He has the two Stanley Cup rings, the boatload of career points (now 1,680), and a ticket with an open claim date waiting for him in Toronto to collect his Hall of Fame ring and tailored blue jacket. But experience comes with a price, the unremitting oxidation of time, age, and with it the understanding that hockey uniforms ultimately are younger man’s threads.
At 41, no one is kidding Jaromir Jagr, least of all himself.
“I’m not 25 anymore,’’ he said late Thursday morning, moments after concluding his first practice on Causeway Street as a born-again Bruin. “That’s the first thing.’’
Later in the day, over 60 minutes in a 1-0 win over the Devils, Jagr showed flashes of agelessness. He used his big left foot as the backboard for a Brad Marchand shot that brought the big Czech goal No. 680 of his career.
“His goal is something you like to see, it’s called net drive,” said coach Claude Julien. “A good example for our young guys.”
Jagr said, “Now I know why they say drive to the net. If I knew that when I was 20, I’d have 100 more goals by now.”
Jagr also played the full two minutes of a power play in the second period. Unheard of in Julien’s quick-change system. The Bruins didn’t score, but Jagr’s presence, that’s p-r-e-s-e-n-c-e, was obvious. For a while on the man-advantage, he held the puck behind the goal line, patiently looked for passes, and you could feel the Devils inhale, hold and hold and . . .
Jagr, acquired in trade from Dallas on Tuesday, was responding to the obvious question: How would he fit in with his new team? He has been asked this before through the years and the answers have been mixed as he moved from city to city, role to role, never fully reclaiming the stardom or scoring touch that was his in his decade-plus with the Penguins.
Following his early, prolific run in Pittsburgh, which included Cup victories his first two years, he was dealt to the Washington Capitals, hired on in 2001 at huge dough to be the franchise face and savior. Two-and-a-half years later, owner Ted Leonsis couldn’t wait to unload him, wheeling him to the Rangers for ex-Bruin Anson Carter. Jagr never embraced the leading man’s role in D.C. and his point production, while decent, fell millions of dollars short of expectation, both in the owner’s booth and in the Verizon Center stands.
His New York tour of duty, which ran 3½ years, was far more successful. He piled up 123 points (second only to Joe Thornton’s 125) his first full season with the Blueshirts (2005-06), then averaged slightly more than a point per game over his next two years before bolting North America for three years of incredible riches to play in Russia. Then a retro tour with the Flyers last season again was just OK (54 points in 73 games) and he was skipping along at about the same rate this season (26 points, 34 games) when the Bruins plucked him from the Stars for a couple of prospects and a draft pick.
But the task here is different. These are not Jagr’s Bruins, the way they were supposed to be Jagr’s Capitals, or even Jagr’s Rangers. These are the 2011 Cup winners, captained by Zdeno Chara and centered on a structured, disciplined, defensive game plan designed and preached by Julien.
So if anyone thinks Jagr is here to be “the guy,’’ well . . .
“I don’t think the team really needs it,’’ Jagr said.
Which is why Jagr’s sixth NHL stop could turn out to be his best since his Pittsburgh salad days. He is here not as a crowning jewel, but as a complementary part. He played Thursday night on a second line, with Tyler Seguin at center and Marchand at left wing. However, had it not been for the concussion suffered Tuesday by Patrice Bergeron, Jagr likely would have debuted as a third-liner, rolled out with more skilled forwards on the power play.
Instead of expectation, it is only hope that greets Jagr in his new town. Management and fandom hope he fits in, hope he supplies some ammo for a popgun power play, hope he can produce about what he added to the Flyers and Stars these last two years. Translation: something around a goal and assist each week sounds sufficient.
“I know it’s going to be good,’’ said Jagr, treated to an ovation by the Garden sellout crowed when he took his first shift at 1:16 of the first period. “Maybe not at the start . . . but at the end, it’s going to be great.’’
Jagr’s deal, what remains of the $4.5 million the Stars pledged to him for this season, expires at the end of this month. As of July 5, he is an unrestricted free agent again. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Tuesday, soon after acquiring the veteran right winger, that it’s too early to know if Jagr is here simply as a rental or perhaps on an extended-stay program. As Chiarelli noted, Mark Recchi came aboard in 2009, was perceived by many as a rental, and then signed successive one-year deals.
In his times as a free agent, Jagr never has had Boston on his radar. It wasn’t on his radar earlier this week, either, until the Stars told him to pick up sticks and head to Logan. Part of agreeing to that $4.5 million last summer was also agreeing that Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk could deal him at any hour. That time came Tuesday afternoon.
“But I’m happy about it,’’ Jagr said, sitting at his locker, a glimmer of light in his pale blue eyes. “You don’t ask questions, you just go play. Through my whole hockey career . . . wherever I played, it was good for me.’’
His Boston tour, good or bad, could also be Jagr’s final NHL stand. Other than his off-continent work, Jagr has been around the NHL since October 1990, for nearly 1,400 games, which is roughly four lifetimes in NHL years. No telling what happens in the free agent market this summer with a declining salary cap.
With his brush-up tour here, Jagr could prove he’s still worthy of NHL employment, but it could also be the dollars aren’t there to hire him, at least not at the price he would desire. The Bruins already know that they’ll find it a mathematical struggle to keep the current band together, especially if they want to bring back the pricey Nathan Horton and Tuukka Rask.
“I love to play,’’ said Jagr, committed to keep playing after this season ends. “If I feel healthy and I feel like I can play on some kind of good level, I want to keep playing. Retiring . . . I’m not ready for it. I love the game too much, so if I’m not good for NHL, I’m going to play in the Czech League or somewhere else.
“I still love the game, and like everybody else, if you love something, you just don’t want to let it go. You hold it.’’