February 13, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Jaromir Jagr(notes), Peter Forsberg(notes) and Zigmund Palffy have metaphorically carried the flags for their hockey nations for decades; last night, they did so physically in the Opening Ceremonies. Jagr led a Czech contingent that looked like a paramilitary unit; Palffy led a Slovak delegation wearing large, poofy white ski jackets; Forsberg walked in front of a golden army of Swedes, although he didn't wear their adorable blue mittens.
Two things stuck out about the hockey legends as they paraded around BC Place. First, that Jagr has hockey hair again, so you can pretty much just hand the gold to the Czechs now. Second, that Forsberg had what can only be described as a "yeah, I'm walking without crutches and I'm going to keep my gold" look on his face as he walked the route.
All due respect to Sidney Crosby(notes) and Alex Ovechkin(notes), the puckhead in me is more fascinated by the NHL ex-pats in this tournament, and how these hockey geezers are going to perform on the international stage. Can Jagr dominate? Can Forsberg's health hold up?
A look at some of the more fascinating former-NHL names in the tournament ...
Jagr hasn't been dominant in the KHL with Omsk, scoring a respectable 42 points in 49 games after scoring 53 in 55 games during its inaugural season. (For the sake of context, Alex Radulov has 57 points in 51 games this season.)
None of that matters here in Vancouver, because Jagr, who turns 38 on Monday, has different motivations. This is a chance to build on his legacy, and to remind NHL fans who have forgotten about him during his KHL money-grab that's he's still a vital player. Let's face it: If his angle is coming back to the NHL next season, then it's also a pretty effective audition, too.
Plus, he's an old guy. From the CP:
"(The) older you are then you get more motivation because you don't want to get embarrassed by the young guys," said Jagr. "You want to prove that the age doesn't matter. It's all about hard work. As long as you work hard and love the game, I think you can still play against the young guys.
"I think that's probably my biggest motivation."
Would it stun anyone to see Jagr become a leading scorer in this tourney? He has 17 points in 18 Olympic games.
Forsberg's a different story, and he knows it. His contributions are going to be fewer, but probably just as timely. Jagr's a contributor, and Forsberg, 36, is an X-factor, which actually might make him even more dangerous.
"I'm pretty thrilled to be here and be able to be part of this team," he said. "It's been a little rocky journey the last couple of years. I'm not 100 per cent sure if I'm going to be great in this tournament or not, but I'm just going to go out and do my best. If I get placed on the third or fourth line it doesn't matter. As long as I'm here, I'm going to do the best for my team and the country."
Where the hell has Ziggy been? Dave Brown of the awesomely title North Bay Nugget found out:
Four years ago, Zigmund Palffy walked into the office of Craig Patrick, then general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and announced he was done. The flashy Slovak, who stood second to rookie sensation Sidney Crosby in team scoring through the first half of the 2005-06 season, later blamed a bad shoulder for ending his career four months into a three-year deal with the Penguins. He was 33.
Since Palffy's sudden and unexpected retirement, the former New York Islander and Los Angeles King has played 99 games for his hometown Skalica in the Slovak Extraliga, amassing 82 goals and 174 points through a season and a half. He also served as a rental for Karlovy Vary, the defending champion of the more prestigious Czech Extraliga, in last month's Spengler Cup.
He joins a Slovakian lineup that features a good number of veteran ex-NHL players up front: Lubos Bartecko (33, Farjestad Karlstad, SWE); Jozef Stumpel(notes) (39, Barys Astana, KHL); and Richard Zednik(notes) (34, Lokomotiv Jaroslavl, KHL). The Slovaks have been labeled dark horses in this tournament, and it's hard not to think that a team led by Marian Gaborik(notes), Marian Hossa(notes), Zdeno Chara(notes) and Jaroslav Halak(notes) won't contend; but it'll be up to the fogies at forward to provide the secondary scoring they'll need to challenge in the Group of Death.
Ville Peltonen(notes) (36, Dynamo Minsk, KHL) will either be a decent lower-line player or a 13th forward for the team. Alexei Morozov (32, Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), Viktor Kozlov(notes) (34, Salavat Yulayev Ufa, KHL) and Sergei Fedorov(notes) (40, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL) are all on the loaded Team Russia roster.
Most of these players will never appear again in the NHL, so enjoy the moment to watch them compete. And maybe Jagr's hair. No, check that: Definitely Jagr's hair.