When Jaromir Jagr chose to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers over the summer after a three-year sabbatical, the 39-year-old Czech Republic native knew it wouldn’t go over well in Pittsburgh.
To be honest, he doesn’t care.
Jagr will make his first appearance in Pittsburgh since his return to the NHL, following a three-year stint in Russia’s KHL, when the Penguins host the Flyers on Thursday. He understands there will be some animosity, but he isn’t concerned about that, either.
”To me, it doesn’t matter,” Jagr said. ”I just play every game the same — Pittsburgh, Rangers, Tampa Bay. It doesn’t matter.”
Yet he knows he’ll hear it from the Consol Energy Center crowd. It’s to be expected considering the way he toyed with the Penguins in the offseason. Jagr hinted over the summer that he’d be interested in returning to the city where he won a pair of Stanley Cup titles alongside Mario Lemieux two decades ago. Yet he joined the hated Flyers instead, in part because the Flyers offered more money.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma was intrigued about the possibility of pairing Jagr and star Sidney Crosby. Instead Crosby remains sidelined with concussion-like symptoms while Jagr is playing as if he never left the NHL. Jagr has 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 31 games with Philadelphia.
Bylsma is curious to see how Jagr is received, but isn’t exactly expecting him to be rattled.
”It’s not the first time that Jaromir Jagr has come into a building and not been liked,” Bylsma said. ”I’m sure he’s going to expect it and hear it. You hear players who hear the crowd and feed off it, as well.”
Jagr isn’t the only former Penguins player to trade black and gold for the Flyers’ orange and white. Winger Max Talbot, a popular figure who helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009, left as a free agent over the summer to join Philadelphia.
The venom for Talbot, however, will likely be muted compared to the welcome awaiting Jagr.
Don’t expect Jagr to try do something extra to quiet things down.
”That would be the worst thing … to show somebody you still have it,” Jagr said. ”I don’t have to prove anything to anybody; I don’t think I’d be playing my game if I wanted to show somebody.”
The Penguins have certainly seen enough.
”We see a lot of highlights,” Bylsma said. ”You what he’s been able to do for their (power play). What he’s been able to do for (Claude) Giroux has been very good. Those are a lot of things they saw him doing with our team with a (Evgeni) Malkin and a Crosby.”
Instead, the Penguins will face their two old friends without Crosby, who hasn’t played since Dec. 5 after having a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms. Bylsma said Wednesday that his 24-year-old captain is going through ”light exercise” but remains sidelined indefinitely.