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Jagr makes perfect sense for Flames

45-year-old forward will work hard, lead by example, fill need at right wing

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / Columnist

Late in the 2012-13 season opener for the Dallas Stars, Jaromir Jagr tapped his coach on the shoulder. He had two goals and two assists but wasn't lobbying for another shift to pad his stats. The Stars were protecting a 4-3 lead against the Phoenix Coyotes. He reminded his coach to put out two centers for a face-off in case one got tossed from the circle.


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At a morning skate days later, Jagr sat atop the boards at the bench, running his finger over a whiteboard with his coach while the rest of the team drilled. The Stars hadn't gotten to the net enough in their previous game, a 1-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild. He had ideas.

"This league is too good just to go and play," Jagr said then. "You have to be in structure. You have to play the details, or you don't have a chance to win."

Jagr already was a wise, old hockey vagabond then. He was 41, six months younger than his coach.

He's wiser, older and even more of a hockey vagabond now. He's 45. He'll be 46 on Feb. 15. He has signed a one-year contract with the Calgary Flames, his ninth NHL team -- and sixth since he returned from the Kontinental Hockey League in 2011. Once again, he's six months younger than his coach, because once again, his coach is Glen Gulutzan.

He reached out to Gulutzan on Sunday.

"Everybody knows I had Jaromir in Dallas," Gulutzan told reporters in Calgary on Monday. "He felt he could call me and just chat."

Jagr's history with Gulutzan is one of the reasons he makes sense for the Flames when he didn't for others.

Video: NHLers describe the ageless one, Jaromir Jagr

The big question: How much does he have left?

"Some people die at 60; some people die at 100," Jagr said Dec. 22, after recording his 1,888th point and passing Mark Messier for second on the all-time scoring list with an assist for the Panthers in a 3-1 loss to the Bruins. "So it doesn't mean you hit 70, you don't want to live anymore.

"It's kind of the same thing with hockey players. Some are more lucky than the other guys. Some can play till 40. Some, they're not good at 30. If I got the gift from God, if I have the opportunity to do it, I want to play as long as I can."

It's hard to project how long Jagr will have the gift from God, and it's harder to give him the opportunity to keep playing in the NHL if you're accountable for it.

This is a young man's league. The game gets faster and more competitive each season. The Florida Panthers decided to go younger and declined to bring back Jagr despite the numbers he produced for them last season. Other teams, including several that know him well, passed.

Video: Jagr thankful for opportunity with Flames

Eventually time will catch up to Jagr, as it caught up to even Gordie Howe, who played his last NHL game at 52, and Chris Chelios, who played his last at 48. Often the player is the last to admit he's done. Who wants to be the team that signed Jagr when he can't do it anymore? It's no wonder that it took so long even as many were rooting for someone to sign Jagr, and that Calgary got him for $1 million plus a reported $1 million in bonuses.

But Jagr played 82 games last season and ranked fourth on the Panthers in goals (16), assists (30) and points (46). As the League celebrates its Centennial, his 1,914 points rank second to Wayne Gretzky's 2,857. His 765 goals rank third behind Gretzky's 894 and Howe's 801. He is a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit on ice.

The Flames had an opening at right wing. Jagr had more points last season than anyone they had there. He didn't cost assets and came cheap financially. He still has the haunches, hands and hockey sense to protect the puck and deliver it down low on the power play and in a third-line role with Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett. He still wants to play because he loves it, because he thinks he can help a team. 

Jagr knows Gulutzan, Gulutzan knows Jagr, and Gulutzan knows that Jagr knows this league is too good to just go and play.

Tweet from @NHLFlames: Welcome to the #CofRed, @68Jagr ��

Gulutzan said Jagr was fantastic for the Stars as a group and good for young players for 34 games in 2012-13, and he doesn't expect much has changed with him.

"I think the biggest thing is, you look at his age and just what he can do," Gulutzan said. "He's physically a specimen, but his hockey IQ is just off the charts. That's what allows him to be behind Wayne Gretzky in scoring. It's hard to explain some of the things he's done. There were some wild moments watching him play in Dallas."

Perhaps there will be in Calgary too.

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