Welcome to this week’s edition of Holding Court, a column where both sides of a fantasy hockey debate are argued just like in a courtroom, complete with a final verdict. Then you, the DobberHockey readers, can comment on whether justice was properly served! You can also leave ideas in the comments section for other debates to be settled right here in future editions of the column.
Let’s face it – everyone loves “who’s better?” debates. After all, they let people use not only logic and statistics to make their case, but also passion and emotion. With that in mind, today we’ll debate the legacy of two of the best NHL forwards over the past 20 years – Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne – to get the final verdict on which one is the greatest player.
What’s really interesting is at this stage in their career, the number of games played and goals scored for each player are virtually identical (665 goals in 1346 games for Jagr, 663 goals in 1341 games for Selanne), which provides a good foundation for having the debate. And keep in mind that by greatest player, I’m talking about “real life” hockey for the most part, although fantasy performance certainly matters. And I don’t mean who’s better right at this moment – I’m talking about what they did in their overall careers and what their enduring legacy will be. In other words, when people look back in 10, 20, or even 50 years, which one will be seen as the greater NHL player.
Selanne – he’s had an amazing “second wind” and many of his accomplishments occurred without Hall of Fame talent around him
Teemu Selanne cemented his amazing legacy as one of the greatest ever not just based on his statistics, but because he amassed those stats by playing on teams which missed the playoffs almost as often as they made them and which usually had no superstar players on the roster other than him.
Put it this way - if Selanne had all the luxuries that Jaromir Jagr did during his career, then this would be an open and shut debate and Selanne could very well be #2 in all time NHL goals by now. But despite such vastly different playing situations that favored Jagr far more than Selanne, the fact that right now Jagr and Selanne have almost identical goal totals in almost an identical number of games can only lead one to conclude that Selanne is truly the superior player who deserves a greater legacy than Jagr.
Let’s first examine the teams Selanne and Jagr played for and how they fared in terms of offense, as that will help emphasize Selanne’s contributions relative to Jagr’s. In Selanne’s 21 seasons, his team only made the playoffs 12 times, compared to 16 times in Jagr’s 19 seasons. That immediately tells us Jagr played for better teams, and with better teams usually comes better stats for its superstars. With Selanne, no squad that he ever played on finished better than 4th overall in regular season goals scored by a team, and well more than half of his seasons were spent on teams that were 10th or worse. With Jagr, his teams were 1st or 2nd overall in regular season team goal scoring no fewer than seven times, and only five times did he play for teams that finished worse than 10th.
That gave Jagr a huge advantage in being able to compile stats (especially assists), yet still he and Selanne are almost dead even in goals. Also, Selanne scored 20% or more of his entire team’s goals for a season an impressive four different times, which is something that Jagr only managed to do one time in his entire career.
What’s more, in most of the years that Jagr spent in Pittsburgh there were one or more Hall of Fame forwards who were also there and in the primes of their careers, including, to name just a few, the likes of Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Mark Recchi (not yet in the HOF, but a safe bet), and Luc Robitaille. Compare that to Selanne, who had no such luxury other than one season in Colorado with Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, settling instead sometimes for just one very good (but not HOF level) player like Keith Tkachuk in Winnipeg and Paul Kariya in his first tenure with Anaheim.
And in his recent years with Anaheim, Selanne has largely taken a back seat to younger players like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan, yet still managed to put up incredible point totals. If you look at his last five seasons with Anaheim, Selanne has never been better than 3rd in ice time per game among Anaheim forwards, and in fact was 5th for each of the past three seasons. Yet somehow he managed to translate that into points; in fact, Selanne has displayed an amazing scoring touch even late into his career, tallying an astounding 455 points in 462 games since turning 35 years old. Selanne also is the only player in NHL history to record back to back 40 goal seasons after turning 35, and is the oldest player ever to post a 20 goal season.
One argument that some could try to be make in support of Jagr is that he missed three years when he played in the KHL, and had he played in the NHL during that time he’d be well ahead of Selanne in games played and goals scored. While this is true to some extent, let’s not forget that Selanne didn’t even enter the NHL until he was 22, whereas Jagr hit the ice when he was only 18 and thus got the benefit of several extra seasons during his youth, so that largely cancels out Jagr’s missed NHL seasons while in the KHL. You also have to realize that Jagr put up 71 points in 82 games in his last season (2007-08) with the Rangers and then 54 points in 73 games in 2011-12 with the Flyers upon his return to the NHL, so although he would’ve put up points had he instead played in the NHL during his KHL time, it would not have been at the pace he achieved in the prime of his career, and that would’ve hurt Jagr in one of his best areas, which is point per game average.
Plus, Jagr’s stats started to decline significantly even before he was 35, with his point totals decreasing in each of his past four NHL seasons (123 in 2005-06 at age 33, 96 in 2006-07 at age 34, 71 in 2007-08 at age 35, and 54 in 2011-12 at age 39). In contrast, and as we saw above, Selanne has been like a fine wine – superb early on, but also just as outstanding with age, and that signifies greatness more than someone whose stats have been steadily worsening year after year like Jagr.
In the end, we’re talking about two unquestionably great players. But with Jaromir Jagr you have someone who played with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the 1990s, only the most offensively loaded NHL team since the Gretzky-led Oiler squads of the 1980s. Jagr was a great talent in his own right, but those teams and the players on them unquestionably boosted his stats.
With Teemu Selanne, you have a player who dominated at both a young and old age and who often did what he did by himself, stuck on teams that many times didn’t even make the playoffs or score many goals and that signifies he’s the greater player.
Jagr – he’s a generational talent who truly dominated the NHL even when not surrounded by HOFers, and who also excelled when it counted most
Not to take anything away from Teemu Selanne’s stellar career, but Jaromir Jagr has better statistics and more outstanding accomplishments than Selanne. Here are just a few – five Art Ross trophies, seven time first team all-star, all time NHL single season record for most points by a right wing, as well as most goals and points by a European born and trained player. Simply put, Jagr’s resume makes him unquestionably the better player, and quite possibly the best forward who played 1000+ games in the NHL during the past 20 years.
While it is interesting that Jagr and Selanne have almost identical stats for games played and goals scored, you have to look to overall points as well, and there Jagr has the edge over Selanne by almost 250 assists! Sure, goals might be the more “sexy” stat, but when you talk about all-time greats and player legacies, everyone knows you look at points, not just goals. And although Jagr did get to play many years in the glory days of the 1990s Penguins juggernaut, keep in mind that when you’re surrounded by Hall of Famers it can indeed help the team score goals but it also makes it even harder for each player to compete for his share of the points associated with those goals.
And let’s not forget the fact that two of Jagr’s best years for Pittsburgh occurred in 1998-99 and 2000-01, when he scored 127 and 121 points to lead the league each year. In the 1998-99 season, there were no Hall of Famers on the team; and in 2000-01, there was Mario Lemieux, but he only played 43 games. This shows not only that Jagr was able to put up great stats without being surrounded by Hall of Famers, but it actually supports an argument that Jagr might’ve had even better statistics if he didn’t play with those Hall of Famers in the early and mid-1990s. And don’t be blinded by all the discussion above about Selanne’s production over age 35. Sure, that’s great and all, but if you want to talk impressive, you need only look at Jagr’s 15 consecutive 30 goal, 70 point seasons, even including 32 goals and 70 points in the shortened 48 game 1994-95 season.
And although Selanne’s teams didn’t make the playoffs as often as Jagr’s, it’s interesting to see that Selanne wasn’t at the top of his game when they did. Selanne’s career regular season points per game average is 1.048, but he’s only managed 79 points in 111 playoff games for a points per game average of 0.71, a drop of 30% from his regular season total. Jagr’s regular season points per game average is 1.228 (third best all time for any player with more than 1300 games), and although that average is slightly down in the playoffs, it’s still over a point per game (189 points in 180 – 1.05 points per game) and represents only half as much of a drop (about 15% versus about 30%) compared to Selanne.
And for all that was said above about Selanne’s goal scoring prowess, Jagr also has a higher goals per playoff game average than Selanne (78 in 180 games - .43 goals per game average versus 41 in 111 games - .37 goals per game). Legacies are as much about playoff performances as regular season (just ask Joe Thornton!), and there is no question that when it comes to the playoffs Jagr has been head and shoulders above Selanne.
Last, but certainly not least, Jagr is simply the better player when it comes to common sense. How many times in Selanne’s career could you assuredly say that he was either THE best player in the NHL, or if not THE best then certainly among a handful of the best? Perhaps during his 76 goal rookie season, but when else? He never led the league in scoring and only once alone scored the most goals in the NHL in a season (he tied for the lead two other times).
With Jagr, you can point to the stretch from 1998 through 2001 when he led the league in scoring three years in a row (one time by 20 points, over Selanne) without a HOF surrounding cast in Pittsburgh, not to mention the two other times he was NHL scoring champ or co-champ. People could point to Jagr at several times over his career and confidently say that he was THE guy – THE best or one of the best in all of the NHL, and that says a lot.
The Final Verdict
I’ll get to the final verdict right away – it’s Jagr, no doubt.
I had a feeling that would be the case even before I conducted the analysis, and the data completely supports that conclusion, what with Jagr’s years of scoring titles and impressive consecutive goal and point scoring streaks and his better playoff performance than Selanne. But there are lessons to be learned here nevertheless, including ones that are relevant to fantasy owners today.
Selanne’s nearly point per game stats since age 35 are simply amazing – if this was a question about the greatest NHL player of all time while over 35, it might just be Selanne, who took a bit of a step back last season but still clearly has something left in the tank. And let’s not forget that after the 2004-05 season was lost Selanne came back the next year and put up 90 points in 80 games at age 35, so the longer we go without hockey this time (fingers crossed!), the more likely it is that Selanne will benefit from the rest, provided he doesn’t choose to retire.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, it is hard to ignore that Jagr’s point totals have decreased in each of his last four NHL seasons, so be sure to keep that in mind in terms of his projections for next season and going forward.
Previous Court Sessions from Rick Roos:
- Will Howard or Rinne Falter in 2013?
- Will Shea Weber's Stats Suffer?
- Is Erik Karlsson A One-Seaon Wonder?