In what could spell the end of his illustrious NHL career, Jaromir Jagr has been placed on waivers by the Calgary Flames.
Two people with direct knowledge of the move confirmed it to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday because the team had not announced the transaction. The second-leading scorer in league history is on regular waivers, though one person told the AP that if the 45-year-old Jagr clears, he will be placed on unconditional waivers Monday for the purpose of terminating his NHL contract so he can return to Europe to finish the season.
Calgary signed Jagr to a $1 million, one-year deal with performance bonuses at the start of the season, and he made his Flames debut on Oct. 11. Jagr had a goal and six assists in 22 games this season and hasn’t played since Dec. 31 because of what the team called a lower-body injury. He went on injured reserve Jan. 14.
Jagr bounced around with the Flames, playing on the top line with stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and with youngsters Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski. The Czech native was in and out of the lineup because of injuries and couldn’t find a defined role, and the Flames went on a seven-game winning streak largely without him to move into playoff position.
Calling it “a different role than I’ve ever been” in, Jagr said recently he has had to adapt his game to less ice time than he was used to. He was a star in the 1990s with the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992, and he was counted on for far less with the Flames.
“I have to practice differently,” Jagr said in November. “I’ve got to go all in for 45 seconds and maybe rest for five, six. Before I was practicing for one minute off, one minute on. That wouldn’t help me much. So things like that you have to adjust.”
Adjusting has been a part of Jagr’s journey as the fifth overall pick in 1990 through stints with nine NHL teams: the Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers and Flames. Despite spending three seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, Jagr is the active NHL leader with 1,733 games played, 766 goals, 1,555 assists and 1,921 points, and he is second only to Wayne Gretzky on the all-time scoring list.
“It’s a lot of games, it’s a lot of years, it’s a lot of work on the body,” Flyers teammate and countryman Jakub Voracek said. “If you want to play for such a long time, you have to adjust. He went from 1990 to 2017-18. When you think about it, it’s 28 years and the game changed so much from a physical standpoint to a speed standpoint.”
Jagr kept up the pace in a changing sport with a legendary workout regimen that included skating with weights and going for runs at midnight. There are tales of team employees giving him the keys to practice facilities so he could let himself in to work out.
“It’s cool to see what’s worked for him and his routine and what he does off the ice and stuff like that,” Flames forward Michael Frolik said.
The NHL has expanded from 21 to 32 teams and instituted the shootout during Jagr’s career, which has lasted longer than the tenure of commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Probably ’90s when he started it was a little bit more wide open, then I think early 2000s before the lockout, you needed to be big and strong and it was all about size and strength and you could do all that holding, hooking, grabbing, cross-checks and all that,” Panthers teammate Jussi Jokinen said. “And then the lockout pretty much changed everything. You needed more skill and more speed and more hockey IQ.”
Jagr figured that out and is 34 games shy of Gordie Howe’s all-time record, a milestone he could have hit this season had he been healthy and continued to play. Instead, he could play for HC Kladno in the Czech League, which he co-owns.
It is uncertain whether Jagr has an opportunity to play for the Czech Republic in next month’s Winter Olympics without NHL players. A federation spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Jagr’s status with the national team, though the 25-man roster already has been announced.
Jagr didn’t look at this season as a farewell tour. In his final months he was unwilling to think about his many accomplishments.
“I don’t like to look back,” Jagr said. “Once you start looking back, you’re done.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.