This is a little bonus edition of our "eulogies" for now former Penguins. It wouldn't be fitting to not acknowledge Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka in some fashion after they decided to leave North America and return to Europe in some fashion the past two weeks. They are the second and eighth leading scorers respectively in the franchise's history after all.
Jagr's place in the history of the Penguins franchise has been well documented in this forum and others as well. We're not going to bring it up again because we have a feeling most Penguins fans are familiar with it. Instead, we'll talk about Jagr from a quantifiable standpoint.
We can't help but wonder what Jaromir Jagr could've accomplished statistically if things were a little bit different for him. Assuming he doesn't come back to the NHL, Jagr finished ninth all-time in points with 1,599. Guys like Phil Esposito, Stan Mikita and Bryan Trottier are looking up at him.
Could you imagine if things were a little bit more ideal for Jagr? Is it far fetched to wonder if he could've challenged Wayne Gretzky record for points had he played the bulk of his career in the high-flying 1980's when scoring 130 points in a season probably wouldn't have gotten you anywhere near the Art Ross Trophy? Jagr's prime years were spent in the "dead puck" era when teams mucked and grinded out 2-1 wins most nights. Imagine him on an open sheet of ice in the 1980s. The fact that Jagr was able to record 100-point seasons by fighting through the clutching and grabbing of horrible players like Dan McGillis and Shawn Chambers is nothing short of amazing.
Additionally, when Jagr won the Art Ross Trophy four consecutive years in the late 1990's and early 2000s, the Penguins were not exactly a model organization. Howard Baldwin's mismanagement of the team forced general manager Craig Patrick often times to allow players like Ron Francis to walk and plug the holes with lesser parts like German Titov and Rob Brown. Even if it was a slower era in terms of offense, what kind of totals Jagr would've racked up were he on a deeper team like the Avalanche or the Red Wings? We're not saying Jagr was stuck with below average players like Mario Lemieux was back in his early seasons, but Jagr's teammates during that time weren't exactly the components of a dynasty.
Another thing to consider is the fact that Jagr lost part of the 1994-95 season and the entire 2005-06 season due to work stoppages. He won the scoring race in 1994-95 by scoring 70 points in 48 games. Jagr could've added at least 130 points to his career total with that missed time.
Admittedly, many of Jagr's limitations were of his own doing. He always seemed to feel more comfortable with someone like a Kip Miller or Jan Hrdina who would simply dish the puck to Jagr and let him do his thing. And Jagr's pouty demeanor hardly won him fans among coaches or teammates in his stops in Pittsburgh, Washington and New York. As dominating as Jagr could be, he was just as confusing at times.
You can look at every notable player in NHL history and seemingly wonder "what if." What if Maurice Richard played in the 1960s against expansion teams? What if Wayne Gretzky played in the early 2000s at the tail end of the "dead puck" era? What if Peter Ahola had a longer Penguins career than just 22 games? But Jagr's the one that really stands out to us. He surely would've surpassed Mark Messier for the second spot on the all-time scoring list and could've made a semi-legitimate run at No. 1.
(Photo: New York Daily News)
When you look at the Penguins' first-round draft picks in the 1990's, only Jaromir Jagr (1990) and Martin Straka (1992) ever really paid off for them.
Markus Naslund (1991) and Aleksey Morozov (1995) showed some promise but left in some capacity before they could ever show it off as Penguins. Milan Kraft (1998) and Konstantin Koltsov (1999) looked so inept at the NHL level you had to wonder if they should've been drafted whatsoever. Chris Wells' (1995) only value to the Penguins was that he was what the Penguins gave to the Panthers in a trade for Stu Barnes in 1996. Stefan Bergkvist (1993) and Robert Dome (1997) barely had cups of coffee in the NHL while Craig Hillier (1996) never played in a better league than the AHL. (Hillier is one of two former Penguins first-round draft picks from Cole Harbour, N.S. by the way. The other one turned out a little better.)
All Straka had to do was leave the Penguins for a few seasons, bounce around with the Senators, Islanders and Panthers and come back to Pittsburgh before he could fulfill his potential.
Straka came onboard with the Penguins during the 1992-93 season when the Penguins had their greatest regular season but fell short in a quest for a third consecutive Stanley Cup title. He flashed his potential in 1993-94 when he racked up 30 goals and 64 points but was dealt in a trade to the Senators for Norm Maciver and Troy Murray in 1994-95.
He was traded again in 1995-96 to the Islanders in a deal that netted the Senators Wade Redden. The Islanders put him on waivers where the Panthers claimed him. He helped the Panthers trap their way to the 1996 Stanley Cup final where they were swept by the Avalanche. That was the only time in Straka's career he would get a taste of the Cup final.
After languishing one more season in Florida, Straka returned to the Penguins as a free agent in 1997 and enjoyed his greatest success in the NHL. He racked up no fewer than 59 points in the three seasons from 1998 through 2001 and helped the Penguins reach at least the second round of the playoffs in each of those three seasons. In 1999 Straka was selected to the All-Star game.
Straka's finest season may have been the 2000-01 campaign when he finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the league's scoring race with 95 points with teammate Alex Kovalev and Boston's Jason Allison. With Mario Lemieux returning from retirement and being teamed with Jagr and Jan Hrdina on the team's first line, Straka was partnered with Kovalev and Robert Lang on one of the franchises' more underrated line combinations of all time. Straka also had two pretty big goals in the 2001 postseason for the Penguins. After stealing the puck off former Capitals defenseman Sergei Gonchar, he scored the winning goal of a 4-3 series-clinching overtime win against Washington in the first round. In the next round, he also scored the winning goal in overtime of a 3-2 win in Game 6 against the Sabres. That goal staved off elimination and allowed the Penguins to claim that series in Game 7. Statiscally, Straka is one of the Penguins all-time greats in the postseason. His 46 career points with the Penguins in the postseason is sixth most in the franchise's history.
Following that season, things took a turn for the worse as injuries and just plain bad luck dogged Straka throughout the rest of his Penguins career. He suffered a broken right leg early in 2001-02 season. That injury required him to sit four months and recover. His first game back into the lineup saw him get whacked in the face by the stick of his own goaltender, Johan Hedberg, inadvertently and suffer facial injuries. Straka sat a few weeks due that, returned and re-injured his leg again. The offseason didn't get much better as a piece of weight-lifting equipment fell on top of him while he was training.
He was traded early in the 2003-04 season in a salary dump to the Kings. After the lockout, he resurfaced with the Rangers and was once again teamed with Jaromir Jagr. Straka regained his scoring touch as he put together two 70-point, 20-goal seasons before battling through an injury-filled 2007-08 season.
Straka found a way to be a successful little man in what was quickly becoming a big man's league in the 1990s. At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Straka found a way to outlast more celebrated bruisers like Eric Lindros and still be productive at the end of his career. Straka had a style that was somewhat reckless, but he managed to avoid getting battered by the bigger bodies in the NHL for the most part and became one of the Penguins' most prolific players of all time.
(Photo: Getty Images)
EMPTY NETTER ASSISTS
-Former Penguins enforcer Ryan VandenBussche had assault charges dropped against him.
-EN reader Jason Seltzer is auctioning off an Evgeni Malkin stick on behalf of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Click here to get in on the action.
-It appears as if Devils forward Sergei Brylin has signed to play in Russia next season.
-The Prudential Center, the Devils' new arena, was closed due to some red tape. (Kudos to EN reader Michael Steuver for the heads up.)
-The Canadiens dealt forward prospect Corey Locke to the Wild for defensman prospect Shawn Belle.
-Jay Feaster officially resigned as general manager of the Lightning. Since the "brilliance" of Oren Koules and Len Barrie have taken over the team, Feaster has been pushed into a lesser role.
-Forward Chris Gratton re-signed with the Lightning. Tampa Bay now has 3,023,452 forwards on its roster. We think.
-New Panthers forward Cory Stillman wants to change the culture of losing with the Florida Panthers.
-The agent for Predators winger Alexander Radulov confirmed his client has signed a deal to play in Russia next season. Radulov is under contract with the Predators for the 2008-09 season.
-Former Penguins forward Marian Hossa will wear No. 81 with Detroit next season.
-With the possibility of an outdoor game coming to Chicago next season, new Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell talked about playing in the Winter Classic last season.
-The Canucks signed AHL scoring star Jason Krog.
-The Sharks re-signed forward Marcel Goc.
-The Ducks will formally file tampering charges against the Oilers over Ducks forward Corey Perry.
-The Kings owners are investigating the possibility of selling part of their franchise.