Happy in Boston, Jagr would have loved to stay a Flyer

Happy in Boston, Jagr would have loved to stay a Flyer

April 24, 2013, 9:00 am
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Jaromir Jagr scored 16 goals and recorded 19 assists with the Bruins and Stars last season. (USA Today Images)

Jaromir Jagr is 41 years old.

But from the way he acts in the Boston Bruins’ locker room -- and certainly from the way he looks on the ice -- he might as well be 21.

The former Flyer-turned-Star-turned-Bruin returned to the Wells Fargo Center for Tuesday’s 5-2 Flyers' win (see story). It was his first time in the building since he left during last year’s free agency, but he brought with him the same pluck and perspective he became known for during his sole season in Philadelphia.

And he tallied an assist on the B’s first goal of the night, too.                         

That the Flyers miss Jagr has been a constant refrain of the team’s disappointing 2013 campaign. His influence on key members of the club like Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek was invaluable.

The fans in Philadelphia missed Jagr even before the Flyers’ fate was sealed this season. The media, too.

By now, though, it’s very old news that the Flyers didn’t offer Jagr a contract last summer. General manager Paul Holmgren admitted Tuesday that the Flyers did attempt to re-sign him, though, in February. Jagr and his agent chose to wait until July before eventually walking, as the organization waited on free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to decide their fates.

But it didn’t have to be that way. Jagr would have welcomed the opportunity to remain a Flyer.

“I was very happy here, everybody knew it,” Jagr said. “I love that team. I love the fans. I love the city. But on the other side, I always believed in God, and I always believed He finds the best place for me.”

When asked if he was upset when the Flyers elected not to re-sign him last summer, Jagr paused for a long time. But he understands how the “free market,” as he referred to it, works. Jagr owns a team in his native Czech Republic; he completely understands the desire of an organization to go after the best possible players available.

That’s just one of the veteran winger’s unique characteristics –- as much as he is still a factor on the ice (he has 35 points in 43 games this season), Jagr also views the sport with a wisdom and outlook usually reserved for coaches and general managers.

And in the case of Parise and Suter, Jagr actually thinks it’s a good thing the Flyers didn’t land either player.

“They’ve got good enough players here,” Jagr said. “They didn’t have to do it. They’re a good enough team here. If they would have a little more patience, I would think this team can win it in two or three years.”

Last May, on the night the Flyers were eliminated from the postseason by the New Jersey Devils, Jagr was the only one in the team’s locker room with a slight smile on his face. The run was over, he knew, but he had loved his time in Philly. Of a career that’s spanned more than two decades, Jagr said his year with the Flyers represented the most fun he’d ever had.

Now, having been in Boston about three weeks, Jagr still feels the same way. But he’s beginning to notice some similarities between his new team and the club with which he spent 2012-13.

“The fans are so good here,” Jagr said. “They follow the sport. Surprisingly, Boston is so similar to Philly. Boston fans, Boston people and Philly people, they love the sport, they love the team. They follow the hockey, they follow the baseball, they follow the football. It’s similar.”

Jagr's effect on the two cities has also been similar, even after just a few weeks in Boston. When asked what Jagr has brought to the Bruins in his nine games with the team, former Flyer Dennis Seidenberg grinned and said, “Everything.”

Coach Claude Julien got a little more specific.

“Good scoring depth and a great example for younger players to see what it takes to be a pro for a long time,” Julien said. “He’s a great teammate, easy to get along with. He’s brought a lot of good things and he’s been a great help for us when he came to us. We had some injuries so he was able to fill in some holes that we really needed filled.”

Jagr signed just a one-year deal during last year’s free agency with the Dallas Stars for $4.5 million, before he was traded to Boston at the deadline earlier this month. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess where he ends up next year. He declined to discuss whether he’d want to return to the Flyers –- though of course it’s a possibility. They could use him.

All that’s basically certain is that he will end up somewhere in the NHL next year, as long as he has a say in the matter. Jagr will be 42 in February, but he’s far from ready to hang up his skates.

“I’ll stop playing when I die, man,” he said, with his trademark Jagr grin.