USA TODAY Sports Weekly
JAGR STILL AN AGELESS TREASURE
Panthers standout productive, durable as he approaches 44
Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant long ago gave up on the idea that soon-tobe 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr needs extra rest to remain fully charged.
“He told me early on that he knows his body,” Gallant said during NHL All-Star weekend. “He said when he doesn’t want to practice, he doesn’t practice. But he practices every day.”
Jagr is the modern version of Gordie Howe, an elite athlete who has cheated the aging process to remain elite much longer than other stars. He’s six years from qualifying for AARP membership, yet he is the second-leading scorer (15 goals) and point producer (33 in 46 games) on the first-place team in the Atlantic Division.
He is one of the league’s most colorful players, with an impish charm and devilish grin. He is always looking to have fun.
“That’s why he plays,” Gallant said. “He comes to practice with our kids for 40 minutes, and when we are done, he stays out there for another 20 minutes.”
His training habits are discussed in reverent tones. This is a player who will put in a full workout in the middle of the night. He said he was displeased that fans voted him to the All-Star Game because he had a training program planned that would make him stronger late in the season.
“When I was younger, when I would finish a game, I would have enough energy to do a good workout after the game,” said Jagr, making his 10th All-Star Game appearance. “I don’t have it anymore. If I do have it, it’s a lot tougher to do it. When I have days off, I try to work out.”
Jagr isn’t just surviving. He’s thriving. He has 21 goals and 51 points in the 66 games he has played for the Panthers since being acquired from the New Jersey Devils last season. It’s no mystery why he remains effective.
“His lower half is as strong as I’ve ever seen,” said Cory Schneider, his former Devils teammate. “His core. His legs. He’s a big, strong person.”
Jagr is 6-3, 235. Trying to move him out of the crease area is akin to standing a sofa on end and shoving it through a doorway.
“When he gets the puck, he has the reach,” Schneider said. “He just sticks his butt out and there is nothing you can do. It’s almost like a guy backing down in basketball. You can’t really defend that. You just hope that he turns it over or loses the puck.”
Today’s NHL is about raw speed, but Jagr somehow makes opponents play his game. “It’s more of a style from the 1990s — a protect-the-puck-cycle-down-low system,” Schneider said. “Jagr has perfected it and made it relevant today. Players aren’t used to defending that.”
Jagr’s durability is beyond reproach. He played every game for the New York Rangers for three consecutive seasons (200508), left to play in the Kontinental Hockey League and has played in 94% of his teams’ games since he returned to the NHL in 2011-12.
“Who knows how long he could still play?” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. I think he can go for a while still.”
Jagr wants to play at 50. Chris Chelios recently played until he was 48. Howe played at 52.
Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz said retired players usually say they didn’t know how much they loved the game until they stopped playing. But what makes Jagr special is that he appreciates the game now.
“He recognizes he is mortal,” Trotz said. “He’s really enjoying his time. That’s why he is so productive. It’s not a chore to come to the rink, or a chore to play.”
Trotz said he has heard veterans tell younger ones Jagr should be checked but never “run over” because of his status in the game.
“There is a respect around the league,” Trotz said. “It’s not that you aren’t going to play him hard, but there is no cheap shot. I think that is admirable.”
Trotz has paid homage to Jagr in his own way. He caught Jagr with an illegally curved stick for three consecutive seasons. The following season Jagr skated by Trotz and asked if another stick measurement was coming his way. “I said, ‘Probably,’ ” Trotz recalled. “But I said I’m working with a charity and if you sign a stick for me, I won’t ask for a measurement tonight.”
Jagr agreed and signed the stick with a smiley face next to his signature. Trotz hasn’t asked for a measurement of Jagr’s stick since.
Jagr has become a hockey philosopher in his old age. He theorized the Panthers have the desired roster composition because they have a blend of young players and aging warriors. Jagr plays with Jonathan Huberdeau, 22, and Aleksander Barkov, 20, neither of whom was born when Jagr broke into the NHL in 1990.
“I don’t want to help any GM, but when you think about it, when you’re too old, you appreci- ate the game and you’re happy and you do everything just to survive the game,” Jagr said. “When you’re too young, you are excited, you’re young, you’re very good, but you don’t even know how good you are. But when you’re middle age, I think you become more selfish and think about yourself, and we don’t have those kinds of guys.”
The moral of the tale? “Don’t sign the middle guys,” Jagr said with a laugh.
FOLLOW NHL COLUMNIST KEVIN ALLEN