After a week of hype and anticipation, Jaromir Jagr did his best to precede his Calgary Flames debut with a reminder he and everyone watching needed to keep it real.
“It’s not going to be very good,” said Jagr, mere hours before his remarkable return to the NHL Wednesday night at age 45.
“But hopefully, (after playing) some games, it’ll be better.”
True to his word, Jagr was pedestrian in a game that quickly saw his 1,712th NHL contest overshadowed by one of his 10 teammates who wasn’t born when the Czech legend made his NHL debut in 1990 – Matthew Tkachuk.
The 19-year-old Tkachuk had the type of night Jagr used to enjoy 20 years earlier with two goals, eight shots and a bull’s-eye on his back.
Tkachuk was one of the many starry-eyed Flames who’ve wholly embraced the arrival of Jagr, promising to learn as much as possible from the greybeard who actually opened the evening with a dangerous offensive foray thwarted by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
It was one of two good scoring chances for Jagr in 13:38 of carefully apportioned ice time that saw him deployed largely on the third line with Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett as well as the second power play unit.
As many predicted, Jagr eventually made his way up to the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan several times, including a few first-unit power play shifts.
Expect that trend to continue as Jagr gets up to speed.
Jagr said after the game he wasn’t happy with his performance.
“I’m glad it’s behind me,” he said on the heels of the Flames third consecutive win, a 4-3 overtime victory over the Kings at Staples Center.
“I didn’t feel very well, but I expect that.”
Jagr finished the night minus-1 with 2:23 of power play time.
Given his age and the six-month layoff that preceded his signing last week, few could have expected too much when the NHL’s second-leading scorer kicked off his 24th NHL season. The notoriously fit right winger admits he had a hard time training this summer due to the uncertainty of whether he’d get another NHL contract.
Having missed training camp, Jagr only had a week to try getting into game shape.
Although he cycled the puck well with his linemates at times, perhaps the most spectacular displays on the night came from Sportsnet’s crack statisticians who provided endless graphics putting the magnitude of Jagr’s lengthy career into perspective.
One pointed out 14 of his 511 teammates were Hall of Famers and four others now have sons in the NHL.
He’s had 17 head coaches, 10 general managers, made $121 million in career earnings and has three other people in the organization who were drafted the same year (1990) as he was, including assistant GMs Craig Conroy and Brad Pascall and assistant equipment manager Corey Osmak.
When Tkachuk scored his first goal of the night, game host Ryan Leslie pointed out he just received a text from the youngster’s dad, Keith, who is another 1990 draft pick. It informed him Matthew’s goal was a present for his mother Chantal who was celebrating her birthday and, yes, she was younger than Jagr.
One of the only people older than Jagr who figured prominently in the broadcast was regular Kings fan Will Ferrell, who drew a huge response from the crowd when shown on the Jumbotron.
Indeed, the theme all night was Old School.
To illustrate that point, a graphic comparing Jagr’s stats to those of the other 11 Flames forwards showed he was only slightly behind in goals (765 compared to 947), game winners (135 to 152) and points (1,914 to 2,274). The two-time Stanley Cup winer does hold the edge in playoff points (201 compared to 149).
While being a very positive distraction for a Flames team that has enjoyed having hockey’s last of its rockstars around, Jagr has been respectful in terms of knowing his place.
“The way I look at it, I don’t care what you did 20 years ago — show me what you can do for us now,” Jagr told the media before the game.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the team and my teammates. I don’t want to be there just to be there. I want to make them better.”
While rampant jersey sales of No. 68 and the circus-like media attention he attracts have been positive and predictable, Jagr is indeed here to augment a solid core of youngsters who will ultimately be the difference-makers in terms of the Flames’ fate.
Jagr is obviously a role player, who will be counted on to contribute offensively from time–to-time as he did last year when he scored 16 goals and 46 points in Florida.
Asked what can you do now as a player, Jagr shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said, flashing that grin that has helped make him so popular.
“We’ll find out.”