The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association annually awards the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy to a player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication” to the game of hockey.
When it came time for the Florida chapter to nominate a player, there really was just one choice.
“It can only be Jaromir Jagr, right?” Roberto Luongo said. “I mean, if there’s one person who is dedicated to the game, it’s him. He’s on it 24-7. You have to if you’re going to do what he does at that age.”
Yes, Jagr — the Panthers’ 44-year-old leading scorer with 61 points — is Florida’s nominee for an award of which he demonstrates qualities of that standard every day. Jagr is known not only for his hard play on the ice but for his relentless work off it. Jagr works out daily wearing a weighted vest as well as ankle weights. He works a small medicine ball on a heavy stick and shows Florida’s younger players what it takes to continue playing at a high level for a long time.
“You have to love the game if you’re going to play at a high level,” said Jagr, the oldest player in NHL history to hit the 60-point mark.
“Sometimes if you love [the game] and sacrifice everything for it, the worst thing is not seeing any results for whatever reason. This year, even when I was traded here last year, I’ve been able to play with really good players. That’s made my motivation even higher. The better you feel, the better you play.”
Said linemate Sasha Barkov: “You have to love the game if you’re going to play it when you’re 44 and play like he plays every night. He gives 100 percent, works out at 5 a.m. He wants to get better every day. It’s unbelievable.”
Jagr came to the Panthers in 2015 after being acquired in a deal with the Devils. In a little over a year, Jagr has helped transform the Panthers into a winner — the team put playoff tickets on sale Friday afternoon as it went into the day atop the Atlantic Division standings once again.
Although the Panthers have said they would love to have Jagr back — “it’s hard to say no to a legend,” co-owner Doug Cifu said Thursday night — Jagr says he will wait to talk until this season is complete.
Of course, that’s Jagr’s usual response. Jagr has been playing on one-year contracts for a while now. Although he told the Miami Herald he will be playing in the NHL next season, Jagr and the Panthers haven’t discussed a new deal.
Jagr and the team came to terms in a matter of hours once the 2014-15 season came to a close.
“I feel good when I go to work and can produce on a high level, see some positive results, and that’s the most important part to me,” Jagr said Friday. “You have to finish the job before you start another one.”
The PHWA will announce the winner of the award at the June NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas.
When told the finalists get a free trip to Vegas, Jagr just smiled. “I’ll already be there,” said Jagr, who spends a lot of his offseason in Nevada.
▪ The two delay-of-game penalties charged to the Panthers during Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Devils because of fans throwing rats onto the ice was a big topic of conversation locally and throughout the North American sports world on Friday.
Not only did all of the local sports talk shows address the topic Friday, but so did many national sports and hockey stations. The image of rats hitting the ice led Thursday’s late SportsCenter on ESPN.
Not to be outdone, a number of Florida players got in the act at Friday’s practice at BB&T Center. With the team on the ice, Jussi Jokinen, Vincent Trocheck and Erik Gudbranson — who all didn’t practice Friday — came into the lower bowl of the arena and began chucking rats onto the playing surface.
Players on the ice laughed as they scooped up the rubber rodents with their sticks and deposited them behind the bench.
▪ Right wing Logan Shaw was sent back to the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.
Saturday: Canadiens at Panthers
When/where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210.
Series: Montreal leads 40-39-6.
Scouting report: The Canadiens did Florida a favor by beating Tampa Bay 3-0 on Thursday night, allowing the Panthers to retake first place in the Atlantic Division. … Roberto Luongo will be in net most likely against Mike Condon, who shut out the Lightning. … Florida is 2-0 against the Habs this season, with the season series finale in Montreal on Tuesday.