Wednesday, March 07, 2007

March Matchups: Jaromir Jagr vs. Pavel Bure

The Road Warriors have now arrived at the "Rangers In Seven" Arena...The Dudleys are up to something and I'm going to get to the bottom of it! Anyway, we continue on with the battle of two National Hockey League greats; current New York Rangers' superstar, Jaromir Jagr vs. Pavel Bure (now retired). So without further adieu...let's hook 'em up!

Jaromir Jagr vs. Pavel Bure

Jagr, 6'3", 245, was drafted fifth overall in the 1990 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Czech native was initially adored by the fans in Pittsburgh and they were the ones who realized that the letters in his first name could be scrambled to form the anagram "Mario Jr.," a reference to his elder teammate at the time, Mario Lemieux. Jaromir Jagr must have thought things were going to be easy in the NHL, and who could really blame him? In his first two seasons with the Pens, the team won the Stanley Cup both years. In fact, I heard Jagr say in an interview once that he really did not have an appreciation for how difficult it was to win the Cup, and that each year that goes by without a Stanley Cup Ring only increases his desire to lead his team back to the top.

At 19, Jagr was the youngest player to ever score a goal in the Finals and had the most assists (5) by a rookie in the Stanley Cup Finals (1991). Those teams that Jagr played with were powerhouses, to be sure. The first Cup team was coached by the late "Badger"Bob Johnson; while the second team featured Scotty Bowman at the helm. Mario Lemieux was the Captain and the team consisted of such greats as Ronnie Francis, Kevin Stevens, Ulf and Kjell Samuelson (no relation), plus many others.

Jagr's career really flourished from the lockout-shortened 1994-1995 season to the 2000-2001 season, with some pretty average Penguins' teams. He won five NHL scoring titles which included four straight from 1997-1998 through 2000-2001. In 1998, he was the Captain of the Czech Republic Olympic team which won gold at Nagano; the first time that the NHL sent its talent to compete in the Olympics. Jagr would again lead his country to gold at the 2005 World Hockey Championships in Austria, thus making him a member of the very prestigious and unique Triple Gold Club; having won a Stanley Cup, a World Hockey Championship, and an Olympic gold medal.

Jagr has been traded twice in his career; once to the Washington Capitals in the summer of 2001; and then again to the New York Rangers in early 2004. Jagr had a monstrous season in 2004-2005 scoring 54 goals and assisting on 69 tallies. This year he has been slowed by off-season shoulder surgery, which caused Jagr to come into the season weighing 15 pounds less, because he was unable to work out as vigorously as he normally would.

Jagr - who scored his 600th goal earlier this year - has been criticized in the past for his seemingly disinterested play, particularly in Washington, but is unquestionably one of the best players to have ever laced up the skates in the NHL. He is also one of those guys that although maligned in other cities, since he arrived in New York has been a model teammate. Similar to Eric Lindros.

The question is will Jagr be able to bring New York to the playoffs for the second straight year and then will he - along with gold medal winner Henrik Lundqvist - be able to put together a long run for the Blueshirts.

Pavel Bure, a right wing, was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks 113th overall in the 6th round in 1989. He is retired and is the current General Manager for the Russian National Team. Bure, is one of those guys who the NHL sorely misses having put up 437 goals and 779 points in 702 games. Bure won a bronze medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics and a silver in the 1998 Olympics, losing to Jagr and the Czechs.

Pavel Bure's father was also an Olympian as was Pavel's brother Valeri, who also played hockey in the NHL. Pavel's father competed for the U.S.S.R. in the '68, '72, and '76 games. He lost the gold by a half a second to swimming legend Mark Spitz in 1972. Spitz became the story for his domination at that particular Olympiad.

Pavel left the infamous Red Army Team in Russia to play for the Canucks in the 1991-1992 season. He won the rookie of the year award and followed that season up by scoring 60 goals in each of the next two years. He is most noted for his awesome play during the '94 playoffs in which he scored 16 goals and assisted 15 times in leading the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Quite often when I tell people I am a New York Rangers' fan they bring up '94 and Bure. He will always be remembered for buzzing around the net against the Blueshirts. It wasn't just the numbers but the feeling you got that every time he touched the puck something was going to happen.

Sadly, his career was marred with injuries which would force him to retire after just 39 games in the 2002-2003 season with the New York Rangers. A scoring machine when healthy Pavel scored 51 in 97-98 while still a member of the Canucks, and then as a Florida Panther he tallied 58 in 99-00, and 59 in 00-01.

Bure was a linemate with superstars Sergei Fedorov and Alex Mogilny for the U.S.S.R. World Junior Team which won gold in 1989, and silver in 1990 and 1991.

Jaromir Jagr is undeniably a Hall-of-Famer. Pavel Bure should be as well, but may not get in because he was not always accommodating to the media. Bure would never kowtow to anyone. I remember Pavel being interviewed by Al Trautwig on the MSG Network and Wiggie going on and on about how great the U.S. is. Bure simply looked at him and said, "Let's make no mistake about it. I'm here to play hockey." Ouch! I'm sure those greenbacks aren't too bad either. Bure has been connected with some unsavory characters which also blemishes him. But remember the Hockey Hall of Fame is not just based on what a person does in the NHL, but throughout their career playing elsewhere. In my book, what Bure accomplished in the NHL and in International play makes him an inductee into the old bank on Younge Street in the great city of Toronto.

So who wins? Bure brought me out of my seat many times. He was the fastest and more importantly the quickest guy I've ever seen with the puck. Jagr does not go coast-t0-coast anymore - mostly because linemate Michael Nylander is the puck carrier - but is still extremely dangerous. Durability and longevity win out in this very close bout. Jagr also lists the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan as his hero. That may very well be the turning point. Therefore the winner in the "Battle of the Right Wings," Jaromir Jagr!

Heeeeee shooots and scores!

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