Jaromir Jagr, the face of this delightfully surprising Panthers season, isn’t merely the fourth-leading point producer in NHL history, his 737 goals four behind Brett Hull, 64 behind Gordie Howe and 157 behind Wayne Gretzky. He’s also a freak of nature.
Told that Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said he could take a day off at any time to keep fresh for a playoff run, Jagr revealed an oddity: “I don’t need a day off. It works the other way for me. The more I practice, the fresher I feel. I need to play every day. My body is totally different that anybody else. The more I rest, the worse I feel.”
When did he figure this out? “Probably like 42 years ago,” cracked Jagr, who turns 44 on Feb. 15.
Jagr --- whose team sits atop the Atlantic Division in spite of an ongoing four-game losing skid in the wake of 12-game winning streak --- is churning points at a rate (he’s on pace for 30 goals, 34 assists) that’s remarkable for a 43-year-old.
Beyond his mesmerizing skill set, credit, in part, his extraordinary conditioning, the byproduct of the most unique and grueling program that Panthers strength and conditioning coach Tommy Powers has ever witnessed.
This goes beyond Jagr simply working out 4 ½ hours a day, when most players put in 1 ½, according to Powers.
It even goes beyond Jagr calling Powers at 9:30 last Saturday night to oversee a workout.
“I know when the phone rings, it’s him, wanting to go the gym,” Powers said. “It was every night in preseason.”
Jagr does much of his work shackled by cumbersome weights, something Powers had never seen an NHL player do.
He runs sprints and does some on- and off-ice work wearing a 45-pound weight vest. “He wears the vest even if he’s just walking around in sandals,” Powers said, the thinking being that skating at high speeds, while sustaining a physical pounding, should be a breeze during games when he isn’t burdened with weights equivalent to three house pets.
He fastens more weights, anywhere from 2 ½ to 5 pounds, on his ankles. He practices on his own at times with a 10-pound plate on his stick.
He has Powers push him as hard as he can 21 times while Jagr is crouching-- seven from each side and another seven from behind -- an exercise designed to maintain Jagr’s balance.
He asks Powers to fire 60 pucks at him at high speed, to practice his shot. And he regularly smacks an 8 ½ pound medicine ball with his stick, to build strength.
Jagr doesn’t like talking about any of this, but it clearly has rubbed off on teammates.
Aleksander Barkov ordered a similar weight vest. Aaron Ekblad implemented his medicine ball routine. And Nick Bjugstad has emulated Jagr’s mannerisms, including flexing his stick. “It’s pretty neat to see,” Powers said.
Jagr dropped 16 pounds to 226; “he’s lighter and he needs to be,” Powers said. “He is just as [well] conditioned as a guy in his prime at 20…. [And] he’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s into a lot of spiritual stuff, really in touch with who he is and what he wants out of life.”
How unique are Jagr’s exploits at 43? Consider that of the 10 leading scorers in NHL history, only two even played to that age: Howe, who retired at 43, returned to the WHL at 45 and played to 51; and No. 8 Mark Messier who scored 18 goals in his final season, at 43.
The others: Gretzky, No. 6 Phil Esposito and No. 7 Mike Gartner retired at 38, No. 5 Marcel Dionne at 37, Hull at 41, and Nos. 9 and 10 Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux at 40.
### New Dolphins coach Adam Gase told WQAM’s Joe Rose on Thursday that last year “was a hiccup” for Ryan Tannehill. “I feel like we can help with the sacks; we can eliminate some of those hits he’s taken.”
Gase’s offense --- which he said is based in part on what Indianapolis has done --- includes some deep shots. But keep in mind that Tannehill threw more deep passes last season (81, completing 27) than Jay Cutler did under Gase in 2015 (24 for 73) or Peyton Manning under Gase in 2014 (31 for 70). In this case, deep passes are balls thrown 20 yards or more in the air.
Tannehill threw five touchdowns and one pick on deep balls last season, compared with three and two the previous year. Pro Football Focus said Tannehill and Cutler were equivalent in performance on deep balls this past season.
### Gase spent 2 ½ hours at Don Shula’s home on Wednesday and called it an “unbelievable experience, a day I’ll never forget.”
### The Heat made a due-diligence check-in recently on free agent 6-6 combo guard Tony Wroten, who was cut by Philadelphia Dec. 24, but hadn’t made an offer as of Thursday morning. He has averaged 11.1 points in four seasons, including 16.9 last season. He's probably the best unsigned perimeter player available at the moment.
Miami could use another veteran perimeter player, considering injuries to Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and Beno Udrih --- all of whom are day to day at this point.
### Miami also made a similar call on ex-Heat forward Dorell Wright, who is playing in China but will become available to NBA teams in mid-February. But several other teams have shown more interest. Wright, a skilled three-point shooter, was interested in the Heat last summer but Miami never made an offer.
### So what’s the deal with now-injured Hassan Whiteside now shooting free throws like jump shots?
“It’s more comfortable for me,” he said. “I feel like I’m a better jump shooter [than free throw shooter]. Nobody suggested it to me. A lot of coaches were iffy about it. But I looked at myself and said, ‘I’m shooting 54 percent from the line.’ It’s not like what I was doing was working. I am going to do this for the rest of the season.” Against Milwaukee on Tuesday, he was 7 for 11 with the new technique.
### Marlins executive Michael Hill said he expects an open competition for the closer job. Carter Capps will have a chance to compete with incumbent A.J. Ramos. The Marlins had interest in former Detroit and Seattle closer Fernando Rodney, who signed with San Diego this week.
### UM lost out to Connecticut on Miami High five-star junior Zach Brown, the best center to come out of South Florida in a while. “Miami was strongly considered, but we felt it was best for him to leave the comforts of Miami and understand what it’s like to be on his own,” said Michael Lipman, his legal guardian.