In the last three seasons, while Jagr played for Avangard Omsk in the KHL, the NHL saw the rise of numerous 20-something superstars as the face of key franchises and the league itself. While Jagr may be a decade removed from when he won four consecutive scoring titles in Pittsburgh, it would have been interesting to see what type of attention even an aging player of his caliber could have commanded.
“I hope that Jags had a good time in Russia because I know the NHL missed him,” Jeff Halpern said. “It would have been interesting to see, these last few years with [Sidney] Crosby, [Alex] Ovechkin and [Patrick] Kane, those young players getting thrust into stardom, how Jags would have compared. Obviously we’ll get to see that now.”
Halpern believes that Jagr, and his uncanny ability to protect the puck, will have plenty left to show the NHL during this reunion tour. Fellow Czech natives Tomas Vokoun and Roman Hamrlik agree.
Both of the veterans have been a part of Czech national teams with Jagr from World Championship teams to Olympic squads.
“I’m actually glad he’s back in NHL,” said Vokoun, who won gold with Jagr during the 2010 World Championships. “Obviously, he had his reasons and everybody has the free choice to do what they want but you don’t want to see a player like that with that many points — not just because he’s from Czech — but if he play here last few years he could have been top five in scoring or something like that. You don’t want to see people of his stature leave the NHL to go play someplace else.”
Hamrlik is two years younger than Jagr and when he was a teenager preparing to make the jump to the NHL, he watched his fellow countryman succeed in Pittsburgh with great interest. Once Hamrlik was in the NHL he and Jagr became friends, playing against each other, inviting each other over for dinner when Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay faced off, and they still talk now.
“I think he make right decision to come back here,” said Hamrlik, who won gold with Jagr during the 1998 Nagano Olympics. “He proved last World Championship when they won the gold medal that he still had it, that he could still play against the best….It’s good for him, for hockey, that he comes back here and wants to finish things the right way.”