JAROMIR JAGR sauntered into the Flyers' sullen dressing room on Thursday afternoon and bit his tongue.
Despite glowing remarks about Philadelphia, the Flyers and his teammates - saying that this year was the most fun he's had playing, including winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s - Jagr would not make any promises as to his status for next season.
Jagr, 40, wants to play in the NHL. He just doesn't know if it will be in Philadelphia.
"I want to play somewhere where I know teams will want me to," Jagr said. "I still love the game and I think I am going to be better than I was this year. I have learned some stuff and the NHL has changed. You have to change with the NHL.
"I don't know what kind of direction Philadelphia is going to go. What is my situation going to be? I don't think they know right now."
Jagr will not make any commitments because of the same reason he spurned Pittsburgh last summer after nearly completing a deal: He wants his role to be right.
Going on 41, with 247 more points in his career than the next active player, Jagr has earned that right.
"I can still see Jaromir being a good player in our league next year," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. "I'd like to have him back. We did talk to him and his agent briefly during the year about next season. We kind of agreed to talk about it more after the season was done, but I have not [personally] met with Jaromir yet."
The Flyers have exclusive negotiating rights with Jagr until July 1. He earned $3.3 million this season on a 1-year deal.
Jagr collected 54 points in 73 regular-season games - a number just about where the Flyers envisioned he would be when they plucked him from Russia last summer. He added another eight points in 11 playoff games, though he has admitted that he wasn't himself. Even though his hands remained as quick and impressive as ever, Jagr knew he wasn't himself in the playoffs. His legs couldn't keep up.
The Flyers had not yet completed their medical evaluations with team doctors as of Thursday afternoon, but Jagr would not say if he was injured. His wonky groin gave him trouble all year.
"There are always injuries," Jagr said. "I think everyone has injuries in the playoffs. It is totally different hockey. You play on the edge. You have to play injured if you are injured."
Jagr is a fitness freak - and he said in a recent interview that he believed he could play until age 50. Naturally, he would not lend any credence to a suggestion that he "overtrained" and overworked himself, running out of gas in the second round.
"I think for whatever reason, they [New Jersey] were quicker and stronger," Jagr said. "Me and the team didn't have a problem against Pittsburgh. Against New Jersey, maybe we didn't play smart enough or we were too close to each other. That's what makes you kind of frustrated and more tired because you don't have the puck. You are spending more energy for kind of nothing because you don't have the puck. That is the toughest thing."
The Jagr experiment, as a whole, paid off in a big way. Heading into last season, he seemed like one of Holmgren's biggest gambles.
Even in September, Holmgren could not say enough about Jagr's dedication to the team and willingness to help the Flyers' younger players and crop of rookies. His contribution to Claude Giroux's game, as his linemate and mentor, was invaluable.
"If you ask anyone on this team, everyone wants him back," Giroux said. "He is a good team player and he has helped so many guys in this room on and off the ice. It would be great to have him back, but I am not sure what the plans are. He is that kind of teammate that you want on your team."
From the sounds of it, though, Holmgren isn't really willing to get into a bidding war for Jagr. Undoubtedly, Jagr will garner interest from around the NHL. Pittsburgh and Detroit were two of the other finalists for his services last summer. With proven point production and leadership capabilities, more teams will be lining up and calling Jagr's agent, former Flyers defenseman Petr Svoboda.
The ultimate decision, though, seems to be up to Jagr - based on what Laviolette can promise. The benefit is that he is now a known commodity. It's easier to make promises when you know what you're getting. But Jagr clearly wasn't thrilled about being bumped from the top line in the playoffs and having his minutes and situations chopped. For him, it's more about the role and less about the team or city.
"I don't want to just come back and just to sit here," Jagr said. "I wasn't disappointed. Sometimes, I wanted to play a little bit more, but it was fine with me. I want to be better than I was this year. I truly believe I can do it if I practice the right way to get ready. I wasn't [in the NHL] for 3 years. It is not easy. The game is totally different than Europe. Right now, I have to wait and see. We have a long summer to think and talk about it. I am going to work harder and prove I am still a good player."