Jaromir Jagr’s recent exit from the Calgary Flames to play in his native Czech Republic may have signaled the end of one of the most prolific careers in NHL history, as the 45-year-old ranks second all-time in points, third in both goals and games played.
It also meant the Wild’s Matt Cullen was now the oldest player in the league at 41.
“It’s been mentioned a few times,” Cullen said. “It gets around.”
Of all the numbers that get collected and analyzed in today’s hyper-concentrated game, the one from a birth certificate still stands out.
And for Cullen, it’s a badge of honor — proof he’s figured out how to remain relevant in a sport that continues to trend toward a younger breed of skaters.
“I’m proud of the fact I’ve played as long as I have,” he said. “It’s not easy. It’s a young man’s game. So, yeah, I’m proud of the fact I’ve played as long as I have. It’s not something you put out as a goal — ‘I want to be the oldest guy in the league.’
“At the same time, you look at it as a positive and say, ‘I’ve been able to play for a pretty long time at a pretty high level and it’s an honor to still be here.’ ”
How Cullen prepares to play has evolved since he debuted in the NHL in 1997 with the Ducks, a year after they drafted him in the second round.
While he used to lift weights to bulk up, now he works to maintain his strength in addition to focusing on flexibility and range of motion.
He spends more time warming up his body, activating it before he gets on the ice and then stretching to relax his muscles afterward; Cullen even has a stretching routine he does every night before bed — an exercise he certainly didn’t do when he was 25.
“For an older guy to stay in the league, it’s about keeping your skating up,” he said. “That’s a primary focus for me, to make sure I’m lengthening my muscles to make sure I have the same stride. You see guys, they get older, their stride will shorten up and they’ll lose a bit.”
Cullen’s diet has also changed, as he eliminated gluten and dairy three years ago when he began his first of two seasons with the Penguins.
A pregame meal now could consist of salmon and rice or gluten-free pasta rather than chicken Parmesan and noodles, and he also tries to load up on fats like olive oil and avocado.
“It really made a big difference,” said Cullen, who has played in 1,417 NHL games with 252 goals and an even 700 points. “I didn’t really want to give those up, but it made a big difference and I really notice a big difference in my energy level and how my body felt.”
These tweaks weren’t made just to keep up with the Joneses of the NHL. It’s also indicative of the personal growth Cullen continues to seek, as he evaluates his performance and how his body held up after every season.
“I feel if you stop trying to improve, you’re on your way out,” Cullen said. “So I’ve always kind of just taken the approach in the offseason I’m going to improve in any way possible. As you get older, you’re not going to get a whole ton stronger. You’re not going to get taller. You put it into other things that you can do.
“So you work on the mental side of the game and your nutrition, your flexibility, things that can allow you to maintain your level as long as you can.”
This season with the Wild is likely Cullen’s last, he said, although he’ll finalize his decision in the summer.
But regardless, he’s discovered a formula that works for him.
“I will say I’m very happy with how I feel,” he said, “and my body feels great. So that’s a positive.”
• Retirement lasted just a few months for Mike Fisher. The former Predators captain announced this week he’s resuming his career and intends to play just for the rest of the season. He’s expected to sign a contract with Nashville before the trade deadline. The Predators were already considered a Stanley Cup contender before bringing back Fisher, who certainly has to regain game shape. But the emotional lift a player like him could provide, along with the help up the middle, could make the Predators even more dangerous this postseason.
• The Golden Knights set the NHL record for most wins by a team in its inaugural season with win No. 34 on Thursday in overtime against the Jets and show no sign of slowing down. Much of the team’s success has come on home ice, and Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin says the atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena helps explain the Golden Knights’ dominance. “It’s not a regular rink,” Ovechkin said during All-Star weekend. “It’s got an unbelievable show. You get excited. It’s like a nightclub, like a party. Everybody dancing over there. Am I at a hockey game or like a pool party?”
• Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon will be sidelined two to four weeks with an upper-body injury, a loss that could wreak havoc on Colorado’s postseason pursuits. MacKinnon has 24 goals and 61 points, which ranked second in the NHL into Friday. But don’t count out the Avalanche. In its first test without MacKinnon, it got by the Oilers in overtime.
WILD'S WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: 7 p.m. at St. Louis
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Arizona
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Chicago
Tue. NBCSN; Thu. and Sat. FSN
Player to watch: Brayden Schenn, Blues
A trade to the Blues from the Flyers has certainly flattered Schenn, who’s on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points after recording 21-30-51 through 53 games.
“It kind of feels a little lonely, so it’s great to have some guys out there and enjoy hockey again.”
Wild winger Nino Niederreiter, who resumed practicing with the team last week after missing time because of a left ankle bone bruise.