Saturday, July 2, 2011
Posted: 3:19 p.m.
By Sarah BaickerCSNPhilly.com
Before he even takes the ice at the Wells Fargo Center, Jaromir Jagr would like you to get one thing straight: It wasnt about the money.
After all, the Flyers new right winger said, he could have stayed in Russia and continued to play in the KHL, skating in just 60 games a year and making more money than the 3.3 million the Flyers will pay him for next seasons work.
And as if that werent enough to prove his point, there were also the other NHL teams offers.
It surprised me when you said money, Jagr said, when a reporter asked what, besides the paycheck, convinced him to sign with the Flyers. There were a lot more teams with a higher offer than Philadelphia. I didnt think I was going to go there, but after the conversation with the coaches and Chris Pronger, I started to like it and I also like that there is something to this from their side, and that was important to me.
The 39-year-old Jagr has been away from the NHL for three years, and decided to attempt a return to the league only because his KHL contract with Omsk Avangard expired at the end of last season. He was heavily courted by a number of teams most notably he Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he spent the first 11 years of his NHL career with.
But after talks with Pittsburgh broke down, the Flyers quickly became an attractive option for the NHLs ninth leading scorer of all time.
Theres a lot of things I liked about the Flyers, Jagr said. When youre talking to the GM and the coaches, you kind of have a sense of what theyre trying to do. I also liked that they made a great move with the goalies before I even signed with them. I follow a little bit of the NHL even though I havent been there for three years, I follow it, and I know Philadelphias defense is very good. There are some guys that when I was the NHL I played against and it was always tough to play against them.
Theyre not only good defensively, but theyre also good offensively, and thats very important in the new style of the NHL. Im going to have an opportunity to play a little more than I would with other teams.
Jagr added that the opportunity to see plenty of playing time and the presence of talented right-handed centermen like Danny Briere and Claude Giroux aided his decision to come to Philadelphia.
I think it would be a problem if I would play in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, Jagr said. Theyre left-handed, and Id have to play on the other side, when Ive played all my life on the right side.
During his time with the Penguins, Jagr was mostly a consistent 30-plus goal-scorer. But his numbers dwindled with the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, the only other NHL teams he spent time with before leaving for Russia.
Fewer games are played in the KHLs season, but Jagrs point production was still strong. He scored 19 goals in 49 games last season, and 22 goals in 51 games the season before. Of course, it was his impressive performance in the 2011 IIHF World Championship that really caught the attention of NHL scouts.
Jagr will be forced to readjust to the North American brand of hockey (rinks are narrower and the game is more physical) as well as the talent level of the NHL in order to succeed next season. Hes aware of that, certainly, but its not what concerns him.
Theres always going to be pressure, he said. Thats not the problem. The only thing Im worried about is that there are a lot of people who counted on me to help them. If the things were only about myself, Im not worried about it. If I play bad and people criticize me, thats fine.
But on the other side, if I play bad, people are going to criticize those people who brought me to Philadelphia. That would be tough for me. Thats the way I think. It would be tough for me because I let somebody down who believed in me. With my age, thats the toughest thing.
Signing only a one-year deal was Jagrs idea. He believes hell find success in his NHL comeback, and that hell be able to contribute but hes not fooling himself, either. He knows theres an element of risk involved, especially considering the way some of the final seasons of his first NHL stint wound up.
I wanted one year. I never talked about more than one year, Jagr said. I think its better for me, I think its better for the team, because you dont know how things are going to go. You might think its going to be good, you might hope its going to be good, but theres no guarantees. And if something goes wrong, why have two years? Why?
Jagr will turn 40 in February. He is excited to return to the U.S. and to become a part of an organization with expectations to win. Hes not, however, about to set any specific goals for what defines his success.
I have only one goal, and thats making people happy, Jagr said. To make them happy, to those people who believe I can be good. Thats my goal. If I make them happy, Ill be happy.
E-mail Sarah Baicker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SBaickerCSN.
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