Ignoring all the awesome Czech-related hockey puns out there, let’s just cut to the chase — Martin Havlat is excited to reunite with a number of his countrymen in New Jersey.
“I’m happy to be on a good team where I actually know a few guys. That should make it easier at the start,” Havlat told the Star-Ledger, one day after inking a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Devils. “One of the main reasons is the opportunity.
“And for sure a few of the Czech boys help. That was one of the reasons, too.”
Havlat, 33, will now be reunited with three teammates from the Czech contingent at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver — Jaromir Jagr, Marek Zidlicky and Patrick Elias. It means New Jersey is now home to four of the 34 Czechs that played at least one NHL game last year, which is a pretty significant amount.
It’s Havlat’s bond with Elias, though, that seemed to play the biggest role in signing with Jersey. From the Star-Ledger:
The connection with Elias is deepest. They live in nearby towns in Czech Republic (Brno and Trebic), vacation together and attend soccer matches and tennis tournaments. Their wives are also friends.
“The first time we played together was at the 2002 Olympics, but we didn’t actually play on the same line,” Havlat recalled. “After that we played in the World Cup in ’04 and had a great tournament together.. Then we played in the world championships on the same line and it was great. Then during the lockout we played 20 games for a team (Znojmo) back home here.
“We’ve always had great chemistry together. If I can say there are one or two players that I’ve actually had chemistry with during my whole career, that’s Patty. So I’m just hoping it’s going to work out well again. I don’t see a reason why not.”
Given how little New Jersey paid to acquire his services — $1.5 million is way down $5M he made annually on his last deal, though the buyout from San Jose played a role in the discount — Havlat could be a real boon signing for the Devils. Despite being hobbled by injury throughout most of the last two years, Havlat still managed to score 12 goals in 48 games in ’13-14 (works out to 20 over an 82-game season) and isn’t that far removed from his 2011-12 campaign, when he scored 27 points in 39 games for the Sharks.