PHILADELPHIA – Jaromir Jagr had a message to Pittsburgh Penguins fans disappointed he spurned his former club in his return to the NHL: No hard feelings.
The 1999 league MVP just felt more at ease after listening to a pitch to join the Philadelphia Flyers.
Jagr said Saturday he rejected more lucrative offers to make his NHL comeback and decided to play on the other end of Pennsylvania because he liked what the Flyers are “trying to do” to win a Stanley Cup.
Jagr’s acquisition is a big part of the Flyers’ off-season overhaul that has seen them jettison key cogs Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino and Brian Boucher, among others.
The 39-year-old Jagr spent the past three seasons playing in Russia. This week he mulled a one-year offer to rejoin the Penguins, his original team, before deciding to play for the Flyers.
The Flyers’ deal is worth US$3.3 million. Jagr didn’t name the teams he said offered more money.
Jagr was a Pittsburgh draft pick in 1990, and helped lead the Penguins to two Stanley Cup championships.
He won those titles alongside Mario Lemieux, now the Penguins’ owner. Pittsburgh hoped he would accept the offer, play at least one season, and then retire with the Penguins.
Jagr said he had only one brief conversation with Lemieux and never led the Penguins to believe he’d return.
“The Penguins seem like I did something wrong or something bad, and I don’t think I did something bad,” Jagr said. “If they feel like that, I cannot change their minds.
“I was a free agent, and I had my chance to pick wherever I think is best for me.”
That pick came Friday when he chose the Flyers. Jagr said he had an opportunity to play more with the Flyers and likes the bold moves general manager Paul Holmgren made the last 10 days. Jagr says the addition of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was a reason for his signing. The Flyers also acquiesced with his wish for a one-year deal.
“I think it’s better for the team, because you don’t know how things are going to go,” he said. “You might think it’s going to be good, you might hope it’s going to be good, but there’s no guarantees.
“And if something goes wrong, why have two years?”
Jagr will be looked upon to provide some of that scoring punch. He has 646 NHL goals, and when he slips on that orange-and-black uniform for the first time, he will be the league’s active scoring leader with 1,599 points.
Jagr won an Olympic gold medal in 1998 and a bronze in 2006. He also led the Czech Republic to world championships in 2005 and 2010.
The Flyers hope Jagr hasn’t lost it and can still hold up to the 82-game schedule, plus the postseason. Jagr said he was in no position to judge if he’s lost a step on his skates.
“You’d have to ask somebody else who saw me years ago and then saw me last month. I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
The Flyers, who lost to Chicago in the 2010 Stanley Cup final in six games, finished with 106 points last season and won the Atlantic Division title on a tiebreaker ahead of the Penguins. Philadelphia outlasted Buffalo in seven games in the first round, but was swept out of the post-season in the Eastern Conference semifinals by eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston.
Jagr talked to members of the coaching staff and defenceman Chris Pronger before making his decision.
Jagr is not worried about the expectations that will be lumped on him. He could have eased into the lineup had the Flyers held on to Richards and Carter. But if they were here, Jagr might be in Pittsburgh or Detroit.
“I know it’s going to be tough for the fans because the GM traded two very good players, and it’s not easy for the fans to see it, but I think it would be a lot easier for me to come in if the team stayed the way it was before,” he said. “But you never know.”