44-year-old Panthers forward scored 27 goals in 2015-16, his most since ’06-07
SUNRISE, Fla. — On the day Florida Panthers players reported for training camp, Jaromir Jagr walked into a conference room to talk with reporters holding a glazed donut around his index finger.
“It’s all about diet,” Jagr joked.
Sporting a red Panthers T-shirt, Jagr looked a bit different than he did after Florida was eliminated by the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round in April. His hair in the back looked longer, closer to the mullet look he made famous early in his NHL career. His body looked leaner.
So, obviously, Jagr didn’t spend the offseason eating glazed donuts, not that anyone who knows anything about him would have believed that. No, Jagr did what he does, which means he worked out and got himself ready for what will be his 23rd season in the NHL.
In his low-key and well-measured way, he said he was as excited as ever to start a new season, which will end a couple of months after he turns 45.
“Of course,” he said. “If not, I wouldn’t be here. It’s kind of tough to do any job if you’re not excited about it, if you’re not happy about it. [If you] just go to work and be miserable, it’s not going to help anybody and [it’s] especially not going to help you. It’s going to be tough.”
Jagr moved into third place on the NHL’s all-time list for goals and points in 2015-16, his first full season with the Panthers, but he said he still needs to improve.
“Of course you have to improve because the League is getting better,” he said. “You have to adjust. I always said when you don’t adjust, you’re going to die, and it doesn’t have to necessarily be sports, in your life. The world is moving in some kind of direction, hockey is moving that kind of direction, so you have to adjust. Twenty years ago, you didn’t have to be very quick, you just had to be strong, so you work for that. Twenty years later, now everything is a lot quicker and guys are in better shape, but they’re not as big or as strong as 20 years ago, so you have to adjust that way.
“I can get better, I know that. You can always get better. Even if you’re older, you can always get better because you know what you need.”
Playing on the top line with Aleksander Barkov, 21, and Jonathan Huberdeau, 23, Jagr had 66 points to lead the Panthers. His 27 goals were his highest total since 2006-07, when he had 30 for the New York Rangers.
First-year Florida general manager Tom Rowe says he expects a similar offensive contribution from Jagr this season.
“Well, leading scorer last year and I don’t think he’s going to drop off that quick from the end of last year to now,” Rowe said. “I would expect the same performance. When you’re playing with Barkov and Huberdeau, they’ve got phenomenal chemistry. … [Jagr] does an awful lot of good things with the puck down low.”
Jagr declined an invitation to play for Team Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, explaining he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his parents because his father is dealing with leg and heart issues that required surgery.
Jagr said playing in the World Cup would have helped him early in the season by getting him into game shape sooner, but not playing will benefit him toward the end of the season because he was spared the extra wear and tear on his body.
Forward Reilly Smith said he was glad to see Jagr on reporting day.
“He’s got a great personality and he definitely helps this team,” Smith said. “He’s a good leader. His work ethic on and off the ice is second to none. It was good seeing him back. It looks like he’s gearing up for another great season.”