Jaromir Jagr met with the media Saturday afternoon after an informal practice at the Dallas Stars' practice facility in Frisco, Texas.
The 40-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Stars this summer after spending last season with the Philadelphia Flyers. Jagr spent the past few months playing for Kladno, the team he owns in the Czech Extraliga.
Jagr is aware of the expectations the Stars have for him entering this season as a big-ticket name, and he wants to live up to those expectations.
"When I decided to sign here, I felt like they were interested and they wanted me here," Jagr told reporters. "On the other side, it's kind of extra motivation to prove the people made the right choice."
The Stars also signed 40-year-old forward Ray Whitney, who brings an impressive resume of his own with 1,003 points in 1,229 NHL games. A trade sent center Steve Ott to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for center Derek Roy, who joins an already talented club that boasts Jamie Benn (a restricted free agent) and Loui Eriksson up front.
There won't be much time for Jagr to familiarize himself with his new teammates. He spent last season in the Eastern Conference and the previous three seasons playing overseas, so he doesn't have much of a scouting report on the Stars.
"I didn't play much against Dallas the last five years because I wasn't here, and last year we played only once," Jagr said. "But of course I know those players and they have a lot of skill. Hopefully we can do some damage this year."
With the compressed schedule, Jagr said he doesn't want to take any extra days off during the season despite his age.
"I'm an old-schooler. I like to practice a lot," Jagr said. "The more I practice, the better I feel. Of course, sometimes you need a day off; but for me, not very often. I feel a lot worse after a day off than if I don't take any."
Jagr said he doesn't feel any added pressure as a potential help to the Stars in terms of selling tickets.
"Of course, I understand that if more people come to the rink, it's better for our owner, it's better for our team," Jagr said. "But I think the most important thing that I've always believed that if you play good hockey and you're going to win, they're always going to come. They like the winners. There's no question about it."
Hello again! After a week, I'm sending all of you my greetings, only now for the first time from Dallas. I have to admit that I left Kladno with a heavy heart, because as I wrote in my last column, I got used to being at home. You know the saying - home sweet home.
Now, I must concentrate on something entirely different. It's a whole new world for me. New city, new club, new teammates. In addition, it’s a different conference of the NHL. So even though you could say that I have seen a lot in my 40 years on earth and there are only a few things that could surprise me, I am still discovering something new. At least I won't get bored.
When it comes to first impressions, I don't have anything to complain about. I am living in a hotel near the training center and I am spending all my spare time training. I am not concentrating on anything else because I'm here for the hockey. Either I’m on the ice or I'm resting - I dont have the energy for anything else. I don’t do a lot of sightseeing, but I never did. I'm going to have enough time for that when I hang up my skates.
Therefore, I don't have much to write about regarding the city of Dallas. I could describe my hotel room to you, because that’s the place I know best, but it's nothing special. I am exaggerating a bit, but it's true that I haven't seen much of Texas during the few days I've been here.
I recall that it was the same at the beginning of my stay in Philadelphia. Training, eating, sleeping. Over and over again. I remember that the people from Sport (Deník Sport, the only Czech sports daily - translator's note) tried to persuade me to go see the famous Rocky Steps in Philadelphia, the ones that he used to run up during his workouts. They wanted a picture of me from there.
I had to admit that the idea itself was pretty good, but I ending up not going. I am not the right guy for these kinds of things. When I am in training, I need all my spare time for resting. As you might understand, training is no joking matter at my age.I will do my best to help the team into the playoffs
To get back to talking about Dallas... I'm happy that I got the keys to the training center. After all, this was my main condition before I even signed the contract with the Stars! It was the most important article that really had to be in the contract.
I'm just kidding a bit again, which I was also doing during one of my first interviews with the American journalists. I pulled some random keys out of my pocket in front of them and claimed that they were the keys to the practice rink.
Are they really the right keys? I am trying to think how you would know if I am telling the truth. Maybe you should just try them for yourselves...
Now, on a more serious note; the schedule ahead of us is going to be extremely challenging. During the opening eleven days, we will play a total of seven games, four of them away. However, I expected that it was going to be crammed like that. Also, it's a lot of hours on the plane.
In that respect, it will be something completely different than in Philadelphia where the majority of our competitors were located much closer. However, I knew this when I signed with Dallas and I am ready. I went through a similar travelling schedule when I played in Russia and I managed to cope with that one too.
Regarding the team, I am getting to know my fellow players. Unfortunately, there's not much time to build proper chemistry on the ice. After a short training camp, we will go straight into the season. Therefore, I don't want to talk about our chances yet, it would be a bit premature.
Regardless, I will do my best to help the team into the playoffs. I'm glad that Dallas gave me a chance and now I feel that I have to return the favor.
Speaking of the playoff atmosphere, I don't think anyone anticipated just how pumped up this crowd would be for opening night. It seemed to be a combination of hockey finally returning after such a long hiatus and having a player like Jaromir Jagr on the ice in a Stars jersey. The fans were great, the atmosphere was great and the only hope is that the momentum with the fans continues to build as the season continues.
Back to the hockey: Jaromir Jagr is incredible. He was the best player on the ice, his puck possession skills are off the charts and it's clear that he's already building some great chemistry with Loui Eriksson. Almost as importantly, Jagr is a hockey legend that these Stars fans are openly and fully embracing. The AAC was sold out because Jagr was on the ice, I guarantee it, and getting two goals and two assists in his Stars debut couldn't have made for a better script.
It was the first year in which Jaromir Jagr really became an NHL offensive superstar.
The 21-year-old Czech winger scored 94 points during the 1992-93 regular season and showed the world that he was ready to dominate the League in the near future. But from his own point of view, he recalls that year almost as if it was a disaster, and not only because it was his first NHL season that didn't finish with a Stanley Cup raised above his head.
"I'd rather erase that season from my memory," Jagr wrote in his Czech biography 'From Kladno to America.' "Until Christmas, I just fought myself. And January was even worse. I scored just three goals during that month and one of them was an empty-netter."
In Jagr's opinion, the only two good things that happened during the 1992-93 campaign were attending the NHL All-Star Game in Montreal and meeting former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who had been a secret idol of Jagr's growing up in communist Czechoslovakia.
In the book, Jagr spoke about issues between him and legendary coach Scotty Bowman.
"I felt like I was in a pressure cooker and it was just a matter of time when I was going to blow up," he wrote. "The thing was that I did not play. Scotty gave me just about two or three shifts per period. I almost did not play any power plays and I got sick and tired of sitting on the bench."
After he earned his second Stanley Cup in his first two years in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992, Jagr set his personal goal for the next season - to score at least 100 points.
"I did not achieve that goal and it felt disappointing," said Jagr, who later won five Art Ross Trophies as the League's leading scorer and a Hart Trophy as the League's most valuable player.
But while Jagr himself does not like to recall the 1992-93 season, he still finished it with 25 more points than the previous year. And for Czech fans, 1992 was the year when Jagr's popularity really started to spread all over the country.
After Jagr's excellent performance in the 1992 Stanley Cup Playoffs, more and more people back home were ready to watch Jagr's magic dekes and moves during late night's broadcasts from North America. He drew more Czech attention to the NHL than any other person before and turned most Czech hockey fans into Pittsburgh Penguins fans.
The fact Jagr comes from Kladno has helped his hometown become the greatest hotbed of current NHL players from the Czech Republic. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Marek Zidlicky, forwards Tomas Plekanec, Jiri Tlusty, Jakub Voracek, Michael Frolik and to a certain extent also Patrik Elias, Tomas Vokoun and David Krejci all grew up in Kladno adoring Jagr and watching him rule over the NHL in the mid-to-late 1990s.
"As kids in Kladno," Plekanec said, "we'd be playing hockey watching Jagr and trying to play like him."
It was like that not only in Kladno, but all over the country.
"Who was my idol? Jagr, of course. Or do you think it could have been somebody else?" said Tomas Hertl, a first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks in the 2012 NHL Draft and probably the brightest Czech prospect today. Hertl grew up playing for Kladno's rival, Slavia Prague.
"He's got such impact in the Czech Republic. And he's got the ability to play here even after a long time [away]. He still has everything: size, strength, hockey sense. We could see him on the ice for many years." --
But there is no rivalry in the Czech hockey world when talking about No 68.
Jagr is a legend, probably the most popular athlete in the history of Czech sports. No one else draws as much attention and no one else gets as much coverage in the news -- from the tabloids to lifestyle magazines of all kinds. In many interviews, Jagr tries to point out the priorities in life and inspire people. Even those who don't care about hockey at all, they listen.
When Jagr played for Kladno in the Czech Extraliga during the NHL lockout, some home games of his club Rytiri Kladno were moved to Prague's O2 arena in order to accommodate bigger crowds. And while the league's average attendance slightly exceeds 5,000 spectators per game, more than 17,000 people went to see Jagr and Co. at almost each game in Prague.
At those games, about one fifth of the fans usually cheered for Kladno, and another fifth for the other team. The rest did not care about the result. They just came to see Jagr.
Jagr's popularity is widespread across all generations, political orientation, towns and provinces.
"I was not surprised at all seeing how Jags made the whole nation crazy while playing in the Czech league," Philadelphia Flyers forward and Czech native Jakub Voracek said. "I also think he will be able to repeat this again when he comes home the next time after his NHL career is over. He's got such impact in the Czech Republic. And he's got the ability to play here even after a long time [away]. He still has everything: size, strength, hockey sense. We could see him on the ice for many years."
But Jagr today is a different type of a role model for young athletes and little kids than he used to be in the '90s. In 1993, people liked his light-hearted smile, his carefree approach and frisky character. But there were some who did not like him, for Jagr was also a superstar in the negative meaning of that word. He had gambling issues, he had issues with his coaches, he did not like to backcheck -- he was basically an independent player in a team game.
"The most important thing for me was to score goals. I felt that was the best way to help the team," Jagr explained. "Goal scored by number 68 - to hear that, that was my motivation. But today, the best feeling for me is when our team wins. I used to love the games such as Penguins vs. the Rangers, those usually ended 7-5 or 8-7. Today, the best match-ups for me are when we win 2-1 because we fought as a team to the very last second."
In 2012, there is a different Jagr -- a grown, wise man. He changed his approach to put the team first. He helps young players grow, he works harder on and off the ice than ever before.
His late night practices became well known in Philadelphia the same way they did in Kladno. When he recorded one of those practices (including skating with ankle weights and a 50-pound vest) on camera and put it on Facebook, it instantly turned into a viral hit among Czech and Slovak fans.
There might have been some in the Czech Republic who did not like the early version of Jagr from the '90s. But today, there are none.
There may be some people there who do not care about hockey. But there are none who don't care about Jagr.
It was past 10 o'clock on Tuesday night, and the Dallas Stars were going through the usual postgame routine. Some players rode stationary bikes in the middle of the visitors' dressing room at Joe Louis Arena, pushing so hard they were out of breath. Others stretched on the floor.
Jaromir Jagr's postgame routine includes a weighted vest and media scrums. And then there was Jaromir Jagr.
Out in the hallway – where equipment guys loaded gear into a truck parked indoors, where arena workers pushed carts of beer into a huge cooler, where reporters scurried to the media room to file their game stories, where all sorts of family and friends and hangers-on gathered to catch a glimpse of backstage glamour – Jagr did his own thing, as he always does.
He wore a weighted vest. He wore weights on his ankles. On the grungy concrete floor, along the spartan cinderblock wall, he did deep-knee bends. He did lunges from side to side. He did sprints.
Jagr walked into the dressing room, his hair a wet mop, sweat dripping through his salt-and-pepper stubble. He did an interview with a Czech TV crew and a couple of North American writers. Some of his teammates stared.
"This one's not much," Jagr said, looking down at his weighted vest. "Twenty-five pounds."
So there are heavier ones?
"I've got 45 [pounds]," he said. "I've got to wait. Before playoffs."
He burst out laughing.
"Don't want to show them everything now."
This is like Philadelphia all over again. When Jagr returned to the NHL last season, after three years in the Kontinental Hockey League, the moody superstar had morphed into a wise old man. He asked for a key to the practice facility so he could work out late at night. He was a mentor, especially for young star Claude Giroux. He was still a dynamic, productive player.
The Stars are counting on Jagr to be an example for the team's younger players.When Jagr arrived in Dallas, he asked for a key to the practice facility. A team official had suggested he work with a realtor to find a big place in a beautiful neighborhood, but Jagr chose an extended stay at a mid-range hotel about a block-and-a-half from the rink. Three of the first four nights he was in town, he was working out at approximately 11 p.m. The Stars think he will help Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn, if and when Benn signs as a restricted free agent.
So far, so good. Jagr had two goals and two assists in the Stars' opener, a 4-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, and he was strong in a 1-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Bill Peters did the pre-scout on the Stars before Tuesday night's game. When head coach Mike Babcock asked him whom the Wings needed to watch, the first name Peters mentioned was Jagr's.
"It could have been Eriksson or [Kari] Lehtonen or lots of guys, but it was Jagr," Babcock said. "So obviously he's a high-end player still."
Jagr was strong again in the Stars' 2-1 victory over the Wings. It's only a matter of time before he gets the two goals he needs to reach 669, overtaking Luc Robitaille for 10th place on the NHL's all-time list. He's already eighth on the all-time scoring list and the league’s active scoring leader with 1,657 points.
"He's not just playing because of who he is. He plays because he can still play and because he loves it. That's what amazes me," said Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas, a 35-year-old veteran. "I think he's just a good influence for young guys and even for a guy like myself. Sometimes you're like … You don't feel as good some days, and you see him walk in the locker room and he's smiling, and life is beautiful. With everything he's done before, that's pretty impressive."
* * * * *
It seems obvious why the Stars signed Jagr and why Jagr signed with the Stars. After four years out of the playoffs, with too many empty gray seats at the American Airlines Center, the Stars needed to sell tickets. Who better than the most accomplished scorer in the league? They also needed to reach the salary floor and gave Jagr a one-year, $4.5 million contract. Who else was going to pay him that at his age? But there is more to the story.
At this time last year, the Stars were not planning on pursuing flashy free agents. They were focused on drafting and developing, the long-term plan to re-establish themselves in what had been the highest-revenue market in the NHL in 2003 and a top-10 market as recently as '08. But they had a new owner in Tom Gaglardi – no more bankruptcy, no more lender headaches, no more league control – and that meant they could spend and hire again.
Dallas also bolstered its roster with the addition of 40-year-old Ray Whitney. (AP).Gaglardi brought back Bob Gainey as a senior advisor to hockey operations. He involved Mark Recchi, a former NHLer and one of his partners with the Western Hockey League's Kamloops Blazers. When the staff met at the draft in Pittsburgh, Recchi pointed out how signing the right veterans could help the Stars draft and develop. It could buy time for the kids to get ready, take pressure off them, give them examples to follow.
"It's not that you want to go old," said Stars president Jim Lites. "It's that you want to build your team around players that can influence other players and build the right way."
Recchi suggested two Phoenix Coyotes free agents: Shane Doan, a fellow partner with the Blazers, and Ray Whitney, a former Carolina teammate. The Stars signed Whitney to a two-year, $9 million deal.
And then there was Jaromir Jagr.
The Flyers had put Jagr on hold while pursuing Ryan Suter, and Jagr didn't want to wait. Agent Petr Svoboda reached out to the Stars to gauge their interest. Recchi, who had played with Jagr in Pittsburgh, reached out to Jagr.
The Stars liked the idea of Whitney and Jagr showing the youngsters how long they could play if they took care of themselves, and they liked the idea of Jagr on a line with Benn and Eriksson. A one-year deal came with limited risk.
Jagr wanted to play on the top line and first power play, as he had in Philadelphia. The money had to be important from a pure dollar standpoint, but it also showed respect and implied a role and responsibility. (What about the travel? No, Jagr had never played in the West before in the NHL. But remember: He had played in Omsk in the KHL. That's travel.) The deal was done July 3.
"Some teams if you go, you don't get the opportunity to play a lot from the start," Jagr said. "Now I get it, and it's up to me. If I'm gonna play good, I'm gonna play. If don't, I don't deserve it. Plus, I felt like they're interested to have me."
Lites said the Stars increased their season-ticket base by 12 percent before Sept. 16, when the NHL lockout began and business stopped. They filled their building for the opener and sold 75 Jagr jerseys that night, far more than any other player's.
They have a lot more work to do to recover from the bankruptcy and the losing and the lockout. They have not sold out Thursday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks or Saturday night's game against the St. Louis Blues. This is the home of the Cowboys, Mavericks and Rangers, owned by Jerry Jones, Mark Cuban and Nolan Ryan. You have to go big in Big D.
But Jagr is big. As nice as it was to add Mike Modano as an executive advisor, bringing the former face of the franchise back into the fold, Modano doesn't play anymore.
"Don't think we don't think about marketing all the time, and it doesn't hurt to have great veteran players on your team," Lites said. "It's hard not to fall in love with Jagr."
Especially when he says stuff like this:
"I think the fans gonna come when the team's gonna win," Jagr said. "They're gonna come first game. They're gonna come second game. If they see you work hard and you're winning and you're attractive – you play attractive hockey – they're gonna come. That's what they're waiting for. Of course, some of them, they're mad. I don't blame them. But it's up to us how we're gonna play to make them come to the rink."
* * * * *
Last faceoff, season opener. Jagr tapped coach Glen Gulutzan on the shoulder on the bench. He had two goals. Did he want to get out there to go for the hat trick? No. He wanted to remind Gulutzan to put two centers on the ice, in case one got tossed from the circle.
Stars coach Glen Gulutzan says Jagr has bought in to Dallas' structure and strategy Morning skate, Tuesday. Jagr sat on top of the boards at the Stars bench, running his finger over a rink diagram, discussing strategy with Gulutzan, while the rest of the team went through drills. The Stars hadn't gotten to the net enough in their 1-0 loss to the Wild, and Jagr, the almost-41-year-old vet, was sharing ideas with the 41-year-old coach.
"This is not all-star, when you play wide-open game and just go home next day," Jagr said, reminding reporters the Stars had six days of training camp and no preseason games. "You have to learn. It doesn't happen over one night. This league is too good just to go and play. You have to be in structure. You have to play the details or you don't have a chance to win in this game."
Gulutzan is willing to listen – he tweaked a route on the power play, so Jagr could get the puck in a certain spot with speed the way he likes it – as long as Jagr is willing to do things in return, like commit to stopping, coming back and playing hard defensively.
"It is a give and take," Gulutzan said. "So far we've talked about those openly, what the give and take is, and he's 100 percent on board. He's not 99 percent on board. He's 100 percent on board."
Jagr said you look at hockey a little differently when you're older. When you're young, you don't think about the team. You're more selfish. But when you're older, you want to help the team. You want to do whatever it takes. You don't want to be the guy who made the mistake to lose the game.
You can wonder about that. If it's all about the team, why didn't Jagr go to a team with a better chance to win even if he had to accept a lesser role? Why didn't he stay in Philly?
Well, there is what you do when you choose a team and what you do once you're on one, and this is Jagr. He has a unique perspective, balancing the business and the sport. During the lockout, he played for the team he owns in his hometown of Kladno, Czech Republic. He helped revive a franchise, and he did it not just by showing up to play, but by playing a leading role and scoring 57 points in 34 games.
He loves a challenge. He loves to practice. He thinks age doesn't matter as long as you're healthy, and so he lives near the rink and works out late at night and wears his weighted vest after games. He wants to keep playing a leading role in the NHL before going back to Kladno again.
"You play [as long as] you love the game, when you love it, when you want to be with that game," Jagr said. "It's like a marriage, I think. Would you have imagined you're going to stay with your wife that long? Well, you love her. You're going to stay with her as long as you can. If you don't, there's no reason to be with her. It's the same thing with hockey for me. I just love the game."
The NHL and the player's union have rules in place on veterans who qualify for a single room; Jagr has been in the league for so long he has had his own room forever.
The team didn't arrive to the hotel until 2:30 a.m., at which point Rademan just started handing guys room keys. That was fine except no one wanted to room with veteran Jagr. They were all too intimidated because he's Jaromir Jagr.
It was mostly the young guys who shyed away from rooming with one of the best players in NHL history. That left the team's director/producing of TV broadcasting, Mark Vittorio.
"He was actually a really good sport about it," Vittorio said. "We talked a little tennis and it was fine. The only problem might have been that I snore."
I asked Jagr if Vito's snoring was indeed a problem.
"Oh, (bleeping) unbelievable," he said. "I feel bad for his wife."
allas Stars forward Jaromir Jagr is going to be day-to-day due to back issues, according to Mark Stepneski of the Dallas Stars official website.
Jagr suffered an injury in the third period of Thursday night's overtime loss against the Chicago Blackhawks. After being evaluated by the team's medical staff it was determined that he would not return to the game. During the postgame, head coach Glen Gulutzan was unable to give an update about Jagr's status.
On Friday morning, reports from practice detailed that the 40-year-old forward was not on the ice surface. It was later learned that he had been participating in off-ice workouts. Obviously, with a day-to-day projection, it remains unclear whether he will be available for the team's game against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.
In four games played with the Stars this season, Jagr has registered two goals and two assists for a total of four points. That total was compiled during the team's first game of the season against the Phoenix Coyotes.