The questions circling Jaromir Jagr, at this point in his career, always inevitably involve age. There’s good reason for that. The legend will turn 45 next season. Last year, he was the only player in the league over 40. Next year, he’ll playing on a performance-bonus laced one-year, $4 million deal. That’s not typically the price range for a player of his… experience.
But age means very little to him.
“I’m never sore. My body doesn’t get tired,” Jagr said on a conference call Friday, shortly before laughing off the suggestion that he’d sit out the back-end of back-to-backs next season.
“I don’t think this is the problem. I don’t believe that if you rest more you’re actually going to play better,” he said. “It’s working the other way for me. If I’m going to play good, I have to work harder to be better. That’s all. I actually feel better the second game than the first.”
That attitude is why he’s still playing and setting records at 44. His 27 goals and 66 points this year were NHL record marks for a player 43 or older. He also led his Atlantic Division-winning club in points.
But he has to address these concerns because there were struggles at the end of the season. A team that had a lot of regular season success wasn’t able to rely on their leading scorer to provide offense in the postseason. That’s a problem.
He contributed just two assists in six games before the Panthers were bounced by the New York Islanders.
But there were also signs that Jagr deserved a better fate. His line dominated stretches. He put 20 shots on net himself in those six games. Linemate Aleksander Barkov put up 28 shots and Jonathan Huberdeau had a whopping 34. That line produced just three goals all together, with a combined 3.7% shooting percentage.
During the regular season Barkov shot 16.4%, Huberdeau shot 11.5% and Jagr shot at a notably high 18.9%. With 82 shots between them, three goals is pretty low, especially considering some of the great opportunities they had.
Nonetheless, Jagr’s return is a great situation for the Panthers. He’s not only their leading scorer, but he’s able to provide unique perspective and unimpeachable example of work ethic to the young core of a team on the rise. He may only be there for one more year, but any time general manager Dale Tallon can get his future stars with Jagr is good time.
It’s not just the work ethic in a vacuum. It pays off. Jagr doesn’t acknowledge how age has afflicted millions of homo sapiens before him. He seems convinced that he’s going to keep getting better no matter what conventional wisdom says.
“I have only one thing on my mind, to get better than I was last year,” he said. “I’ll come back next year and be sure I’m better than I was this year.”
Maybe he will be better. On game nights, after both teams had gone home, Jagr was often seen working out, pushing himself to get better. Who knows how long Jagr will play. For now, it’s just one more year.
When asked about the possibility of him signing a two or even three-year deal, he laughed. “First of all, no one would offer me that,” he said.
“I only wanted to have one year. If things don’t go well, I’m just not going to play any more,” he said.
The combination of his good humor and work ethic can only help build a team in south Florida that seeks to mimic the success Tallon’s former club is now enjoying. Keeping Jagr around for another year is going to help them get there.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.