Thriving Jagr focuses on present, not any what ifs
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VOORHEES, N.J. -- Sometimes, you can learn a lot by watching someone when they do not realize anyone's looking.
Take Jaromir Jagr, for instance.
The majority of Penguins fans might view the sure Hall of Fame right winger as a traitor and user who spurned a chance to prove that you can go home again and wrap yourself in the good graces of people who once greatly appreciated you.
When he returned to the NHL this summer after three seasons playing in Russia, Jagr, 39, did not respond to a one-year, $2 million offer from the Penguins, the team that drafted him out of the still politically dicey Czech Republic and with whom he won two Stanley Cups and became a megastar.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7:08 p.m. today, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
- TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Sergei Bobrovsky for Flyers.
- Penguins: Are 2-1-1 in past four road games. ... Fleury was 1-4 with .886 save percentage vs. Flyers last season. ... D Brooks Orpik has 26 hits over past seven games.
- Flyers: Are 3-1-1 in second of back-to-back games. ... Have played three home games in past 12. ... Matt Read among rookie leaders in goals (10) and points (17) before game Wednesday night at Buffalo.
- Hidden stat: Penguins D Paul Martin has five assists and is plus-3 over past six games.
Instead, he accepted a one-year, $3.3 million contract with the Penguins' most volatile rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.
In a conversation last week, Jagr did not want to analyze what it might be like tonight when the Penguins play in Philadelphia or speculate about how things might have gone if he had resigned with his original team.
"There's no 'if' in life when you choose," he said.
Less than an hour earlier, Jagr looked like anything but the uncaring monster some might believe him to be, but rather like a smart, dedicated hockey player pushing himself to get back from a groin injury.
While his teammates practiced on the main rink at the Flyers practice facility in front of a few fans and an HBO crew doing early filming for "24/7," Jagr worked alone on an adjacent rink.
No fans. No cameras. No security. Not even a trainer or conditioning coach. Just one set of inconspicuous eyes watching through glass from an upper floor.
Over and over, Jagr replicated a game situation. He skated hard. Elegance mixed with power. Long legs and square shoulders in perfect form. Just like when he was a teenager with the Penguins. Then, he adjourned to the bench for a few minutes until the next "shift."
Once, someone sneaked into the rink and waved a puck as Jagr skated along the glass. He could have avoided eye contact, but, instead, stopped, opened a door in the boards and signed the souvenir.
Eventually, the rest of the Flyers joined him for power-play drills. When he wasn't dishing, accepting or shooting the puck, Jagr had a glove off, using his hand to motion as he helped give pointers to teammates.
Just another day for Jagr.
"I just do my job," he said. "I've always wanted to be the best I can be.
"I always enjoy hockey. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't be playing it. I think I was putting a lot more pressure on myself when I was younger. This time, I'm putting a little bit less pressure on myself and just trying to help."
He is doing more than lending a hand with the Flyers. He returned from that groin problem last weekend and going into Philadelphia's game Wednesday night at Buffalo, he was third on the club with 21 points in 21 games. Half his eight goals were on the power play.
"He wants to help everybody. He's done a great job," said Flyers assistant coach Joe Mullen, a Hall of Famer who was one of Jagr's teammates on the Penguins' 1991 and '92 Stanley Cup teams.
"He's put up some good numbers. When a guy leaves the league for a couple of years, you don't know what you're getting back. He's 39 now. For most guys, that's the tail end. To put up some numbers at 39 the way he is, he's a phenomenon. But he was when he was 19, too."
Not to mention the years between.
Jagr, who also has played with Washington and the New York Rangers, has had 15 30-goal seasons, won five scoring titles and one MVP award, made seven postseason All-Star first teams and ranks first among active players in points (1,620) and assists (966), both totals before Wednesday.
With the Flyers, his usual linemates have been Claude Giroux, one of the game's most prolific young players, and Scott Hartnell.
Just in case Jagr was worried that signing with the Penguins would have meant getting bumped to the third or fourth line, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Jagr would have been given the chance to assume a prominent role.
"We were looking at what he could do with our power play ... [and] the possibility of playing with [Sidney] Crosby or [Evgeni] Malkin," Bylsma said.
Jagr does not want to look ahead to the reception he will get three weeks from tonight when the Flyers play at Consol Energy Center.
"You don't know what will happen," he said.
In the meantime, he is enjoying himself.
He has full access to the Flyers' practice facility, and it is not unusual for him to let himself in and go for a skate, by himself or with a teammate or two, and sometimes in the middle of the night.
"He keeps himself in great shape still," Mullen said. "You've got to have the attitude, especially at that age, to come back and play and want to go through all the wars every night."
And do it with some laughs.
After a recent practice, Jagr disappeared into a training area, then came out into a hallway near the locker room wearing shorts and no shirt.
"Are the HBO cameras still here?" he asked to no one in particular, flashing the wide, little-boy grin Penguins fans might remember.
There still is a lot of the Pittsburgh teenager in Jagr, even if he is not in Pittsburgh anymore.
First Published December 8, 2011 12:00 am