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Jagr's work ethic, NHL career were epic

Likely Hall of Famer left indelible mark on teammates, sport

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com

If this is it, if this really is the end of Jaromir Jagr's NHL career, it's oddly appropriate for one of the greatest players of all time -- struggling with the Calgary Flames at age 45, returning to play for the team he owns in his hometown of Kladno, Czech Republic.

Jagr will be remembered for more than his 1,921 points, second to Wayne Gretzky's 2,857 in a century of NHL history; or his 766 goals, third to Gretzky's 894 and Gordie Howe's 801; or his five scoring titles or his MVP season or his two Stanley Cup championships.

 

[RELATED: Jagr: 100 Greatest NHL Players | Jagr assigned to HC Kladno | Jagr's career stats]

 

He will be remembered for requesting the key to the practice rink, skating while others slept at night, working out with weighted vests after games. He will be remembered for quotes like the one he gave Dec. 23, 2016, after he reached 1,888 points and passed Mark Messier for second in scoring with an assist for the Florida Panthers in a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.

Video: Breaking down Jaromir Jagr's career thus far

"I love the game," Jagr said then, "and I'm willing to do anything to play as long as I can."

If this it, it means there was nothing more he could have done in the NHL. He finished having played 1,733 games, third to Howe's 1,767 and Messier's 1,756.

Video: Jaromir Jagr second on NHL points list

"There's a reason he was still able to play as long as he did, because he had a passion for the game," said Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette, who coached Jagr with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011-12. "He took care of himself. He worked hard. He practiced hard. He played hard at an elite level."

Jagr's best years came in his first NHL act, when he played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and New York Rangers from 1990-2008. That's when he won his titles and awards, and compiled most of his statistics.

But he added layers to his legend in his second NHL act, when he returned after three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League and bounced to six teams in seven seasons -- to the Flyers to the Dallas Stars to the Bruins to the New Jersey Devils to the Panthers to the Flames. He morphed into a wise, old hockey vagabond, an example, a mentor, and became beloved in ways he never was before.

Talk to his former teammates, and they don't mention numbers.

"When he came to Philly, I think there was an excitement in the room that Jags was coming to play with us," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "When he came in, his work ethic and his dedication to the game was …"

Pause.

"I've never seen anything like it before. It kind of opened my eyes a little bit. If you want to play for a long time, you've got to put the time in. He helped us a lot."

Video: 2016: Jaromir Jagr becomes second all-time scorer

Forward Jakub Voracek broke into the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008-09, the season Jagr left for the KHL. He was disappointed he wouldn't be in the same league. He had grown up in Jagr's hometown idolizing him.

Then in 2011-12, not only were they on the same Flyers team, they were in the same apartment building. Jagr lived above Voracek. They would drive to practice together. Sometimes Jagr would get Voracek to skate at night, even though Voracek, 17 years younger, preferred to sleep.

 

[RELATED: Jaromir Jagr: Behind the Numbers | Jagr facts & figures | Jagr's greatest moments]

 

"He's all about hockey, because he's dedicated all his life to that," Voracek said. "That's why he was the best for such a long time. … When you think about hockey, he's one of the names that pops up."

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin, who played with Jagr with the Bruins in 2012-13, said he will never forget when Jagr asked him, center Patrice Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand if they would skate at night. It was in the second or third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We thought he was kidding, but he wasn't," Seguin said. "It was just the love he had for the game. It was awesome. … His dedication and love for the game is the most I have ever seen. He's addicted to getting better at his craft."

Jagr went through the offseason unsigned, even though he had 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games for the Panthers last season. The worry was that the game had continued to get younger and faster, that it was time.

Video: WSH@FLA: Jagr ties Dionne with 731 goals

As it turned out, it was time. The Flames signed him Oct. 2. He never got up to speed, dealt with injuries and had seven points (one goal, six assists) in 22 games. But it was worth it, at least to try, and not just for him.

"I got an assist on his last goal," said Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau, who did on Nov. 10 in a 6-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings. "I can say that. That's something I'm really, really excited about."

Video: DET@CGY: Jagr scores his first goal with the Flames

Gaudreau is 24. When he was born, Jagr already had played three seasons in the NHL.

"He's a great player, and he had great career," Gaudreau said. "If this is the end, it was pretty special for me to share the short amount of time I had with him. I chatted with him a lot when he was around the rink, and I just wish him the best."

We all do.

Bill Price and Shawn Roarke contributed.

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