Jaromir Jagr, arguably the most accomplished European-trained player in history, is set to make an NHL comeback with the Philadelphia Flyers next season after a three-year absence. But the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Czech superstar, who turns 40 in February, hasn't been occupying a rocking chair during this break from North America, instead continuing to play at a high level for Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Few current NHL players have enjoyed as distinguished a career as Jagr. The fifth overall selection by Pittsburgh in 1990, he quickly won two Stanley Cups upon entering the league. Jagr led the league in scoring four years in a row, five times total, and joined Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the only players to win the Art Ross Trophy between 1981 and 2001. An eight-time All-Star, Jagr sits 12th all time in NHL goal scoring, 14th in assists and ninth in points -- only 42 behind Joe Sakic.
Jagr's last NHL season was in 2007-08 with the Rangers, when he led the team with 25 goals, 46 assists and 71 points. Can we still expect as much from him today?
We can answer this question by applying KHL-to-NHL league translations, a concept first explained in great detail in Hockey Prospectus 2010-11. Using players who have previously made the jump, like Alexander Semin, Evgeni Malkin and, more recently, Nikolay Zherdev and Jiri Hudler, we can calculate how much of a player's scoring is statistically likely to drop off due to the increased competition and potentially reduced ice time in the NHL.
Back From Russia, With Love
Jaromir Jagr's totals in the KHL, and how they might translate to NHL totals
Season Team GP G A PTS
2008-09 Omsk 55 25 28 53
2009-10 Omsk 51 22 20 42
2010-11 Omsk 49 19 32 51
KHL Total xxx 155 66 80 146
NHL Equivalent xxx 82 26 41 67
Normally players jumping to the NHL from almost any other professional league can expect to lose at least half their scoring, but not when they jump from the KHL. In fact, recent history has shown that players retain roughly three-quarters of their goal scoring and almost all of their assists when making the leap, suggesting that Jagr has remained the NHL equivalent of a consistent 70-point scorer this entire time, as you can see by the totals at right.
To further reinforce this estimation, we can use the Snepsts System to search all of history to find players Jagr's age with era-adjusted scoring totals similar to his at the time of his departure, and see how they did in the following three seasons.
The 10 closest and most appropriate historical comparables were Marcel Dionne, Mark Recchi, Milt Schmidt, Stan Mikita, Martin St. Louis, Gordie Howe, John Bucyk, Jean Beliveau, Steve Yzerman and Phil Esposito. (Not bad company, huh?) Prorated to 82 games and adjusted to the modern-era scoring, an approximation of how Jagr would have done in the NHL these past three seasons, based on his closest statistical peers, might look like this:
2008-09: 28 goals, 46 assists, 74 points
Two separate statistical approaches have pegged Jagr's expected point production to be a legitimate threat for 70 points, but is it really possible to score 70 points when you're turning 40?
The short answer: yes. Howe scored 44 goals and 103 points at age 40 for Detroit. Two other players have topped 80, including Bucyk and our modern-day leader, Teemu Selanne.
Age is Just a Very, Very Prominent Number
The most points by a player age 39-plus since 2000:
Age Player Season Team GP G A PTS
40 Teemu Selanne 2010-11 Anaheim 73 31 49 80
39 Adam Oates 2001-02 Wash-Phil 80 14 64 78
39 Brett Hull 2003-04 Detroit 81 25 43 68
39 Al MacInnis 2002-03 St. Louis 80 16 52 68
40 Mark Messier 2000-01 NY Rangers 82 24 43 67
40 Nicklas Lidstrom 2010-11 Detroit 82 16 46 62
40 Mark Recchi 2008-09 T.Bay-Bos 80 23 38 61
40 Ray Bourque 2000-01 Colorado 80 7 52 59
39 Ron Francis 2002-03 Carolina 82 22 35 57
39 Joe Nieuwendyk 2005-06 Florida 65 25 30 56
The precedent has clearly been established by players like Selanne, Adam Oates, Brett Hull and Mark Messier. With a 70-point season, Jagr would fit in quite nicely on this list -- with or without his trademark mullet.
The biggest challenge for Jagr is going to be playing the full 82 games, something he did consistently as an NHLer but hasn't had to do in years. An inability to play the full schedule due to fatigue or injury is likely the biggest obstacle to his achieving the 70-point mark.
But the bottom line is that Jagr, one of history's most exciting offensive machines for so many years, still has the ability to score 70 points based on an NHL translation of his recent KHL scoring data, the historical performance of his statistical peers and the precedent set by today's graybearded scorers like Selanne and Recchi. You could do far worse.
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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