A public appearance by Jaromir Jagr at an exhibition beach volleyball tournament prompted an interview with the Ranger captain by the Czech newspaper Pravo (online at Novinky.cz) which covered Jagr’s workout schedule and his feelings about the Rangers’ summer roster moves. “The truth is,” Jagr said about the signings of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, “GM Glen Sather brought Christmas in the middle of the summer. The Rangers had to sign a centerman, so they had to embellish their offers a little, otherwise they would have no one. They hoped for one and they got both Gomez and Drury.”
Having had a couple of weeks to digest the departure of his friend Michael Nylander in favor of the two younger centers, Jagr had a different answer to the inevitable Nylander question than the one we’ve heard from him before. “From the long run perspective, it was the right decision because the additions are six, seven years younger than Nylander,” Jagr said. “The future of the organization will be built around them. Sometimes, one has to deal with things quickly. No one is irreplaceable. I don’t have time to cry about not having my centerman and I would only hurt myself [by doing so].”
Jagr diplomatically (and accurately) ducked the question of whether the Rangers are now favorites to win the Stanley Cup. “What I learned throughout my career is that names don’t win it,” he said. “The relationship [between players] is important to have good chemistry. If it’s bad, you can hardly get anywhere. When players sign such big contracts, there will be pressure. At the same time, they put pressure on themselves because they don’t want to be criticized in the papers that they don’t deserve the money. That was the problem with the Rangers six years ago -- a bunch of stars didn’t translate into points.”
He assessed the moves relative to the salary cap. “We are a team and every part is important,” he said about the Rangers still having to fit Sean Avery and Marcel Hossa under the cap (the interview took place before the Matt Cullen trade). “It’s the same thing as with human body where every organ is important. When you lose one, it’s a problem. The cap is $50 million -- there’s still some room. New deals came for players who aren’t top stars but got huge money. You don’t have to be that good -- you only have to be lucky. Many average players earn $4 million -- nobody expected that after the lockout. If a team signs someone to a long term deal, it can affect the team [as a whole]. You have to be sure that it will work out, because otherwise, you can ruin the team for a good three, four years.”
Jagr has been working out off the ice over the summer. “The workouts in hot weather are ideal for will,” he said. “It’s a good thing [too so] that I don’t put on that much weight -- although, I do have some extra pounds. But that’s normal. I go to my sister’s swimming pool and I work out in the water. It’s not about the length of an exercise, it’s all about the quality. In New York, I’m used to going to the pool prior to the game, stretching myself, it helps me. Other than that, I don’t like water much. I wouldn’t enjoy just coming some place and lying on the beach for a week.” But he is ready to get back onto the ice to prepare for next season. “Probably on Thursday,” he said. “I have a hockey school that started on Sunday. It will be certainly more pleasant than to potter around outside in the heat. Especially with this extreme weather [an unusually hot summer with temperatures around 100°]. Practice with children might not give me much, but maybe I can outplay them!”
That was just one of several of Jagr’s quips during the interview. Analyzing his ability at volleyball, he said, “Someone said I dove [for a ball], but I actually fell down. Anyway, the sun is burning the sand so I have to move even if I don’t want to.” On no longer being the highest paid player in the NHL, he said, “At least I won’t be hearing about it on every single occasion.” And on Nylander agreeing to contracts with both Edmonton and Washington, he said, “He probably wanted to become the best paid player, so he signed two contracts. Maybe he wanted to win the scoring title [by playing for two teams at the same time]. It would be a hassle, though -- he wouldn’t see those kids of his much.”
To see a video clip of Jagr playing volleyball and being interviewed in Czech, click here [WMV download]. More online versions of Jagr's interview in Czech, if you can read it, can be found at hokej.cz, iDNES.cz, and Denik Sport. Thanks again to DaTeL for a translation of the Pravo interview.
Local area reports today on yesterday’s trade of Cullen back to Carolina can be found in the Daily News, Journal News, Newsday, Post, Blue Notes, Rangers Report, NYR.com, MSG.com here and here, and NY Sports Day. More is available in the Raleigh News-Observer, AP, ESPN, and NHL.com, replete with quotes from Cullen about how happy he is to be returning back to the team he won the Stanley Cup with prior to coming to New York last season, and explaining his year with the Rangers as a learning experience in some areas (the penalty kill and face-off circle) and a disappointment in other areas (scoring).
Cullen, always candid and talkative, was expressing valid feelings about the trade -- a week ago, he shared equally valid feelings about staying in New York. The one thing we’d take issue with is his excuse about his defensive role -- he was Brendan Shanahan’s center for much of the season, failed to put up the requisite points, and had to be relegated to the third line as a result. Ultimately, given the need to clear cap space, the Rangers decided that Cullen, paid to be second line center, was too expensive to fill the role of third line center, and was a more tradable commodity than other Rangers who might be considered overpaid. It's just too bad the Rangers couldn't get players with more NHL upside in return, like the rumored Anton Babchuk.