There seems to be a trend on Reddit’s hockey subreddit. Whenever something about Jaromir Jagr’s age or point total is mentioned, people like to ask one common question:
What if Jaromir Jagr never played in the KHL?
This question is mostly used as a joke. It is supposed to start off string of comments about what would hypothetically happen if he never went to the KHL in good humor.
Why don’t we actually take a serious look at this. What if Jaromir Jagr never played in the KHL?
There are many other things that contribute to the answer to this question as a whole, such as the shortened schedule of the KHL. But I want to talk about some lesser discussed reasons.
We need to take a look at a quote by Jaromir Jagr. He said, “In Russia, you don’t have to worry if you make a mistake.”
Many people enjoy talking about the differences between the KHL and the NHL. In the NHL, the league prides itself on being the greatest league in the world. That is a big statement, but one that the NHL has always been able to back up, whether it faces competition from the WHA or the KHL. Consistently, the top players around the world come to the league to have a chance to touch the Stanley Cup.
In Russia, it is a little different. The KHL has a lot of instability. There are teams that fold, wages that are not paid, and unorthodox encouragement methods. This makes the league just a tad crazier and wilder than the NHL.
Jagr said this in an article he had with Play Magazine:
And that’s what I love about living here. There’s always another way to make up for it. Nothing’s too serious. Nothing is a problem, and at the same time, everything’s a problem. But somehow no matter how bad things are, you can always work it out.
Jaromir Jagr did not have to worry about things like he did in his time in the NHL. In turn, the pressure level was dropped.
But after the pressure, there is more to ponder about. Jaromir Jagr mentioned in a few articles after he came back to the NHL that the game had changed. And he was completely right.
The NHL was just coming out of its 3rd year after the lockout when Jagr last played. The game was still evolving from a league where physicality was everything to one that relied a lot more on speed and agility.
In the KHL, the league already relied on speed and agility. That is a normal facet of European hockey. From Jagr:
…a lot of guys dominating [in the NHL] would have a problem on the big ice. In the KHL, you’re even more patient at your position because the rink is so big, you cannot play that way.
Jagr threw himself into the difference in play when he left the NHL for the KHL. He had to adjust straight away, and that led to him needing to work harder right away.
And we can’t kid ourselves; Jagr has some huge pythons going for him. Working hard is a normal thing for him.
Very quickly, he adjusted himself into that style of play that the NHL was still slowly evolving to. By the time he came back, the league style already changed to what he was used to.
There seems to be a weird paradox in saying this though: Jagr said that there was more freedom in Russia compared to being back in North America, but he worked harder to adjust in Russia. I think this is more of a comment on human sociology and psychology than anything else. When people are not being told what to do, you are more likely to do what you would’ve been told to do free-willingly. I’m right now procrastinating on an essay that I have to write for my English class. But, I am still writing an article on this subject.
The same thing occurs with Jagr’s career.
The freedom of choice that Jaromir Jagr had when he chose the KHL over the NHL allowed him to adjust to the new style of play that the NHL warranted quicker than anyone else his age.
If he stayed in the NHL, his love for the game would have likely worn out. He most likely would have retired.
But we don’t have to live in that reality. Enjoy Jaromir Jagr for what he is doing now; there might never be another player quite like him.
Dylan Coyle is a “The Wraparound” columnist on Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow hi on Twitter @10phillyphan.