NHL’s all-time greats, and they did so at the same time.

Speaking of which, that brings me to Sidney Crosby, the Penguins current top center and best player. That’s right, Crosby is still the Penguins’ top player at the age of 36. Not only is Crosby currently the Penguins’ best player, but he’s still one of the top five or six players in the NHL.

As for all-time greats? Crosby, who has won three Stanley Cups (2009, 2016 and 2017), two Conn Smythes, two league MVPs, three Ted Lindsay Awards and two scoring titles, is considered top five all-time by most hockey experts and fans.

One of Crosby’s first teammates when he first broke into the NHL in 2005 was Lemieux, who was also the majority owner at that time.

The Penguins have employed three of the greatest players in NHL history, and Lemieux, who is one of them, was teammates with the other two.

That’s an embarrassment of riches.

Obviously, Lemieux, Crosby and Jagr are the three greatest Penguins of all time. Lemieux made his NHL debut for the Penguins in 1984, which means that other than a few lean years in the early-2000s, Pittsburgh has been home to hockey’s greatest player every season for four straight decades.

That’s amazing, especially when you consider the fact that, again, these three are among the best players to ever play in the NHL.

What other Pittsburgh sports team can say that?

Certainly not the Steelers. I realize that’s a bold statement to make. After all, what about all of those Lombardi trophies (six) and Hall of Famers (countless)? True, but other than Terry Bradshaw in 1978, none of them were named NFL MVP.

OK, maybe that’s unfair. Football is the ultimate team sport, and it’s hard to be the face of it unless you’re a quarterback–and even then it doesn’t feel as individualistic as it does in a sport like hockey.

What about baseball? What about the Pirates? As hard as it is to believe, your Buccos do have a pretty rich history that includes World Series Championships and MVPs. But can they say that they ever employed one of the all-time greats of the game, someone who would be on baseball’s Mt. Rushmore? Maybe Barry Bonds, who won two National League MVP Awards during his seven-year career in Pittsburgh, but he didn’t elevate himself to an all-time great until he became a Giant in 1992 (no pun intended).

The run of great players the Penguins have given their fans over the past 40 years is just incredible. I think it’s a bit dramatic when fans say things like, “We shouldn’t take this for granted,” but if you’re someone my age, you’ve mostly only known the Penguins as an organization that trots out some of the world’s best hockey players year in and year out.

And not just superstars, all-time greats.

Imagine if Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron James all played for the same franchise and in the same city over a span of 40 years.

That’s been the Penguins’ reality in a hockey sense since drafting Lemiuex in 1984.

Jaromir Jagr is an all-time great in the NHL, and he still has to take a backseat behind two others in Pittsburgh.

Maybe we shouldn’t take that for granted.


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