Camp Tour: Jagr wants to prove Flyers' faith in him wasn't a mistake
VOORHEES, N.J. -- There has always been something guileless about Jaromir Jagr. Unfiltered. Transparent.
He may have had his detractors over the years, but with Jagr, what you see is what you get.
After another day of Philadelphia Flyers training camp Sunday, he was open about what motivates him as he tries to resume a Hall of Fame NHL career after a three-season detour in the Kontinental Hockey League.
He is ninth all-time with 1,599 points and will become the active player with the highest points total when he steps back on the ice, yet there remains a great sense of the unknown about him.
What can he do? How will it work?
"I don't think nervous is the word. If I do bad, I do bad, you know what I mean?" Jagr said. "But I don't want to disappoint the guys who signed me here. That's why I want to do good. I want to do good to help those guys, help the team that signed me and gave me a chance."
He talked about the down games, the years he had during his NHL career and how it won't be anything new if he can't cut it this time; but he appreciated that GM Paul Holmgren and the Flyers opened their doors to him (and gave him a one-year, $3.3 million deal) when there was more than a little skepticism about what he might accomplish.
"This situation is different. There's a lot of doubters," Jagr said. "Why [did] Philly sign me? 'Why [did] they do it? Why [did] they sign a 40-year-old guy?' If it would be about me only, I don't care. I can survive, that's life. But I don't want the other guys who took the risk to be kind of blamed. That's why I want to do good, to help them, to make it easy for them."
His situation is unique.
After winning five scoring titles, two Stanley Cups and a Hart Trophy, among other accomplishments, Jagr quietly departed for Russia after the 2007-08 season. There was always a sense he would return, but when one season became two and then three, it wasn't so much whether Jagr would return, but whether he could.
After being courted by Pittsburgh, Detroit and Montreal, Jagr made a surprise choice in signing with Philadelphia. His return and what he might (or might not) accomplish will be one of the most compelling storylines of this new NHL season. He even remains a bit of a mystery to his new team.
"I didn't know how hard he trained," Holmgren said Sunday. "I don't know if that's a change from early in his career, but he's a fanatic about conditioning, about nutrition, about doing the right thing in preparing to play the game."
The other night in his first preseason action, Jagr scored on a wicked shot, but still wasn't pleased with his play.
AP Photo/Tony DingJaromir Jagr signed a one-year deal with the Flyers after spending the past three seasons in the KHL.
"We all thought he had a pretty good game the other night in Detroit and he's hard on himself. He said, 'Ah, it wasn't enough, I've got to better, I got to get quicker,'" Holmgren said. "It's actually pretty refreshing and probably shows you why he's been an elite player for as long as he has been."
Teammate Scott Hartnell referenced that goal, too, saying he figured about 30 of those will make Holmgren look pretty darned good for the signing.
"Obviously, Jaromir Jagr, just the name, it's a household name in the hockey world if you know anything hockey," Hartnell said. "Just being the player that he is, you'd think that he'd come in with a little bit of an attitude; not necessarily talk down to guys, but sometimes you have guys with a little bit of attitude that think they're better than everybody else. But it's been the exact absolute opposite of that.
"He's always got a little smirk on his face, just looks like he's a little kid, kind of almost in his first year," Hartnell added. "He's just kind of silent and he kind of hears all the chirps of other guys kind of chirping around."
Hartnell recalled a backhanded saucer pass Jagr sent him in a recent practice.
"I ended up scoring on it and it was just like, 'Geez, not many people can make those passes.' You kind of think he's been out of the league a few years, maybe he's lost a step or his skill, but obviously he was playing in a good league over in Russia," Hartnell said. "He works so hard in practices, he's up in the gym working out. He wants to prove something to all the doubters out there, and obviously for himself, to have a great season and win a Stanley Cup here in Philly."
A reporter started to ask Jagr about a comment he made after the second of back-to-back Cups he won in Pittsburgh early in his career and Jagr broke into a grin. He knew what was coming, his comment about how he didn't need anything but money, girls and beaches after winning the two championships.
"I was dumb. Maybe I still am, but I was 19, 20 years old," he said with a smile.
Certainly at this stage of Jagr's career, you would expect his perspective to be different, and it is. He believes things happen for a reason, even the bad things, and whatever individual accomplishments a person achieves, they are inconsequential compared to what a group can accomplish.
"If you win something together, if you win as a team, 10 years later, nobody remembers whoever scored the goal. Everybody remembers the winner," Jagr said. "When you're younger, you don't think about it. But ... how many points I scored when we won the first Cup? Nobody knows. But everybody knows I won the Cup and I was part of the team that won the Cup."
He is hoping to find that kind of shared dream here in Philadelphia.
"I wanted to come here and enjoy the hockey, and help those guys and they would help me and kind of work together through the season," Jagr said. "Whatever the coach tells me, I want to do. Hopefully, I don't have to prove anything, but I want to do the best I can."