Jagr says it was ‘important’ to play for Devils after Kovalchuk retirement

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At 41, Jaromir Jagr wasn’t surprised to find just a handful of suitors for the upcoming campaign.

But that’s not to say one didn’t stand out above the rest.

On Tuesday, Jagr officially signed with New Jersey — a one-year deal with $2 million in base salary that could hit $4 million with bonuses — and said it was “important” to play for the Devils.

“Not many teams are looking for a forward my age, especially with the salary cap going down,” Jagr said, as per NHL.com. “My agent [Petr Svoboda] asked if I would be willing to play for New Jersey and I was. I talked to Lou [Lamoriello] even before [Ilya] Kovalchuk retired and after he retired.

“I felt it was even more important for me to play on the Devils roster [after Kovalchuk’s NHL retirement].”

Kovalchuk, who stunningly retired from the NHL with 14 years and $77 million remaining on his contract, will be tough to replace. He led the team in goals in his first two seasons and, during the 2011-12 campaign, scored 83 points in 77 games and 19 in 23 playoff games as New Jersey made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals.

That said, Jagr might be better equipped to replace Kovalcuk than most figure.

For one, No. 68 actually had the superior 2013 campaign, scoring 35 points to Kovalchuk’s 31 (granted, Kovalchuk played in eight fewer games).

There’s also the not-so-small fact that Jagr played a marathon season altogether, and showed great resilience despite turning 41 in February.

“I know people will say we had a shortened season last year, but it was the longest season for me,” Jagr said. “Counting my time in Europe and the NHL regular season and playoffs, I played in the most games ever in one season.”

Jagr played 34 games with Kladno in the Czech league and another 34 with Dallas before getting dealt to Boston. From there, he appeared in 11 regular season contests with the Bruins, then 22 playoff games.

So, 101 games all told.

As such, the sure-fire Hall of Famer figures he’s in better shape heading into 2013-14, which should be a breeze compared to last year.

“That’s the most games I’ve ever played,” he explained. “(This) is going to be a short season.”