By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Mark Messier gave no quarter during his Hall of Fame National Hockey League career, but he said on Thursday that he is ready to happily surrender second place on the all-time scoring list to Jaromir Jagr.
With Jagr sitting on 1,884 points and just four away from moving into the number two slot behind the ‘Great One’ Wayne Gretzky, Messier is surprised he was able to hold onto the spot for so long.
Gretzky’s mark of 2,857 points, however, is unlikely ever to be challenged.
Indeed, the 44-year-old Jagr might have leap-frogged Messier many years ago if the Czech had not interrupted his NHL career and spent three seasons from 2008 to 2011 playing for Avangard Omsk in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League before returning to continue his climb up the scoring chart.
“I guess in my own mind he surpassed me a long time ago,” said Messier during a conference call.
“This is kind of anti-climatic for me because I understand the amount of time he put in overseas when he left the NHL.”
Messier retired in 2005 after 1,756 NHL games and while he does not include himself among the game’s elite scorers, statistics say otherwise, the ‘Moose’ having produced 694 goals and 1,193 assists over 25 seasons while leading his teams to six Stanley Cups.
“For me I was the most surprised person of anybody that I have been sitting at number two for this amount of time,” said Messier.
“When I was kind of moving up the ladder and my career sustained itself and amassed points it was humbling for me to be passing some of the names on that top 10 list.”
While their point totals are similar (Jagr 755 goals, 1,129 assists), their style of play is as different as their hairstyle, Messier going with the drill sergeant buzz cut and Jagr making the mullet famous at rinks around the globe.
Messier played with power and intimidation while Jagr is more of the gentle giant using his tremendous reach and fluid skating to torment defenses and netminders.
“When you look at his sheer strength and size, his game has always been from the blue line even in his best years,” explained Messier. “That’s where he really dominated with his size and conditioning and ability.
“He still seems to be a force with his reach and his strength.”
No one, not even Jagr himself, gives the evergreen Czech any hope of threatening the Great One’s totals but there are still milestones within his reach.
Having said he wants to continue playing into his 50s, Jagr, who currently plays for the Florida Panthers, could join Gretzky as the only players to reach 2,000 career points.
“You could say he was born with the talent, born with the physique and the genetics but it doesn’t happen without the work you have to put in,” said Messier. “I know first hand what you have to do to play at this age because I did it myself and it’s not easy.”
(Editing by Andrew Both)