Jaromir Jagr deserves better.
So did the Calgary Flames, for that matter.
It’s hard to place full blame in the Jagr Debacle (formerly known as the Jagr Experiment) on either side, because both parties’ handling of the whole situation is what ultimately led to the hockey legend hobbling back to the Czech Republic two weeks before his 46th birthday with no idea what his hockey future holds.
Things are that bad for Jagr, who has earned a better sendoff from hockey this season — which looks more with every passing day like it could be his last in North America, and perhaps even overseas.
But let’s hold off on the career obituaries for now. If we know anything about the former Ageless Wonder, it’s that his passion for the game is limitless. It’s part of the reason for the position he’s in right now.
If Jagr didn’t rush to get into the Flames lineup after missing all of training camp following a summer of uncertainty, he likely wouldn’t have hurt his groin. Compensating for that injury led to the knee flaring up, and further issues with his hip. The Flames shut him down just after Christmas, relaying to their elder statesman that (with all due respect) things weren’t working out the way they hoped. Which he already knew.
Maybe if the team signed him in July instead of waiting for something better to come along, Jagr would have had the kind of summer training and fall camp he needed to be truly prepared for the rigors of the NHL come October.
There are a lot of maybes involved. Maybe Jagr should have trained harder while holding out hope for a new NHL contract. Maybe he should have skated with his HC Kladno team during training camp. Maybe the Flames should have been more patient given all of these circumstances, and the glimpses of good play that came when he was closer to healthy than hampered.
Hopefully, we’ll see that again in the near future.
But instead of waiting to heal completely in Calgary, Jagr’s desire to play for someone who wants him led him back to the Czech Republic, where he’d have to play in 15 games to qualify for Kladno’s playoff roster while simultaneously returning his knee to health.
There’s no guarantee of either and, as Czech fans have gobbled up every remaining ticket to get a glimpse of the Hockey God in action again, Jagr took to Facebook this week to let everyone know just that.
“The frenzy that has been going on here, I haven’t expected that,” Jagr said, as translated by NHL.com. “I want to thank everyone for their interest. But I want to let people who might already have bought the tickets know about my next steps.
“I haven’t been on the ice for about a month, except for some easy skating, and I can’t say what shape I’m in right now. And I don’t want the fans to buy tickets to just see some old grandpa hobble on the ice.”
He’s working with physiotherapist Dr. Pavel Kolar and said during a press conference on Thursday he was injected with a concoction containing his own blood and special herbs and could suit up on Saturday.
“I’ve had a lot of troubles with my groins in the past, and I know what I had to do with it and how to heal it,” Jagr said. “But I think it was the game in Philadelphia (on Nov. 18) when I first saw my knee get swollen and then the big problems started. It was something I didn’t have any experience with, I didn’t know how to manage it, how to practice, if I should have gone through the pain.
“The uncertainty was worse than anything else. I stopped practicing because I thought that it might heal when I rested it. But it didn’t. Just the pain was a bit lower maybe, but it did not heal.”
Jagr’s Facebook post on Wednesday shed some more light on the awful experience in Calgary, with water on his knee and weakness in the muscles around the joints while skating.
“As games went on, it just got worse,” Jagr posted on Facebook. “The problem is also that when I bend the knee in a certain angle, it always weakens, the muscle just switches off. (This) is especially bad for me because my game has been based on physical play and one-on-one battles.”
Those one-on-one strength battles have always been key to his success on the ice, but even more so when it comes to his possession numbers as his speed and skill have declined in recent years.
Unless he’s able to showcase that ability in the coming months, it’s unlikely he’ll ever get another shot in the NHL, in spite of his unmatched desire. Because of the injury-plagued three-month stint in Calgary, Jagr was passed over by every other franchise when he was put on waivers for the purpose of the reassignment to Europe.
Trailing Mark Messier by just 23 and Gordie Howe by 34 for top spot in games played in the NHL, the only path back is a massive long shot now. The Flames didn’t terminate his contract, so he’s technically still their property. If he can somehow stumble through enough shifts to become eligible for the playoffs in the Czech Republic, and get healthy enough to make an impact in them, maybe he’ll be an NHL playoff wildcard the Flames can pull out of their back pocket.
“The chance is still open, even though it now looks minimal, that I could come back to play for Calgary, in case (Kladno) would have finished the season here earlier than we expect,” Jagr said in his presser Thursday. “But my current goal is to get healthy and get back in shape to help Kladno (get promoted to the top league).”
Let’s hope he can get healthy enough to play well again this season, wherever that is, and that it leads to another — more fitting — swansong season in the NHL.
He may not get that, but he deserves it.