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Translations by Tomas Jandik
"I feel like I am robbing somebody" (interview with "Sport" daily) - 12-Jan-03
http://www.deniksport.cz/clanek.asp?id=26&stranka=6&ex_z=kategorie&ex_id=69517

(Interview printed January 6, 2003)

I FEEL LIKE I AM ROBBING SOMEBODY

Your leg is wrapped up in a bandage, and you are paying attention to each of your steps. What happened?

It happened during the second period [of the game against NY Rangers]. Somebody hit my leg with a stick, and I sprained my ankle. On top of it, my knee hurts as well.

Did the doctor tell you how long youíd be out?

Fortunately we have a few days off. I pulled my ligament, I canít walk well, but nothing got torn. I should be OK soon.

The experts say that Washingtonís play isnít watchable. After the game against Rangers, I have to agree with them. My eyes really hurtÖ

I have already forgot how normal hockey is played, I no longer feel the difference, so I canít compare {he smiles bitterly}. My friend ďCuzakĒ Rys told me before I went to Washington that I will get used to it. So I am getting used to it. Itís splendidÖ

[The present situation] must be an extraordinary change for you after all those years spent in the Pittsburghís offensive engine. You must have been enjoying yourself much more [when playing] with the Penguins.

Itís about something completely different. Each team has its own style that they keep, and Washington has no intention to change theirs. [The team] plays always the same.

Your first season with the Capitals had not ended well, and this, the make-up season, seems to be headed in the same direction. Doesnít all this drive you crazy?

Itís not over, weíll se how things will work out. I had nicer expectations, though, Iím not denying that.

Does it bother you?

You bet it does. 100% percent I am bothered by it a lot. But I believe I will overcome that. The team is on the roll, we havenít lost 10 games in a row. The style is terrible, but it is efficient.

But this hockey deprived you of any joy!

And what can I do? Iíd prefer to play differently, butÖ

Could it have occurred to you how things in Washington will eventually work out?

Not at all. You never know in advance what will happen to you in a new environment. I had welcomed that change. I believed it would help me. It doesnít look that way so far. On the other hand I realize that beginnings are always tough. For a lot of stars, it takes time to get used to the change of a jersey. Look at Bobby Holik, Lindros. For years they had been used to one style of game, then they left for a different team and they are getting different tasks. It tends to be difficult to cope with that. The management expects the same performance from you, but sometimes itís not there.

You said recently: If I am not able to adjust to the Washingtonís style of game, thenÖ

I wonít be able to play here. Itís as simple as that.

How long do you want to wait? And do you feel you are gradually adjusting?

Iím saying that I have already perfectly adjusted. I donít even notice that we play weirdlyÖ {sigh}

Donít you feel that these days, hockey has become just a well-paid job for you, and that you go to practice simply for the sake of duty, out of tune?

Certainly, hockey right now is just a work for me, no joy.

That doesnít sound particularly nicely. How to change that? The teamís play will likely stay the same, maybe the management can decide to re-wamp the roster and bring some new teammates for you. Is that the way to go?

The only chance for me is to work hard. So that I get to my old form and show that I can still play my hockey. As soon as I score regularly, and the team keeps on wining, nobody will come to me with their criticisms, and Iíll be able to keep doing my job. I can hardly give any advice when I come to the team with certain statistics, and suddenly those numbers arenít there. Then the others simply take me as a regular player with all the duties [the others have]. Why should not I return and play defense? So far, I havenít proven to my teammates that I am able to play my game. Persuading about that is a long-term process. A year, maybe two. The coach keeps sitting me down. He doesnít care, when I donít score goals, I sit on the bench. Last time I logged mere 12 minutes.

The team is coached by a NHL rookie Bruce Cassidy. Back in the Czech Republic, the information about him is quite ambiguous. How is he? Allegedly, sometimes he isnít afraid to chew the teamís stars out.

I donít talk to him at all. I have no idea.

Whatís your relationship with him?

I donít know. He is 36. I donít know. I donít talk to him at all.

Why?

It [the situation?] is something completely different from what I expected. We simply donít communicate with each other.

Doesnít Cassidyís minimal experience with coaching of such an ambitious team show?

Everybody has to learn. But I donít want to comment on that.

Does Robert Lang talk to Cassidy?

I donít know, youíll have to ask him. But I donít think [he does].

You donít even say one word to him?

Thatís why we have a captain. He talks to him.

Seriously, you have never said to him one single word?

No.

Never?

Never.

So you have no relationship whatsoever.

A professional one.

Neither good, nor bad.

I know he is here and he know that Iím here.

Thatís odd, isnít it?

I have the relationship with him as a regular player. For him, the captain is important. Right now I donít want anything from him.

Has he ever criticized you?

If you make a mistake, heíll make you feel it.

And does Cassidy manage to do his job?

I have no idea. I simply donít care about that.

There are many experts who claim: Washington and Jagr, thatís a big mistake. I know itís difficult to admit it, but still: havenít you reached the same conclusion?

So far I did not. You never know what would happen in a different team. I donít blame the club; I do accept the blame completely.

What you canít stop is your age. Donít you feel that the reason behind your poorer play is the built-in fatigue? Everybody ages.

Sure, I donít feel as great as I felt several years ago, but I [decided to] ignore my age. I still feel that I will get out of this and I will be the best player, again. Call me crazy, but I believe in it. Why not, I still have the talent for it.

The look at your salary speaks clearly: you are the best-paid NHL player. Isnít that unpleasant with regards to your present performance?

You bet it is. I do care about Washington, and thatís why I feel like I am robbing somebody.

Those millions of dollars were invested in you by the teamís owner Ted Leonsis. You two are good friends and itís known that because of the Capitals owner, you feel pretty bad about your hockey troubles.

The owner doesnít care how a player looks on the ice, as soon as the team is winning. He doesnít care if I score 50 goals in a season or not. He knows that during the play-offs, the fans will fill the arena. And if we play crap and donít advance, the situation will be terrible.

Do you talk to Leonsis often?

It depends; right now not, heís on vacation.

Do you still stand behind your claim that Ted Leonsis is a cool guy?

He is the last person that Iíd like to disappoint in Washington. Ted loves his team, heíll do everything for the team to win. Thatís exactly why I donít want to disappoint him.

Did the owner criticize you yet?

Not yet. But I have to knock it on wood.

Do you ever consider the dark thoughts about what would happen if the team did not advance to the playoffs.

At this point I donít consider that. I feel that weíll be able to make the playoffs even with the style we play right now. It does not look nice, but it works. We came with some points in every of the last 10 games.

The hockey enthusiasts loved the Pittsburgh productivity in the past. Isnít it possible to bring the good from the Penguins game into the style of Washington? After all, both Robert Lang and Kip Miller came from your former team? Is that still not enough?

First of all, Lang is in troubles as well. The same for Bondra. Everything is about the confidence. If you donít have the points, you are under the time pressure, and you canít afford to have a bad game. With Pittsburgh, we werenít able to win everything, either, but we were passing to each other. Thatís not possible here. With Penguins, five guys were able to decide to play it their own way. Everybody respected each other and it worked. Thatís not the case here. The coach sees everybody the same way and he doesnít consider that his instructions work for one, but not for somebody else.

Your friend and a personal trainer Marian Jelinek found the term how to characterize Washington game Ė chaos. Some are ready to do wrestling, the others want to combine, and the ultimate product is crap. What do you think about that?

I donít know how to explain it. We simply play differently. Nobody dares to attempt a risky pass, because in case of failure heíd go to sit on the bench. Me or anybody else, the coach doesnít make any differences. So you canít be surprised that the players rarely come up with anything special when passing. You have two choices, either to risk a little or slam it on the boards. You wonít mess anything up [if you do that].

But that sounds like alibism.

Well, but the guys canít play any different. They lose the puck when they solve it differently and they go down. Their work, their jobs are at stake.

Last year, you took as your personal goal to get deeper into the Washington network, this year you want to take a more important role in the locker room. How successful are you give that on the ice, you donít stand out as much?

Itís hard to play poker if your cards are bad. If I donít have the results, I can only bluff. And [even] for that you need good cards. And I donít have them.

It has been reported, maybe more at home than here in America, that there was a trade in makings, and you were to play the main role in it. What do you think about that speculation: plain stupid, a rumor, or the trade is or was imminent.

Come on, who would want me {he laughs}. I donít think theyíd like to send me out. Maybe they were considering different players, but my name in my opinion was not on the list.

So you really did not feel threatened?

I laughed at that news. I believed that 100% I was staying in Washington.

After Dopita left Edmonton, the Czech National Team Coach Slavomir Lener said that he could be able to help you. In fact, one NHL team allegedly contacted [Dopitaís] agant Svoboda. Could it have been Washington, by some chance?

Slava Lener said that? But he isnít a GM. I have no idea whatsoever whatís happening with the team and with all the things around. Seriously, I donít know. In contrast to Pittsburgh, I knew about everything there; here all goes past me.

Why arenít you involved in whatís happening in Washington team organization more deeply?

There are different rules here, besides I had lived in Pittsburgh since I was 18; they took me like one of their own over there. A friendly relationship emerged among the GM, some people from the management and myself. We knew each other well, and we talked about things that I would not discuss with anybody else. There was an atmosphere of a mutual trust [in Pittsburgh]. Such a relationship is absent over here.

Are you bothered by it?

I definitely would not mind, if I got closer to the management. A player tends to live for the team much more in such cases. On the other hand, at least I know now how it feels to be a regular player. To fulfill his duties, nothing more, nothing less.

At the first glance, both teams look similar; what are the main differences between Pittsburgh and Washington?

Both organizations are quite different. In Pittsburgh, the relationships are friendly, family-like. More smiles, more fun, and understanding among different positions within the club. In Washington, there isnít as much of the freedom, they have different, more stringent regimen in here. Well, a lot depends on the results. If you are winning, the management respects you far more than in that other case. Itís painfully visible.

That begs for the question whether some people from the Capitals [organization] indicated to you that a player of such a stature should be showing himself in a more favorable light. Has anybody let you know about that?

I did not ask anybody. I know they were expecting more, nobody needs to tell me that.

One more time regarding the tense atmosphere in the club. Some time ago you mentioned relatively harsh penalties for relatively minor offences. You were for example talking about fines for slightly late arrivals for practices. Has anything changed in this regard?

Maybe these are the customs in every team, but Pittsburgh. I knew one set of rules for 10 years and I was under the impression that no other exists. They showed me in Washington that it does. In Pittsburgh, they announced: the departure is at 4PM. If somebody came 20 minutes later, nothing happened, nobody cared about that. Traffic jam? No biggie, weíd wait. Several times weíd even wait for the manager, the plane stood still, no rush, we were sitting inside. I have a feeling that here they would take off. Everywhere I go, I am on time.

Did you enjoy your Christmas, New Yearís Eve celebration. Was there peace in Jagr household?

The New Yearís Eve celebration tends to be spoiled here. Each year, Washington plays the game on New Year in the afternoon. One canít enjoy himself much, there is no time to celebrate. And during the Christmas, the schedule is packed a lot, for the people.

Did you manage to pack your gifts based on [your loved onesí] wishes? What did you give to your mom, dad, girlfriend Andrea?

You have to ask them, such things maybe should not even be discussed in newspapers. They did not look too disappointed, so I guess I was successful.

Tomas Jandik is the resident Czech on LetsGoPens.com and is a man who unifies all the goodies of the American dream - meaning, of course, being a Pitt graduate, a Razorback, and a Penguins fan.

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