Different eras, but production similar for third-best in history
Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr scored his 1,850th NHL point Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche, tying Gordie Howe for third all-time.
Though it is challenging to compare two very different players who competed in very different eras, there is sufficient statistical evidence that this milestone is an accurate reflection of the fact Jagr’s scoring achievements have legitimately matched Howe’s.
Consider how incredible it is to be compared to Howe, regardless of the verdict. “Mr. Hockey” scored his 1,850 points in 26 NHL seasons, and 508 in six seasons with the World Hockey Association. Howe won the Stanley Cup four times, won the Art Ross Trophy six times, won the Hart Trophy six times, and was a finalist on six other occasions. He was a First-Team All-Star 12 times and a Second-Team All-Star nine times.
Howe was the original ageless wonder, kicking off his 40s in the 1968-69 season by joining Phil Esposito and Bobby Hull as the first players to finish a season with 100 points. Howe competed against the USSR in the 1974 Summit Series at age 46, led the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association with 96 points in 76 games at age 49, and outscored two-thirds of the NHL’s forwards with 41 points at age 51.
Jagr’s credentials have earned him the right to be compared with Howe. In 22 NHL seasons, Jagr won the Art Ross Trophy five times, the Hart Trophy once, and was a finalist on five other occasions. For two decades, from 1980-81 through 2000-01, Jagr was one of three players to win the Art Ross Trophy; Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were the others. Jagr was a First-Team All-Star seven times, and a Second-Team All-Star once, this in a League that grew from 21 to 30 teams, so there’s a lot more competition for those awards than when Howe played in a six-team NHL.
Like Howe, Jagr has defied the natural decline that affects most players in their 40s. He has been playing longer than nine NHL teams have existed, including the Panthers. When teammate Aaron Ekblad was born, Jagr had scored 525 NHL points, won an Art Ross Trophy and the Stanley Cup twice.
Jagr, 44, was outscoring 92.4 percent of the NHL’s forwards this season. With a two-point game against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 20, he set the record for the most points in a season by a player age 43 or older; Mark Messier scored 43 points for the New York Rangers in 2003-04. Jagr’s 47 points in 61 games leads the Panthers, and if he remains their scoring leader at season’s end, he will break his record for being the oldest player in NHL history to do so; he set the mark in 2013-14, when he led the New Jersey Devils with 67 points.
Howe and Jagr each have 1,850 NHL points, but how can that be compared across such different eras? Howe played in the League from 1946-47 to 1970-71, and again for one season in 1979-80, and all but five of those 26 seasons were spent in a six-team NHL. Virtually no statistics were recorded back then. The League didn’t track individual power-play goals until 1963-64, or plus/minus and shots until 1967-68, when Howe was 38 years old.
Surprisingly, NHL scoring levels were about the same throughout Howe’s career as they have been in Jagr’s, fluctuating between 4.8 to 6.0 goals per game. That means we can crudely estimate each player’s career scoring totals in modern-day terms by dividing each player’s season-by-season scoring by the average scoring level of the day, and multiplying by a common, modern-day standard of 5.0 goals per game. In this regard, Jagr has outscored Howe, with 1,829 era-adjusted points to 1,665.
Jagr spent three NHL seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, scoring 146 points in 155 games for Omsk Avangard from 2008-09 to 2010-11. His career also spanned three NHL lockouts, during which he had 39 points in 32 games for Omsk in 2004-05, and 107 points in 62 games for Kladno in the Czech Extraliga. Using modern metrics to translate those points to what he would have achieved in the NHL, that’s another 224 possible points.
Similarly, Howe took off two seasons, then played six seasons in the WHA, where he scored 508 points in 419 games. That translates to 373 possible points in the NHL, giving him a total of 2,038 adjusted points to Jagr’s 2,053.
In absolute, NHL terms, Messier is the next player for Jagr to catch. Messier scored 1,887 points. Can Jagr catch Messier? Statistically, it’s impossible to say, because there’s only one historical precedent among forwards who continued to play beyond age 44, and that’s Howe. But with 37 more points, Jagr could finish his career No. 2 on the all-time scoring list, behind Wayne Gretzky and his unreachable total of 2,857 points.