Jagr makes NHL return sound possible
Jagr, who scored a goal and looked dominant in the Czech Republic's 5-2 win over Latvia, wouldn't say definitively what his plans are, but it's obvious that he's already weighing his options and a return to the NHL is enticing.
He turned 38 on Monday, but does not feel his age is a factor because he's been practicing hard for two years on the larger European ice surface and is in better shape than when he left.
"NHL is a special League, no question about it. It has a lot of history and I think I was playing 18 years in the NHL and then I decided I am going to go back to Russia, and I can not say anything about my decision because I said I am not going to look back," Jagr said. "I'm just going to finish my contract there and then I am going to make a decision what I'm going to do next. But they treat me so well in Russia that it would be tough to leave them. On the other side, I want to maybe try to come here."
Jagr left the NHL after the 2007-08 season and signed a two-year contract to play with Avangard Omsk of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, honoring a promise he made back in 2005.
Jagr played in Omsk during the NHL's work stoppage in 2004-05 and enjoyed his time there so much that he told the owners and the community that he would one day come back and play there again.
At the time Jagr signed to play in Omsk, it was assumed he would finish his career there. Now he's thinking about a return to the NHL and if he chooses to come back he would become an intriguing option on the free agent starting July 1.
"I think after those two years I spent in Russia I'm going to be a better player than I was before I left," Jagr said. "I know that. I found that out the year during the lockout. I was playing the whole year in Russia and I came back and I had probably the best year I had in New York."
Jagr put up 123 points on 54 goals and 69 assists in 2005-06, helping the Rangers make the playoffs for the first time since 1996-97. He said the larger European ice surface and the intensity of the practices have kept him in better shape than he was in the NHL.
"Guys, it's not easy to play there," Jagr said. "You practice a lot harder than in the NHL. On the big ice you have to skate. I play a lot on the big ice. Sometimes I will play on two lines. I think if I decided to come back, I'm think I'm going to be a better player than before I left."
"I always said I love it in Russia," Jagr said. "I love it in the NHL and I love it in Russia. Whatever happens happens, and I'll be satisfied with everything."
It is interesting that Jagr loves it in Russia. Simply put, his uniform number would suggest otherwise.
Jagr wears 68 as a tribute to his grandfather, who died in prison when the Prague Spring was crushed by Soviet tanks in 1968. However, he plays in Russia and never misses a moment to laud the country.
"I didn't take the 68 against the Russians. I took the 68 against the Communists," Jagr told NHL.com. "It's a different story. It's like if I would have 45 on a jersey and everybody would say you had it because of the Germans in the second war -- no, it would be against the Nazis. I did it because of my grandfather. That's why I did it."
Of course, since the Czechs play the Russians in the first game Sunday, Jagr will know a lot of the KHL guys quite well.
"I would say I'm good friends with lots of those guys. They're great hockey players," he said. "I respect them very much. There's no question about it. And, it's going to be a tough game. But I think we have a good enough team to beat anybody."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com