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

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

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.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.