Jaromir Jagr celebrated his 52nd birthday on Thursday in Pittsburgh, the city where it all began for him in the NHL after the Penguins selected him with the No. 5 pick in the 1990 NHL Draft.

It was the beginning of a series of celebrations for Jagr in Pittsburgh that will culminate with his jersey being retired before the Penguins host the Los Angeles Kings at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; SN-PIT, BSW, SN360, TVAS).

Jagr’s No. 68 will be the third retired by Pittsburgh, joining Mario Lemieux’s No. 66 and Michel Briere’s No. 21

“It’s a big honor,” Jagr told NHL.com on Thursday. “I never was a guy who was always looking for the celebrations and stuff like that, but it’s something special.”

Jagr, who is second in NHL history with 1,921 points (766 goals, 1,155 assists) in 1,733 regular-season games, is on leave from playing for Kladno, his team he owns in the Extraliga, the top professional league in Czechia, for a kind of homecoming in Pittsburgh. He played the first 11 of his 24 NHL seasons with the Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup with them in 1991 and 1992, the Hart Trophy as the League’s most valuable player in 1998-99 and the Art Ross Trophy for leading the League in points five times (1994-95, 1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01).

He remains fourth in Penguins history with 1,079 points (439 goals, 640 assists) in 806 regular-season games, behind Lemieux (1,723), Sidney Crosby (1,554) and Evgeni Malkin (1,270). He’s also fourth in regular-season goals and assists and fourth in Stanley Cup Playoff points with 147 (65 goals, 82 assists) in 140 games.

Jaromir Jagr is second on the NHL points list

After being traded to the Washington Capitals for financial reasons in 2001 and playing three seasons with them, Jagr also played for the New York Rangers (four seasons), Philadelphia Flyers (one), Dallas Stars (one), Boston Bruins (one), New Jersey Devils (two), Florida Panthers (three seasons) and Calgary Flames (one) before returning to the Czech Republic to play in 2018.

He has always considered Pittsburgh his NHL home, though.

“That was the city that drafted me,” he said. “That’s the city where they treated me like I was their kid. They understood I couldn’t speak English, so it was totally different, and it was great. It was some lost kid looking for a new house and wanted to play the sport he likes and looking for help. That’s what I was when I was 18. It was something new and I didn’t know anything about it, and I feel like the people in Pittsburgh kind of sensed that and tried to help me the best they could.”

In a Q&A with NHL.com, Jagr discussed his number retirement, his memories of playing for the Penguins and with Lemieux, his future and more.

What will it mean to you to have your number hanging next to Lemieux’s 66 and Briere’s 21?

“First, it doesn’t happen very often, so that’s a lot. The last time it happened was like 20-something years ago. I remember when Mario’s number was retired (in 1997).”

Then, they took his number down when he came out of retirement in 2000.

“Exactly. He couldn’t watch anymore, so he said, ‘I’m coming back.’ But pretty soon, there’s going to more players, you know, Sid. The time between me and Mario, it’s a long time, but pretty soon there’s going to be more and more players who deserve to be there.”

Your former teammate Phil Bourque (now color analyst on Penguins telecasts on SportsNet Pittsburgh) traveled to Kladno four years ago partly to talk to you about the possibility your number being retired. He said you had a little apprehension about it previously. Are you past that now?

“I don’t want to sound the wrong way, but it was never things I was kind of looking for. I don’t know how to put it right, but it’s not a trophy. There’s the Stanley Cups, but nothing individual. I just loved the game, and I was blessed I could make a living and play that game. I never thought of anything else. Just to play that game, just the time I could be on the ice, that’s what gave me everything I needed. I never looked for anything else or anything more. That game gave me what I needed.”

What did playing with Lemieux at the start of your career mean to you?

“I don’t want to talk about it right now. I’ve got a speech ready and then I’m going to do it and I can explain it. But from the (first) time I saw him play, he was my idol. It wasn’t in the NHL. It was other games where I saw him play and I said, ‘I want to be like him.’ And the wish came true.”


Is it true you told the teams picking ahead of the Penguins in the 1990 draft (the Quebec Nordiques, Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and Flyers) not to select you because you only wanted to play for the Penguins.

“You know, I would say, half right, half wrong. Yes, I said that to the first three teams. But Philly, I think (general manager) Bobby Clarke got fired before that and the scouts, and I saw they really wanted me the way they talked. And Pittsburgh said the same thing. Also, there was extra interest with Mario there.”

So, you thought either Philadelphia (which selected forward Mike Ricci with the No. 4 pick) or Pittsburgh was going to pick you?

“Yes. One of those. And you know what? I never said I don’t want to go to [the other teams]. I said I might have to go to the army [in the former Czechoslovakia]. So, it’s kind of the same way because it might have scared people away because we had to go to the army for two years there.”

Are your best memories of your time with the Penguins from winning the Stanley Cup?

“It’s kind of funny when I was thinking about it because I played with a lot of players, even in Pittsburgh after we didn’t win. But I remember absolutely every player and it was 30 years ago those Cup years because you have to fight through the good and bad things and then the celebration and everything, and you just remember everything. I think it’s a great story because finished it as a winner. I remember two years ago I was in Philly, and I saw Jay Caufield. I saw him and it was an accident. I went there and we saw each other, and we hugged each other, and it was after a long, long time. I don’t think I would have the same feeling with a player if I didn’t live that with him. I think that’s when it hit me. It’s special. Those are the guys who won.”

Jaromir Jagr's Top 10 Career Highlights

Is it going to fun to see some of those guys this weekend?

“Of course, it’s going to be. I’ve seen some of them. When I played in the NHL, I had a chance to see them very often. Most of them do TV, so when I came to Pittsburgh with other teams, I had the chance to see them, like Bourque, Bob Errey, those guys. And even Mario, Rick Tocchet and those guys and Ron Francis. I had a chance to see them. The other guys, I didn’t have a chance to see them. They don’t work in hockey or they work on the road, so I never really had a chance to see them. Some guys I didn’t see for 20 years. I might not even recognize them. I’m 50, so they might be 70 or close (laughs). I was 18 when we won and now, I’m 52.”

There was a story in The Athletic in which your former teammate Paul Stanton said you were in the cockpit and helped fly the team plane back from Minnesota after you won the Cup in 1991. Did that really happen?

“I don’t remember, man. I don’t remember that, and I don’t drink. (Laughing) I never drink, so if someone said they remember that and I don’t, I don’t drink. So, I don’t remember that. So, I can’t answer that.”

You almost went back to the Penguins when you returned to the NHL in 2011 after playing three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League before you signed the Flyers. Does having your number retired maybe give you some closure on your Penguins career?

“I said it before a million times, and I want to say it for the final time now: the main reason why I didn’t go back to Pittsburgh after I was in Russia was because I didn’t want to come back just for one year. I felt like I was good enough to play more than one year. I saw it at the world championship. I know how I practiced those years in Russia. I know when I practiced with guys who played in the NHL in the summer. I knew, ‘I can do it.’ Nobody else knew it. They thought I might come back for one year, but I had confidence in myself. … But I knew I needed to get the opportunity to play. That’s the main thing.

“If I would go to Pittsburgh – and I understand that – Sid would have his own line, Malkin would have his own line. So, the best I would play would be maybe third or fourth line, and I don’t think I would get the chance to show I can play. That was the only worry I had. I picked Philly because they made these big trades. They traded (away) Jeff Carter and (Mike) Richards. They brought new guys in, and I felt like I was going to have the same chance because the team is totally new. If I don’t make it, it’s my fault, I’m not good enough, but I would get the same chance like everybody else. I didn’t feel like I would get that from the coaches in Pittsburgh, or the GM. Maybe I was wrong, but I didn’t feel that maybe because they just won [the Cup in 2009], they had a good team and they liked to play together.”

So, does this give you some closure from all of that?

“You know what? I hope so. I never had anything against them. When they’re booing me when I came and played against them, I understood that. I’m not stupid. Why would they cheer for me if I played against them? That doesn’t make sense. I understood that. I wasn’t mad at it. It made perfect sense. So, from my side, I have nothing bad to say about Pittsburgh.”

You’ve been playing for Kladno this season (four assists in 15 games). How long to do you plan to continue?

“The thing is I’m still playing because we had a lot of injuries on our club. I don’t practice the way I practiced. I don’t play many games. I don’t have time to practice. I still like the game, but I don’t have time to practice. I don’t have the time to prepare because I have other things to do. I don’t really like it because it’s half-and-half. When I really like something, I want to go all-in. I always went all-in and now I’m not all-in because I have other things to do.”

By other things, do you mean running the team?

“Not only that. Just even the family business and my dad died last year, so other stuff.”

So, could this be your final season?

“I’m not sure. It depends on if the unhealthy guys are coming back or not. We’ll see what happens.”

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