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Jaromir Jagr's scoring numbers defy his age

by Rob Vollman
Rob Vollman is a pioneer in the field of hockey analytics and the co-author of Hockey Abstract. His innovations include Player Usage Charts on Home Plate Save Percentage. He will contribute a regular column to throughout this season.

Jaromir Jagr leads the Florida Panthers with 18 points in 21 games. If the 43-year-old is Florida's leading scorer at the end of the season, he will break his record of being the oldest player to lead a team in scoring in NHL history.

Jagr set the record when he led the New Jersey Devils with 67 points in 2013-14.

There are a number of important milestones within reach of Jagr, who has 730 goals and 1,820 points in 1,571 NHL games.

-- Jagr, with 730 goals, is one behind Marcel Dionne (Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers) for fourth in NHL goal-scoring. He needs 11 to catch Brett Hull, who scored 741 goals during a 20-season career with five teams. Wayne Gretzky has the most goals in NHL history with 894, 93 more than Gordie Howe.

-- Jagr is 10 goals and 25 points short of tying the single-season record for a player 43 or older. Mark Messier had 18 goals and 43 points in his final NHL season, with the New York Rangers in 2003-04.

-- Jagr is 30 points behind Howe (1,850 points) for third in points, and 67 behind Messier (1,887 points) for second. Gretzky holds the record with 2,857 points.

How long can Jagr continue to be productive and will it be long enough to take a run at some of the records on his horizon? To answer these questions, we need to establish the level at which Jagr is performing, the rate at which he is declining with age, and, as a result, at what point his career may come to an end.

Last season, Jagr scored 47 points in 77 games. He turned 43 before his 53rd game of the season. That closely mirrors the 43 points Messier scored in 2003-04, and the 48 points Mark Recchi scored for the Boston Bruins in 2010-11, when they retired at that same age.

It would not have been unusual for Jagr to retire after scoring two points for the Panthers in a 3-2 victory against the New Jersey Devils in the final game of the 2014-15 regular season. However, the next day, he signed a one-year contract with the Panthers.

Will he retire after this season? The numbers suggest he doesn't need to.

Jagr is outscoring 88.4 percent of the League's forwards, up from 83.8 percent last season, and higher than Messier's and Recchi's respective marks of 82.2 and 82.6 percent.

Jagr is not really slowing down with age. In terms of his scoring rate per 60 minutes (in all manpower situations), whatever gradual decline was observed last season is being erased in Florida, where he has scored 36 points in 41 games.

Based on common sense and historical precedent, Jagr's scoring ability should start dropping in a noticeable manner, but it isn't.

Four forwards have competed in the NHL past their 43rd birthdays. Their performances during the final four years showed a pattern of decline. So history suggests Jagr's scoring should be dropping dramatically, but it has increased in three of the past four seasons. Even the decrease experienced last season was roughly half what was expected.

After this season, Jagr will be entering uncharted territory. Other than Howe's return from the World Hockey Association at age 51, no forward has played in the NHL after his 44th birthday. Jagr turns 44 on Feb. 14.

When Howe is the only remaining yardstick of a career, it has been a good one. Mr. Hockey never did seem to slow much with age, competing against the Soviet team in the 1974 Summit Series at 46, leading the WHA's New England Whalers with 96 points in 76 games at age 49 and outscoring two-thirds of the NHL's forwards with 41 points at 51. Like Howe, Jagr could be the kind of athlete who can continue playing for as long as he has the desire.

Closing Thoughts

Even if Jagr retires sooner rather than later, there are already so many amazing facts about his scoring and longevity.

-- Jagr has been playing longer than nine NHL teams have even existed, including his own.

-- When Panthers teammate Aaron Ekblad was born, Jagr had 525 NHL points, won an Art Ross Trophy and won the Stanley Cup twice.

-- For two decades, from 1980-81 through 2000-01, Jagr was one of three players to win the Art Ross Trophy; Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were the others.

-- Guy Lafleur played NHL games against Jagr and Howe, who was born in 1928.

-- Jagr has scored more goals since turning 40 than all but three of his Florida teammates have scored in their NHL careers.

Before this season is complete, Jagr may pass Hull for third in NHL goals, and Howe for third in NHL scoring (this despite playing three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, from 2008-11).

Though history and common sense make a dramatic collapse in his scoring seem almost inevitable, Jagr has shown no such signs, and could be one of those rare players who, as he suggested last year, can play up until or past his 50th birthday.

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