PAUL HOLMGREN: We just wanted more than anything to give Jaromir a chance to take care of you guys, and give you a chance to meet him and talk to him. We’re obviously very excited to have Jaromir join us this summer through free agency, and bring him back to the NHL. We feel he’s still going to be a good player in our league, and we’re looking forward to seeing him do good things for the Flyers this year.
Q: Why was this the right fit for you at this point?
JAROMIR JAGR: Well, I already answered that question a couple months ago when some of you guys asked me. I had some teams that were interested in me and when I came back to the NHL, I didn’t want to come back just to sit around. I wanted to still prove that I could play hockey on a high level. When the Flyers asked me if I would be interested in coming back to play for their team, I was thinking about it and I felt like it would be a good fit for me. There were a lot of changes, a lot of new guys.
Q: What’s the biggest adjustment for you coming back into North America?
JAGR: You’ve got to wait and see. I cannot answer that after the first practice. A lot of people think the league has changed. A lot of young guys, a little bit quicker – I wasn’t here for the last three years, but it’s not like I didn’t play hockey for the last three years. I didn’t retire. I was just playing in a different league on different ice. I think that’s going to be the biggest difference, the ice, and it’s going to take me some time to adjust. But hopefully it’s going to be quick.
Q: What do you say to people who ask if you still have anything left at age 39?
JAGR: Well, I’m not going to say anything right now. There’s probably a lot of people wondering if I still can play. It’s fine with me. I’m not 21, trying to prove something with my words. We’ll just have to wait and see. I can promise you one thing, that I’m going to give it my best shot to play on a high level. Don’t forget, I’m 39. I didn’t come here just to impress myself. I’m not saying I’m going to be dominating, I’m not saying I’m going to play good. But I can promise you I’m going to do all the right things to play.
Q: Can you talk about your relationship with Michael Nylander?
JAGR: We played pretty good hockey together. I came from Russia and Michael signed with the Rangers. It was a totally different league after the lockout. It was the first time there was a salary cap. There were a lot of guys who got the opportunity to show that they can play. We’re lucky. We were on the New York Rangers. The team before us, there was so many superstars and so many great players, and they didn’t make the playoffs for the last seven years before us. I think it was our advantage to just show we could play as a team, and I think the first year we had success as a team.
Q: How tough has it been the last couple weeks with the Lokomotiv plane crash?
JAGR: It was tough. That’s life. Sometimes life can be tough, for everybody. Sometimes life brings you something said, and you just have to feel sorry for the families of the players. You just have to sometimes think that life is a little bit more than anything [here]. It gets me thinking that it could happen to anybody, anywhere. That’s why you should enjoy every minute of your life.
Q: You won two Cups in your first two years, and now you’re 39 years old. Is that part of the reason why you’re back in this league, that you’re hungry to win another Cup?
JAGR: Well, to be honest, when I came in the league, I was 18 years old. During the Communist years, there were not many people [in Czechoslovakia] who knew about the NHL. All we knew about were the Olympics and [Czech hockey]. That was my first time out of the house, I was a little bit homesick, and I wanted to go home after the season, but we kept winning and winning and then we won the Stanley Cup. I didn’t appreciate what I won. I thought it was going to be like that every year. We had a great team, I was pretty lucky – I was playing with a lot of great players that I could learn from. That was probably the best thing that happened to me in my hockey career. Before every season, there’s 30 teams – before there was 21, but now there’s 30 teams who are trying to win it, and look how tough it is to win it. You have to be a good team but you have to be lucky, and stay away from injuries, that’s very important. I think this team has a big shot to do it and I want to be part of it.
Q: Do you think you disappointed Pittsburgh fans by signing in Philadelphia?
JAGR: I don’t want to go back to that again. First of all, when I was making the decision, I never thought that Pittsburgh fans would want me back. Every time I played there, they were booing me every time I touched the puck. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal that I didn’t sign with Pittsburgh. On the other side, it was my decision, and it was the second time I’d been a free agent in 21 years. I never really was a free agent. Every time I almost was a free agent, the team signed me for a long term. The first time was when I was 36 and I decided to go to Russia, so this was the second time I was a free agent. I had a chance to do what I thought was best for me. If I hurt anybody, I apologize, because I didn’t want to, but on the other side I just don’t understand why people can be that mad about my decision.
Q: What do you remember about the Flyers/Penguins rivalry?
JAGR: The Flyers were always tough to play against. They had big guys and always drafted big guys, strong guys that were playing very physical. I remember I had a tough time playing them. Nobody wanted to play the Flyers back then. You knew it was going to hurt to play this team. That’s what I remember the most.
Q: What are your early impressions of James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux?
JAGR: I wasn’t here for three years, and I said it before – a lot of guys who are stars here, they had just started when I was leaving. I think after the first practice you cannot really say, but I was watching on Youtube and on NHL.com, some highlights of those players. I wanted to make sure to see what kind of players we had on the team. They were scoring big goals and they were kind of impressive. Those guys are very skilled and they’re very good around the net, and were making good decisions. And that’s great.
Q: Are you the type of player to offer advice to young players?
JAGR: Of course, there’s no question about it. I had it when I was younger, and I said it before – it was probably the best thing that happened to me when I was drafted by Pittsburgh, that I had a chance to play with such great players. Not only great players, but hard-working guys. It was no accident that the Penguins in the early 90s were the best team in the NHL. If you would see all those guys, how they work after practices – Ulf Samuelsson, Rick Tocchet, Kevin Stevens, all those guys – they were competing with each other and I was trying to compete with them. That’s what put me at a different level. If somebody asks me for advice, of course I’m going to help them.
Q: When you put that orange jersey on yesterday, was there any pause in your mind?
JAGR: like “what am I doing?” (laughter)
Q: Did it even cross your mind? It’s a big deal for people here because you’re really only remembered for what you did in black and gold.
JAGR: Well hopefully it’s a good big deal for the people. I would appreciate it if they’re happy I came. All I can tell them is I’ll do the maximum to not disappoint them. I don’t know if I’m going to play good or bad, I can’t answer that one. But I’m 100 percent sure I’m going to do everything to play well.
Q: Did you miss the NHL?
JAGR: I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. But three years ago when I made the decision to go to Russia, I said I’m not going to think about it. That wouldn’t make me any better to worry about if I made a good decision or a bad decision. I was pretty sure back then that that’s the last time I’d play in the NHL, but once again, you can never say never. You never know what life is going to bring you.
Q: What part of your game remains the best?
JAGR: Well, that answer should probably come from somebody else. I thought my game was always on the boards. I felt I was strong enough to hold the puck and play one-on-one. Hopefully that will be the case this year, making good decisions in the offensive zone. I’ve never been known as a defender (laughter) but nobody would ask me that if I was scoring.
Q: Are you looking at this as your last year?
JAGR: Well, that’s why I was looking to sign for one year, because I don’t know. If I was confident I could be very good for this team and could help them a lot, I would be thinking more, but right now I don’t know. And I don’t want to have two years and be here just to be here. I want to be a plus for this team.
Q: Paul, what do you think the biggest asset is that Jaromir brings to this team?
HOLMGREN: Personally, I’m really excited to see Jaromir play for the Flyers. Watching them all those years with Pittsburgh and then with the Rangers, he’s a star. He’s been a star. Our decision in the summertime to pursue him, and it was just a shot in the dark as you remember – you have an opportunity to add one of the best offensive players who’s ever played the game. I think Jaromir’s not giving himself due credit here. He’s still a good player in the offensive zone, he can still hold on to the puck and make plays, his shot is tremendous, I think his training regimen, what he does – we’ve only seen bits and pieces over the last few days but it’s second to none. Anything that he does off the ice is going to be looked at by our young players as “holy mackerel.” From a role model standpoint and what we believe he’s going to do on the ice for us, I think it’s going to all be good things.
Q: Did you come back in those three years very much and speak the English language?
HOLMGREN: I can tell you that – no, he hasn’t, because when we talked about doing this press conference, he said ‘oh, my English, not good.’ But he’s doing OK.
JAGR: Yeah, I think I was here once. It was tough because the training camp in Europe started a little bit earlier because the season started a bit earlier. The season finished a little bit earlier, but then I had to get ready for the world championships. I only had one month off the last few years, and I wanted to spend more time with my family and my parents, because you never know.
Q: You played with Joey Mullen…
JAGR: Yeah, that’s a sad thing… (laughter)
Q: Knowing what he knows about power plays, does that help the line of communication?
JAGR: Well, don’t forget, that was 40 years ago. (laughter) Hockey has changed. There was not much video. Now the penalty killing is so organized. All the teams who play against you know what you like to do and even if you’re skilled players, they always figure out what you’re trying to do, and you have to be one step ahead and be able to change during the game. It’s not easy to score anymore – not even 5-on-3. It’s pretty tough.