After Mario Lemieux, Who’s Number Two: Sidney Crosby or Jaromir Jagr?


That Mario Lemieux is the greatest Pittsburgh Penguin of all-time is self-evident. As far as I’m concerned, and I’m sure I’m not alone in having this view, he’s the greatest hockey player who ever laced up a pair of skates.

That being said, I thought it would be interesting to find out whom our readers feel is the second greatest Penguin of all-time, the heir apparent to Le Magnifique if you will.

In the name of objectivity, potential candidates for that honor must be measured against five important criteria: length of time in a Penguin uniform — only players who spent their prime hockey years in Pittsburgh will be considered – statistics amassed, NHL accolades, championships won, and the visual artistry of their game.

When these standards are applied, the field is narrowed to just two candidates; Sidney Crosby of course, and Jaromir Jagr.

No slight to Evgeni Makin is intended. He will go down in history as one of the greatest players of his generation, but he has never been universally regarded as the world’s best player. Crosby and Jagr have had that distinction.

When I decided to write this article, I promised myself that I would be completely objective, not letting my personal feelings about the players influence my conclusion. I’m asking that you readers to try to do the same as you respond to the poll at the end of this piece.

Let’s face it, Jagr didn’t leave Pittsburgh on the best of terms. If you remember, he first fell out of favor with the fans when he asked to be traded twice during the 2000 season, and was only placated by Lemieux’s decision to come out of retirement.

Jagr eventually got his wish in 2002 when he was traded to the Washington Capitals essentially for some Tim Horton’s coupons a bag of pucks. Although a good player for the Capitals, Jagr was nothing close to the superstar he had been during his years in Pittsburgh. After that, Jagr experienced a resurgence with the New York Rangers, posting a couple of MVP-type seasons before deciding to head back to Europe, presumably to finish out his professional hockey career in Russia’s KHL.

Remarkably, in 2011, Jagr reemerged on the North American hockey scene, evidently reinvigorated by his time in Europe. At the age of 39, he tested his still considerable talents on the NHL market. At one point, it looked as though Jagr and the city of Pittsburgh were destined to be reunited, as he and the franchise were close to finalizing a one year, two million dollar deal, but it was not to be. Even as Penguins’ fans were encouraged by the comments of Jagr’s agent, “His heart is in Pittsburgh,” his client was in the process of signing a better deal with arch rival, Philadelphia.

That being said, Jagr’s rocky relationship with the Pittsburgh Penguins has to be put aside for the purpose of this debate. Each player must be judged solely on the five aforementioned criteria if our conclusion is to have any validity.

Since Crosby has completed nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jagr played eleven complete seasons, each player will be evaluated on their first nine seasons in a Penguin uniform. Below, I make a case for each player. At the end of this article is a poll, giving you the opportunity to select the second greatest Pittsburgh Penguin of all time.  

The Case for Sidney Crosby:

Sidney Crosby certainly lived up to the hype when he burst onto the NHL scene as a rookie in 2005 ringing up 39 goals and 102 total points. Crosby’s first season was Mario Lemieux’s last, and although Mario’s production was insignificant that year, you have to believe that his influence on the highly gifted Penguin rookie was not.

It wasn’t long into his career before Sidney Crosby was generally regarded by hockey pundits as the world’s best player. From 2005 to 2014, Crosby played in 550 games having lost the better part of two seasons to concussion-related injuries.

Since Mario Lemieux’s final retirement, Sidney Crosby has been the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ franchise. When fully healthy, he has no peer. Barring catastrophe, he will go down in history as the best player of his generation.

Regular Season

Cumulative Plus Minus: +124

Shooting Percentage: 14.7%

Points Per Game Average: 1.39

Highest Single Season Point Total: 120

Post Season

Cumulative Plus Minus: +12

Shooting Percentage: 13.3%

Points Per Game Average: 1.2

NHL Awards: Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, two NHL scoring titles.

Championships: two consecutive Stanley Cup finals appearances, winning one in 2009.

The Case for Jaromir Jagr:

Jaromir Jagr is perhaps the best European hockey player of all time, and in his prime, only Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky eclipsed him as the greatest in the world.

Like his hero, Mario Lemieux, Jagr was a hockey prodigy with an extremely high IQ for the game. His movements and instincts were so much like those of Lemieux that he was soon given the moniker “Mario Jr.”

Jaromir Jagr had a meteoric rise, combining forces with Mario Lemieux to win two consecutive Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 – his first two years in the league!

As Mario struggled with recurring back issues and then with Hodgkins disease, Jaromir Jagr’s role with the Penguins became more prominent, and by the late nineties, as the careers of Lemieux and Gretzky were winding down, he had supplanted them as the world’s best player.

During Jagr’s first nine seasons as a Penguin, he played in 662 games.

Regular Season

Cumulative Plus Minus: +163

Shooting Percentage: 14.9%

Points Per Game Average: 1.30

Highest Single Season Point Total: 149

Post Season

Cumulative Plus Minus: +18

Shooting Percentage: 14.4%

Points Per Game Average: 1.05

NHL Awards: Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, three NHL scoring titles.

Championships: two Stanley Cup wins — 1991 and 1992