Flyers' Jagr prepares quietly for playoff round against Penguins
VOORHEES, N.J. — Even at 40, his dominant days of hockey admittedly behind him, Jaromir Jagr can still make a move that will leave everybody shaking their heads in disbelief.
He did it again Monday, declining to speak after his Philadelphia Flyers' first practice for a Stanley Cup first-round playoff showdown with the Penguins.
One of the first Flyers players in the dressing room at their practice facility, he disappeared quickly — even before teammates could compliment him for all the good he has done for them this season.
Surely Max Talbot, like Jagr a once heroic Penguin, could not have predicted that, not after detailing how Jagr "came here since Day 1 and had a huge smile on his face."
There were no smiles from Jagr on Monday.
Scott Hartnell did smile as he described the manner in which his fellow linemate shocked him this season.
"I was expecting a, uh, cocky superstar to come in and run the room," Hartnell said. "You just have these perceptions of a big-time player like that who has made a lot of money in his career, has obviously won Cups and scoring titles — and he was the exact opposite of all those things."
If any word best fits Jagr perhaps it is "was."
He was the second-most popular player in Penguins history.
He was the in-his-prime superstar that would lead the Capitals to new heights.
He was always intent on playing in New York.
His heart was in Pittsburgh.
Jagr is the man who asked to be traded from the team for which he served as captain; underperformed his way out of Washington; chose Russia over Manhattan because of better pay; and, most infamously last summer, authorized his agent to open surprise negotiations with the Flyers on eve of free agency.
Everybody in Philadelphia is all in on Jagr, to the point that local McDonald's restaurants are selling fruit smoothies for 68 cents.
Teammates credit him with helping Claude Giroux go from good to great, a top-three scorer in his first season centering a line with Jagr. Teammates also share tales of Jagr's legendary late-night workouts, how he will go directly from talking politics at dinner to taking two-hour runs while wearing a weighted vest. They say he is as down-to-earth as a future Hockey Hall of Famer and top-10 all-time scorer could ever be.
"If I didn't know hockey and I saw him and had a conversation with him, I'd have no clue who he was," Wayne Simmonds said.
There is that word again — was.
Jagr was not the one talking about his future in the final week of this past June, when big posts in the hockey world — Pittsburgh, Detroit, Montreal and Prague — were abuzz about his impending return to the NHL after three years in the KHL.
He received one call from Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux, engaged in one chat with general manager Ray Shero, and then disappeared — literally, for days, nobody could pin down his whereabouts — as his latest agent, Petr Svoboda, played a game of contract chicken with the Penguins, Red Wings and Canadiens.
But in the days leading up to his big moment, as the situation grew more pressurized, Jagr remained silent, leaving those who thought they knew him to speak for him.
Perhaps Jagr, as a member of the Flyers media relations staff explained, really did just have" to get going" Monday.
Still, Jagr, voted by Flyers beat reporters as the most cooperative player on the team, curiously opted out of offering his opinion only two days before his postseason return in the city where four years ago he played his last playoff game.
And something one of Jagr's current Flyers teammates said about his triumphant-turned-tumultuous 11-year tenure with the Penguins probably strikes at the very core of this man who chose yesterday to stay surprisingly silent.
"I remember watching him with the Penguins when I was young; he was a big hero," said Jakub Voracek, like Jagr a native of the Czech Republic.
"I remember watching him and wondering how he could do all those moves."
Jaromir Jagr is one of the more reputable big-game players in NHL history, with 15 or more points five times in the Stanley Cup playoffs. His career playoff statistics: