VOORHEES, N.J. — Jaromir Jagr laughs nervously as he recalls his life from 2001 to 2004 with the Washington Capitals.
“The part I was playing there I would rather forget,” he said. “I wasn’t very good.”
You don’t have to look too far to find people who agree, from ownership through the fan base. The expectations for Jagr coming to Washington in 2001 were high. He had just wrapped up four straight seasons leading the NHL in scoring, piling up the Art Ross Trophies with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But his point production dropped from 121 his last season in Pittsburgh to 79 and then 77 in two full season with the Capitals.
It’s not that Jagr didn’t produce — he just didn’t produce like a player who signed a seven-year, $77 million contract extension with Washington. Now, 10 years after that deal, Jagr is up I-95 with the Philadelphia Flyers, playing the role of the villain in orange and black while adding further spark to this rivalry.
“It doesn’t need any extra wattage,” Capitals TV play-by-play man Joe Beninati said. “But sure, Jaromir being there, it’s going to have a lot of Caps fans more so than these current Caps players going, ‘Hmm, I remember him,’ and how they feel like he underperformed here.”
This is not Jagr’s first game against Washington since being traded to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter in 2004, but Thursday night marks the right wing’s first since his return from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and first as a member of the Flyers.
Now 39 and enjoying an impressive start to the season (four assists in five games), Jagr realizes the memories of his brief stop in Washington aren’t fond ones.
Jagr had 123 and 96 points in his first two full seasons with the Rangers, and it certainly appears he hasn’t lost his offensive touch. So where did it go wrong with the Caps?
“Maybe I didn’t play the way I should play,” he said. “Probably [the] managers or the owners, they were hoping when they got me we were going to win the Cup — at least get a little farther in the playoffs, and it just didn’t happen.”
Caps color analyst and former player Craig Laughlin pointed out that Jagr “was still a world-class player. I just don’t think he ever got on the stage here to be the dominant player.”
And Jagr didn’t exactly leave the Capitals on fantastic terms with fans. Asked about that Wednesday, he jokingly responded, “Everybody likes you? … See, I’ve got the same problem. That’s what happens sometimes.”
The image of Alex Ovechkin crushing Jagr in the 2010 Olympics is likely a favorable one for Caps fans, seeing their star taking it to a guy who was supposed to be a star here. Jeff Halpern is the only current Capital who was a teammate of Jagr in Washington and saw that international showcase as a chance for Ovechkin to “flex his muscles.”
“I enjoyed watching Ovie play against him in the Olympics,” Halpern said. “There was a lot of talk about Jags coming back for that Olympics, and Ovie looked like he was geared up.”
Jagr said he wasn’t really thinking about being the villain against the Capitals yet again. And while those in Washington see him as a player who didn’t live up to potential, the Flyers can’t stop talking about the positive things he brings.
“He adds a lot of positive leadership,” forward Max Talbot said. “He’s been coming to the rink every day smiling. He loves the game, and he came here for a reason and that’s to win.”