Former Penguins star winger Jaromir Jagr expects to get a hostile reception from fans tonight when he faces his former team as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time tonight at Consol Energy Center.
Jagr signed with the Penguins' most bitter rival last summer after playing three seasons in Russia, spurning an offer to return to the Penguins. Although he was subdued and difficult in a short interview Wednesday when the Flyers practiced in Castle Shannon, Jagr was in a better mood today and granted a nine-minute, wide-ranging interview to a group of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia reporters after the Flyers' morning skate.
Here is a question-and-answer transcript of that session:
Q: Do you like the new arena?
A: I didn't look around.
Q: Is it any different than when you returned here before [with Washington and the New York Rangers]?
A: I'm here with a different team. That's probably the biggest difference. I didn't play the last three years in the NHL. Otherwise, probably the fans are more angry over what happened. That's all.
A: I don't know.
Q: Were you misunderstood when you were here?
A: First of all, I was a different player. My goal was to be the best I could be and help the team. If I didn't play the way I wanted to play, I wasn't very happy. Some people don't care how they play; they just wait for the [word not understandable]. I'm the opposite. I want to be the best every night -- or at least I wanted to be the best every night when I was younger. I felt a big responsibility for the team. I was making the most money, and I felt if I am not going to play well the team's not going to play well. That's the way I feel. Right now I changed because I'm not that good player anymore. I'm just happy to be around the guys, try to help those guys who are better than me.
Q: What are some good memories from your playing days in Pittsburgh?
A: I played the best hockey I ever played, no question about it. The fans supported our teams, even in the tough times. The locker room was good. You've got to understand, the fans don't know everything that happened in the locker room. All they can hear or read is the newspaper and whatever you guys [write] or whatever you guys say, it's a huge opinion. They've got no other information. Sometimes I felt it wasn't right whatever you guys [wrote] or said, but probably I'm not the only one in the world who felt that way. It's part of life. Sometimes you're misunderstood. But I always wanted to play the best I could play for this team. When I was in a bad mood, it was only because I didn't play the way I wanted to play.
Q: Have you talked to [Penguins owner, Hall of Famer and former teammate] Mario Lemieux?
A: No. The last time I talked to him was before the free agency, a few days before that.
Q: What's your relationship with Lemieux been like recently?
A: From my side, nothing has changed with anybody ... maybe a little bit to you [reporters] because some guys are just writing something that's not even true. That's normal. But to the fans, to the ownership, nothing has changed. I'll always love it. Because somebody's booing me, that doesn't mean I'm going to say bad things about the city. Why would I change it? Mario, he showed me the big league. He was my idol since I was 15 years old. He was the best player who ever played hockey -- and he still is. And if he is the owner [of the Penguins] and he is maybe a little bit upset I didn't come here, it still doesn't change my mind how I feel about him.
Q: Do you think there are still fans here who appreciate what you did, your legacy?
A: The boos, it's part of the game. Philly fans boo [Sidney] Crosby. Did he ever play for them? No. Did he do something bad to them? No. He just played for Pittsburgh, and he is good. [Laughs] A lot of guys get booed. That's the way it is.
Q: Signing with Pittsburgh might have meant getting your number retired here or a statue, right?
A: I understand that. And I agree with that. But first of all, was anybody going to guarantee me I was going to play on the first two lines or I'm going to play at all on this [Pittsburgh] team? Anybody going to guarantee that? I felt like the best chance I could play or feel more comfortable with the teams I had [bidding for me] was Philly. The obvious choice would be Pittsburgh -- come here, my idol is the owner, I played here before, maybe there wouldn't be that much pressure because people wouldn't expect anything. But I still want to play on a high level. Those were the choices I had -- be comfortable, or maybe sit or play 10 minutes a game. ... I still want to play. I love the game. I don't think I'm ready to just sit around. I think I still can help a team somehow. With the talent [the Penguins] had -- [Evgeni] Malkin, Crosby, [Staal] -- those guys all want to play a lot of minutes on the ice.
Q: What about helping the Penguins' power play?
A: I didn't think I would get on the power play. That's the way I felt. I didn't know how I was going to play. I have some confidence in [myself] that I'm not going to be that bad. And in Philly there was a totally different team. There was a new team with a lot of young guys. Nobody had anything guaranteed. Here, that's a different story. Everybody's been together for probably five, six years, they won the [Stanley] Cup together. The lines are set up. I don't think I would have had a chance to play -- at least, the way I wanted to play.
Q: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said that you would have played on the power play.
A: When did he say that?
Q: One time was yesterday.
A: Oh, yesterday. Oh. I had to make a decision three months ago.
Q: Bylsma also said that about a month ago.
A: A month ago. Yeah. But what about four months ago?
Q: Did the Penguins say anything to you or [your agent] Petr Svoboda when they made the offer about what kind of role you would play?
A: Nobody will tell you how they want to use you. That's one thing. But you can sometimes read between the lines. I've got nothing against [Penguins winger Tyler] Kennedy [who was a restricted free agent last summer] or guys like that, but if somebody tells you, 'Well, we have to wait for Kennedy,' and he was playing on the third line, well, where am I going to play if you wait for Kennedy before you sign me? I was reading between the lines. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right. Nobody's going to know. Bottom line, I am here, you guys are over there. I'm going to come to the game. Everybody's going to hate me. And I still have to play. OK? Good luck to everybody. See you next time.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org , 412-263-1721 or on Twitter @pgshelly.