Big seasons give Panthers forward edge in comparison with Hall of Famer
Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr scored NHL point No. 1,887 against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, tying Mark Messier for second place on the League’s all-time scoring list with three assists in a 4-3 shootout victory.
A closer look at the underlying numbers confirms Jagr’s scoring achievements have eclipsed Messier’s. Jagr’s peak was greater than Messier’s, whose NHL totals were boosted from having played in the high-scoring 1980s, with Jagr’s numbers lower from having spent several seasons in other leagues.
Jagr’s scoring peak began in 1994-95, when he won the Art Ross Trophy for the first time by leading the NHL with 70 points (32 goals, 38 assists) in 48 games. He went on to lead the League in scoring in four of the following six seasons, and had 760 points (314 goals, 446 assists) in 495 games between 1994-95 and 2000-01. That works out to 23.6 percent more scoring than Teemu Selanne, who was in second place with 615 points (278 goals, 337 assists) in 502 games during that time.
Messier never won the Art Ross Trophy. In his seven-season prime, from 1983-84 to 1989-90, Messier scored 680 points (247 goals, 433 assists) in 496 games, which ranked No. 10. There was a period in the late 1980s when Messier’s three-season scoring totals reached fifth, but he was never the League’s top offensive player like Jagr was.
Though their respective NHL careers overlapped by 14 seasons from 1990-91 through 2003-04, Messier spent the remainder of his in a much higher-scoring era than Jagr.
In the 11 seasons that preceded the overlap, teams averaged a combined 7.6 goals per game, two goals per game greater than the average in the nine seasons Jagr has played since Messier retired.
What would their scoring totals be if they had spent their entire NHL careers in the modern era, with an average of 5.5 goals scored per game? Jagr would have outscored Messier 1,797 to 1,537.
This is estimated by dividing each player’s season-by-season scoring by the average League scoring level at the time, and then multiplying it by the common, modern-day standard of 5.5 goals per game.
Consider each player’s best season, for example. Messier’s 129 points in 1989-90 is divided by the season average of 7.36 goals per game that season, and multiplied by the modern-era 5.5 goals per game to produce an equivalent of 96 points by today’s standard. In contrast, Jagr’s 127 points in 1998-99 is the equivalent of 133 points today. Repeat this process for every season and Jagr is already ahead of Messier by 460 era-adjusted points.
Jagr’s scoring lead over Messier gets even wider when their time in professional hockey outside the NHL is considered. Though Messier had one goal and 10 assists in 52 games in the World Hockey Association in 1978-79, Jagr scored 146 points (66 goals, 80 assists) in 155 games for Omsk Avangard in the Kontinental Hockey League from 2008-09 to 2010-11.
Jagr’s career also spanned three NHL lockouts, during which he added 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists) in 11 games for Kladno in the Czech Extraliga in 1994-95, 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 17 games for Kladno in 2004-05, 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 32 games for Omsk in 2004-05, and 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 34 games for Kladno in 2012-13. Using modern metrics to translate those points to what he would have achieved in the NHL, that’s another 224 possible points, extending his lead over Messier to 673.
Though Jagr’s scoring achievements surpass Messier’s, that isn’t to argue Jagr was the superior player overall. The fact Messier won the Hart Trophy twice without ever winning the scoring race, with Jagr winning it once despite winning the Art Ross Trophy five times, suggests Messier was contributing in ways that went beyond scoring.
Messier often was used as the top two-way center on his team and was responsible for facing top opponents, throwing hits, protecting leads and killing penalties. His 95 points (63 goals, 32 assists) in shorthanded situations ranks second all-time, since they were first recorded in 1967-68.
As for Jagr, his responsibilities always were focused purely on scoring; he had 11 goals and four assists in shorthanded situations throughout his NHL career.
Messier also was well-known for his leadership qualities and other intangibles and represented Canada in five international best-on-best tournaments.
It may not be possible to measure leadership and grit statistically, but it is possible to count the Stanley Cup, which Messier won six times. That includes the Edmonton Oilers’ first Stanley Cup in 1984, when Messier won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Jagr won the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Even when Jagr hangs up his skates and all is said and done, comparing his career to Messier’s is not a debate that will ever be easy to settle. But in terms of scoring achievements, Jagr has surpassed Messier, and is second only to Wayne Gretzky and his unreachable total of 2,857 points.