BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 02: Jaromir Jagr of Czech Republic skates puck during the IIHF World Championship group D match between Czech Republic and Denmark at Orange Arena on May 2, 2011 in Bratislava, Slovakia. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Jaromir Jagr spoke with the media today, just two days after his surprising decision to sign with the Dallas Stars. As free agency began it was rumored that as many as 21 teams were interesting in the future Hall of Fame player, but the Stars were nowhere near the top of that list. The Penguins, the Flyers and the Canadiens were rumored to be the top destinations for Jagr, and he revealed that his first choice was always Montreal.
"After the season, or even during the season, I thought I was going to sign in Philadelphia," said Jagr to the media on Thursday. "I guess they were waiting for Parise and Suter and I felt I would probably have to wait for a new deal with the Flyers...and I just didn't want to have to wait. The other thing is, I always wanted to play in Canada and I wanted to go Montreal if I had a chance. But Montreal wasn't interested and then all of a sudden I get a phone call from Joe Nieuwendyk and he said the Stars were interested. I was very, very happy."
A big part of that decision came down to the willingness of the team to pay Jagr $4.55 million for the season, but more than anything it was the opportunity for Jagr to play a signficant role with a team that needed his services. While the price tag for many seems high, it's a price the Stars are more than willing to pay for a player that will be a significant boost for the franchise this season.
"I want to play for a team where they feel I can help them and that's the most important thing for me," continued Jagr. "I feel I can play on the top two lines and that's something that's most important thing to me. I don't want to be in the NHL just to sit down, I want to be a big part of the team."
Much, much more after the jump.
Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk has already said he's thinking of Jagr on a line with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson, and according to owner Tom Gaglardi the signing of Jagr has become a turning point for this franchise moving forward.
"It's a process to get to where we want to get, and we understand that you have to take small steps," Gaglardi told Mike Heika of the DMN. "But, to me, this is a big step. We targeted a high end player that several other teams wanted and and we signed him. I think that's a great thing for this organization."
The Stars gave no hints that the they were interested in the pursuit of the legendary forward, but CEO Jim Lites stated that this was a concerted team effort with many people involved -- not just Nieuwendyk and Gaglardi.
"I think we saw from everyone what we can do," Lites said. "(Scout) Jiri Hrdina was over in the Czech Republic and he has known Jagr for a while, and he was a huge factor. Joe (Nieuwendyk) had a couple of nice conversations. I know Jagr was realy impressed with Bob Gainey. Tom (Gaglardi) was a big part of being being able to sell what we are building here. It was a really great experience."
Jagr showed a bit of frustration at not returning to the Flyers, as he's made it known that this past season was the most fun he's had in his career. Yet with Jagr reportedly wanting more than $4 million for this next season and the Flyers pursuing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, it seems that Jagr felt he more of a secondary option and he didn't want to have to wait for the team to decide on other players. He also stated that he felt he wasn't coming back, just because of how the team responded at the end of the season.
"I thought something was going to happen after the season or before free agency, but nothing happened," Jagr said. "That was probably my first sign that I wasn't going to be back. If they had wanted me back, they would have done something. "
One of the biggest questions about his decision to play in Dallas is the fact that he's never played outside of the Eastern Conference and it was felt he wanted no part of the tough travel schedule of a team like the Stars. Yet Jagr quickly laughed off that question and referred to his time playing in the KHL as a sign he's not bothered by the schedule.
"I was three years in Russia and I was playing in Omsk, and our shortest trip was 2.5 hours," said Jagr with a chuckle. "We were flying five and six hours to play teams, so I don't think anything in Dallas will be much different."
One point of concern with Jagr is how his production dropped off the second half of the season, something he says is attributed to an ill-fated decision to drop significant weight midway through the season. He felt that it would make him faster and better able to keep up with the NHL, when it had nearly the opposite effect. Jagr dropped from his normal weight of 240 to 228 pounds, something he says he will not be doing again.
"When you are losing the pounds, it's part of your upper body and you lose power on your shot," Jagr said. "I don't think it was a smart move."
We'll have more on this in a separate post, but Jagr would also talk at length about his experiences with young players and what it takes to be successful in the NHL as one of the best. He was also asked about what he felt about this Stars team and their chances at making the playoffs, and he gave perhaps one of the best responses to such a question I've heard yet.
"The one thing I've learned in my life is that you should never underestimate anybody, ever," said Jagr. "I remember there were years there teams before the season that people said they would win the Stanley Cup, and they never made the playoffs. Look at the Kings last season, they were so close to not making the playoffs and then so dominant in the playoffs. The margin between good teams and small teams is incredibly small. The little details make a huge difference."
When pressed about this Stars in particular, he started laughing to himself before answering.
"I can say whatever I want about Dallas, about the young guys and Derek Roy being traded and this and that. 'I think this team is going to make the playoffs'...I just don't think that way. But I've only missed the playoffs once in my life and I don't want to do that again."