Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, as you may have heard, is celebrating his 44th birthday today, and to mark the occasion he’ll lace up his skates as the Panthers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. When he suits up tonight, Jagr will become the fifth oldest skater to ever dress in an NHL game. But is he the best player to continue his career after age 40?
Obviously, Jagr is in some elite company already and inarguably one of the most prolific players to ever play in the NHL. He skated in his 1,600th game earlier this month making him just the 10th player to do so, he’s fourth all-time in points, sixth all-time in assists, fourth all-time in goals and no player in league history has scored more game winners than Jagr.
But, usually by necessity, a player’s changes once they’re over the hill. They may not be as fast, as strong or play as big a part in the offense as they once did. And the list of age 40-plus players in NHL history contains some good names, too. The legendary Gordie Howe played into his 50s, Chris Chelios was 48 when he hung up his skates and Teemu Selanne was less than two months from his 44th birthday when he retired. So where does Jagr fit on the list?
The most obvious way to measure Jagr’s performance after age 40 would be his production, and when it comes to putting up points after his 40th birthday, Jagr’s only trailing Howe, who some would argue it the greatest player of all time. After his 40th birthday, Howe scored 113 goals and 267 points — and that’s only in the NHL. Howe recorded 508 points in six WHA seasons, all of which came after his 45th birthday. Excluding the WHA, though, Howe played 295 games and put up some serious point totals.
In the years since Howe retired, the game has changed an incredible amount, and for Jagr to put up a 100-plus point campaign, like Howe did at age 40, would require an otherworldly effort. Consider that in the season Howe scored 100 points, there were nearly six goals per game. The current rate of scoring sees closer to five scored per game. That may not seem like giant margin, but it’s quite the difference over the course of a season.
Even still, Jagr has been incredibly impressive since his 40th birthday. He has played 282 games and racked up an impressive 80 goals and 204 points, and his .72 points per game is the third-best of the seven players who have suited up for at least 200 games after 40.
There’s more to success than just points, though. During his 40-year-old season, Chris Chelios managed six goals and 39 points — hardly a monstrous point total — but he finished second in Norris Trophy voting. He even earned some Norris votes during his age 41 campaign. Chelios also maintained his longevity and effectiveness late into his career, averaging more 17 minutes per game on the Detroit Red Wings blueline as a 46-year-old.
Jagr’s in a different category than Chelios in that he’s up against a wider range of players for the awards he would be eligible for. And while Chelios was great after 40, he had the bonus of playing with one of the all-time greatest defensemen in Nicklas Lidstrom. Jagr hasn’t had that kind of help around him anywhere he’s been since turning 40, and he’s actually been as heavily relied upon for offense in Boston, New Jersey and Florida since turning 40 as Chelios was relied upon to work the blueline in Detroit.
And what about the one, single great season? Teemu Selanne had arguably the greatest season of any 40-plus player in league history when he scored 31 goals and 80 points. That is an incredible feat in the modern era.
Selanne’s point total was enough to have him finish tied for eighth in scoring at the end of 2010-11. Jagr hasn’t been able to have a season of production quite like Selanne’s, but his 24-goal, 67-point season as a 41-year-old was mighty impressive considering he did it while playing with the likes of Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus. Selanne’s most common linemates during his 80-point campaign were Saku Koivu and Jason Blake.
Really, the only area where Jagr hasn’t been incredibly successful after his 40th birthday is from a team-wide perspective. Only the Bruins has success, winning an Eastern Conference championship, but Jagr had trouble contributing during the playoff run and notched 10 points — all assists — in the post-season. He has only been to the post-season one other time after 40, and that was an 11-game run with the Flyers in 2011-12. Mark Recchi, who played nearly 250 games after his 40th birthday, ended his career with a Stanley Cup.
In every other facet of the game, though, it’d be hard to put anyone above Jagr. There were your all-time greats such as Mark Messier, John Bucyk and Ray Bourque who played after their 40th birthday, but none had the combination of longevity, production and impact that Jagr has had since he reached 40. And at 44, he might not even be done.
Jagr’s set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but that might not be it for him. He’s said previously he envisions playing at least one more season. A post-40 Cup and the all-time record for most points after turning 40 are the only things Jagr hasn’t achieved that others have. He’ll have his shot at a Cup this season in Florida and could have another run in 2016-17, and when it comes to points he’s only 62 back of the great Howe. Even if he doesn’t surpass Howe, though, it’d be hard to consider Jagr anything other than the greatest player to continue his career into his 40s.
(All statistics via Hockey-Reference.com)