PHILADELPHIA -- You didn’t have to hear Shawn Thornton yelling “Hey Jags . . . didn’t you play in Philly?” to know that 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr’s first return to Philadelphia was going to cause a stir.
Jagr, who left the Flyers for Dallas as a free agent, was trying to keep his return as low-key as possible and passed up a chance to jump in the middle of center ice and lead the Bruins team stretch following Tuesday’s morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. But he couldn’t avoid the crush of inquisitive Philly reporters and others while talking about his latest stop in the city he left for the Stars.
“Maybe we didn’t beat New Jersey to go a little further in the playoffs, but I had fun," Jagr said of his 2011-12 season with the Flyers. "I came back from Russia and I was missing the [NHL] energy a little bit. The fans are really good here and they know the sport. Surprisingly, Boston is a lot like Philly. Boston fans and Boston people are just like Philly people. They follow the hockey. They follow the baseball. They follow the football. It’s similar."
After the season, the Flyers -- looking to bolster their roster with a few more stars, and needing money under the salary cap -- wanted to put the re-signing of Jagr on hold while they pursued high-priced free agents like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Jagr, saying at the time that though he wanted to stay in Philly he also "didn't want to wait," signed a free-agent deal with the Stars.
"It all happened a year ago and you can’t bring it all back," he said Tuesday. "So you shouldn’t worry about it. I understand [the Flyers] wanted to get the best players on the free market. They’re a good enough team here, anyway.”
Just like Jagr was effective in Philadelphia with 19 goals and 54 points in 73 games for the Flyers last season, he has been nearly a point-per-game player in Boston with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in nine games since arriving from the Stars at the trade deadline. It was his goal -- a pure goal-scorer’s strike to the top shelf on a curl-and-drag move -- that got Boston’s offense going against Florida in the B's 3-0 win over the Panthers on Sunday.
He’s been skating on the third line with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg, and said he has “accepted that role” after a chat with the Bruins coaching staff about creating three strong offensive forward lines upon his arrival.
“I come [to Boston] and I play on the third line," he said. "But I don’t complain. I get a lot of ice time. The coach explained to me that he wants three good lines, and I’m fine with that. I’m fine with that, and I love it.”
One thing Jagr doesn’t love is sitting down and not playing. There was some thought that perhaps the 41-year-old could benefit from being a healthy scratch in one of the four final regular-season games prior to the playoffs, but Jagr isn’t having any of that. The future Hall of Famer calls himself a “freak,” and says that he actually gets more tired by sitting around and doing nothing.
“If I’m healthy, I want to play,” said Jagr, who has averaged upwards of 19 minutes of ice time per game since arriving in Boston. “I feel more tired when I rest. I have to play all the time. I have to practice a lot, and I have to play. My body is kind of different. I get tired when I have a rest. I would rather play two games. If it was a doubleheader like in baseball, I would feel the best.
“Too bad there are no doubleheaders in hockey. I’d be the best. I would feel even better in the second game.”
That’s a scary thought: Jagr even better than he is right now carrying defenders on his back while he makes scoring plays in the offensive zone with his hands, size and beautiful hockey mind.