GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jaromir Jagr has been making the major media rounds this season. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, Sports Illustrated; you name it, he’s probably been in it.
“That’s telling me one thing,” said Jagr, pointing at Panthers senior director of communications Chris Wojcik as the two walked through the hallway at Gila River Arena on Saturday morning. “He doesn’t do his job. If he started doing a better job I would have more freedom. I wouldn’t have to speak that much.”
Jagr was joking. The Panthers have been highly selective with Jagr’s time this season as he continues his middle-aged climb through the NHL record books. Jagr entered Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes tied for third with Gordie Howe on the NHL’s all-time list of points producers with 1,850. It’s a foregone conclusion that he will pass Howe sometime soon, so we decided to challenge Europe’s most accomplished hockey player with a far more daunting Howe record.
Much to the hockey world’s delight, he still isn’t shying away from the idea of playing until he is 50 years old.
“I think it’s possible, no question about it,” he said. “You have to feel right. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You have to still enjoy it. I don’t know how I’m going to feel tomorrow so I go day to day.”
Howe is the oldest player ever to compete in an NHL game at 52 years, 11 days. Jagr, 44, may not stretch his career quite that long, but if he makes it to 50 he will be just the second player to accomplish that feat. If he plays just two more seasons beyond this one, he will be the third-oldest player ever to compete in the NHL.
“I don’t know how he does it. Nobody does, but he keeps doing it,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “He works out every day. He gets on the ice every day and he wants to play. Mentally for him, it’s about being prepared every night at 7 o’clock.”
Jagr has always had the skills and head for the game, and his workout regimen is renowned, but Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said Jagr has another attribute that has sustained him through the long years of his career.
“He just loves the game,” said Tippett, who was a teammate and linemate of Jagr’s in Pittsburgh for the 1992-93 season. “He’s got a passion to play the game. He had it back then; he’s still got it now.”
Truth be told, Jagr is enjoying the recent adulation, too. He is well acquainted with the players whose company he is keeping in the records books, and he understands their place in history.
“If you are a good player you should pay attention to the history of hockey and who was playing before you started playing,” he said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be playing right now. You have to respect those who played before you.”
Jagr has been around long enough to earn the same sort of respect from his peers.
“What he’s doing is pretty amazing and I think everyone in the league now is excited to watch him and they’re kind of rooting for him to be able to continue to keep going,” 39-year-old Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “There’s a lot of guys that could keep going if given the right opportunities but they’re just not in the right spot. The guys like Teemu (Selanne) and Jagr are special guys that everyone looks at but they probably see it as way more of an anomaly than it actually would be if other guys were given the right opportunities. At the same time, there’s no way the other players in the league aren’t impressed by what he’s doing.”
Even so, Jagr still feels he has more to prove, if only to carry some street cred into his golden years.
“After you’re done, I’ll be saying I was a good player and people will say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure you were,'” Jagr said, laughing. “At least, I can point to the stats and say ‘hey, there’s pretty good proof.'”
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Oldest players in NHL history
1. Gordie Howe: 52 years, 11 days
2. Chris Chelios: 48 years, 71 days
3. Maurice Roberts: 45 years, 345 days
4. Johnny Bower: 45 years, 32 days
5. Gump Worsley: 44 years, 323 days
6. Doug Harvey 44 years, 100 days
6. Lester Patrick: 44 years, 100 days
8. Jacques Plante: 44 years, 78 days
9. Tim Horton: 44 years, 39 days
10 Jaromir Jagr: 44 years, 19 days (as of Saturday)