NASHVILLE – If Jaromir Jagr had his way he wouldn’t be in Nashville for NHL All-Star Weekend, nor would he be in a tropical location soaking up some sunshine during the five-day break.
Being the rink rat that he is, the soon-to-be 43-year old Jagr would prefer to spend his All-Star break in a rink in Florida working out, getting stronger and preparing for the second half of the Panthers’ season.
“I have to be here, that’s the thing. I have to be here,” Jagr said during All-Star Media Day on Friday. “I was voted in. I don’t want to be suspended. I don’t want to miss any games.
“I love the idea of the All-Stars and I think it’s good for our fans, but for me personally, for my age, I know what I need for the rest of the season and maybe in playoffs.”
This weekend marks Jagr’s 10th All-Star Game appearance. His first, back in Philadelphia in 1992, saw five Penguins selected for the game, with four of them – Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens and Paul Coffey – in the starting lineup.
In his second NHL season, Penguins fans stuffing the ballot boxes boosted the 19-year old sophomore into the game, even though he felt he didn’t deserve to be there.
“I was kind of like John Scott back then,” Jagr joked. “I was playing third, fourth line in Pittsburgh Penguins because we had so many great players and the fans voted me in. I felt kind of embarrassed. I didn’t want to come. I was 19 and I see all the superstars and I was [in] starting lineup and I was playing fourth line in Pittsburgh, so it was kind of strange. I didn’t really like that feeling.”
Twenty-four years later, Jagr is still playing and playing at a high level as he's second on the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers in goals (15) and points (33). Since he had to come to Nashville or face suspension, he’s going to take it as easy as he can.
After winning the Atlantic Division fan vote, Jagr was able to select which players would participate in the various events. Going as easy on himself as he could, he’ll act as a passer in both the Accuracy Shootout and Skills Challenge Relay and finish the night as part of the 36-skater shootout. Those are the perks of being captain.
“Me, as an old guy I’m not going to do anything,” he said. “It’s a skill, so it’s for the young guys most of the time.”
So no return to the Fastest Skater competition?
“I don’t want to embarrass anybody out there. What about if I win at my age?”
As for the 3-on-3 tournament on Sunday, well, with Gerard Gallant leading the Atlantic team, Jagr expects his head coach to approach things like he does during overtime in the regular season.
“I don’t think I’m going to play much 3-on-3. I don’t play much in Florida, and we have the same coach [for the All-Star Game],” Jagr said laughing. “This time I won’t mind.”
The second half of the 2015-16 season is huge for the Panthers as they look to return to the postseason for only the second time since 2000. In order to do so, they’ll need a healthy Jagr to continue leading the way.
Are the Panthers a Stanley Cup contender? That remains to be seen, especially with GM Dale Tallon potentially adding a piece or two before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. But getting there won't be easy, as Jagr knows. Having won the Cup twice in his first two NHL seasons, he understands the blood, sweat and tears that goes into winning a championship, and the importance of the journey there.
“In my opinion, and maybe it’s just me, it’s not about the Cup,” he said. “Peter Laviolette, when I was in Philly, and I remember that line, it was perfect. Before the first game in Pittsburgh, I think it was after the first period and we were losing 3-0. We won that game, but he came to the dressing room and said, 'Guys, if I would bring the Cup right now in the dressing room and somebody told me you don't have to play any more games and you win it, would you take it?' And I guarantee there’s nobody would say yes because it’s not about the Cup.
“It’s about the whole year spending with the guys. It’s about the games, you have to suffer everything to win it. It’s not about the Cup. So if somebody come to me right now and bring the Cup, I’m not going to take it. You have to earn it.”
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