With training camp less than three weeks away, Jaromir Jagr is preparing for his NHL comeback with modest expectations, but hopes to score goals against the Penguins.
"First and foremost I want to stay healthy and be able to play. I’m not saying that I will be successful, but I believe I can be."
Jagr says the Flyers didn’t consult him about signing his old linemate Michael Nylander to a tryout deal and also keeps the expectations low about reviving that old chemistry they had years ago.
"No one talked to me about it, so it was a surprise to me. Nylander hasn’t signed yet, it’s just a tryout, so we’ll see how it goes, if he can get a contract. What worked five years ago doesn’t mean it will also work today."
His NHL comeback right around the corner, Jagr is also prepared to hear boos from some of the angered Penguins fans who wanted him to sign with the Penguins instead. He just doesn’t understand most of the animosity.
"It just doesn’t make sense to me. I didn’t expect their fans to see it like this. For two reasons. First of all, I didn’t expect them to want me to sign in Pittsburgh so much to begin with, because the last eight years in the NHL, they booed at me whenever I went there. And those same fans suddenly wanted me to return. It’s a bit strange. It was a huge surprise to me. On the other hand, I expected them to respond the way they did when I signed with the Flyers."
"It’s their problem. I don’t think they all feel the same way, though. It's a good example on how easily people change their minds. As long as you wear their jersey, you’re the best in the world. When you take the jersey off, you’re nothing."
"I’ve experienced a lot in my nearly forty years. But it will be a strange feeling to play there. It’s not easy to play somewhere where everyone boos at you and wishes you the worst. It’s not an easy situation and it will depend on myself; how I will deal with it. The best response would be if I scored."
Jagr says the way the Penguins acted actually made him look bad in the eyes of their fans. He felt that the Penguins never really wanted him and their offer was more of a publicity stunt instead.
"Reporters started writing about Pittsburgh being an option for me months ago. But even by the draft the Penguins hadn’t shown any interest in me. They noticed me only after when the reporters had started writing about me. Suddenly they realized that the fans in Pittsburgh wanted me to return. After that, it was all calculated. They gave me an offer they knew would be the worst or one of the worst I’d get. They knew about the offers from other teams. They knew that I would turn them down. But the result looks like I refused to go there and they tried to get me. So the fans thought I was an idiot and eventually a traitor."
While Jagr has said that he didn’t pick the Flyers because of money since had even better offers on his table, the money the Penguins offered him felt disrespectful.
"If you want a player of certain quality, you can’t offer him third or fourth line money, can you? When you see players on the first line get about seven millions and second liners get five millions, I think my place would be somewhere in between. They offered me fourth line money. That’s it."
When it comes to asking price, there’s one thing in particular that disappointed the Penguins fans who wanted to see Jagr return to Pittsburgh. During his playing days in Russia, Jagr once said that he would be willing to return to play for his old friend’s Mario Lemieux’s Penguins for the minimum salary.
"Sure. What can I say? I think it’s a bit silly to make a connection between that statement and the current situation. It’s a bit out of context. It’s like before the wedding you’d tell your bride that you’ll never leave her. And then a month later something happens and you get a divorce."
While it seemed like he didn’t fit in the Penguins’ plans, Jagr says he’s still in good terms with Lemieux.
"Despite this, yes. He made it pretty obvious to me that their priority was to get players for the third line, and that’s when I’d come into the picture. Perhaps. Maybe."
"When I heard those comments and the offer came, I wasn’t even excited. I don’t want to be a complimentary piece and a healthy scratch. I want to get a real chance. And I will either get it or not."
There has been speculation about next season being Jagr’s last in the NHL and probably a return to play in his native Czech being an option. KHL looks to be out of the picture by now, though you never know.
"I believe that the Russian chapter is probably already closed. Even if you never say never. Three years ago I also thought that I had closed the door on the NHL and never come back. Even last year I couldn’t have imagined returning. But as you can see, suddenly I’m back."
This report was based off of a Czech-language stories released by Mediafax/iSport/Red Šport.