It appears Jaromir Jagr's days in the National Hockey League are over.
The Russian hockey team Avangard Omsk announced it has signed the former New York Rangers star and Jagr's agent, Pat Brisson, confirmed the move Friday afternoon.
"Jaromir signed a letter of intent with the Avangard Omsk Hockey team of the Russian CHL on or about 3am EST this morning. I won't comment on the terms of the agreement at this time.It was a very difficult but personal decision to make in light of the many NHL teams interested in his services. He is grateful to the NHL and especially the Rangers in recent years."
The decision to leave the NHL was a difficult one for Jagr.
"It wasn't an easy decision," the forward told The Canadian Press on Friday. "It was the toughest decision in my life, hockey-wise.
"It was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be," he added. "No question about it. I hate making changes."
Local and international media were reporting that Jagr will be paid $35 million for two years. However, in an interview with TSN, Jagr, himself, says the deal would pay him $5 million annually.
Just because he's leaving, doesn't mean Jagr did not enjoy his time in the NHL.
"The NHL gave me an opportunity to play hockey," he said. "And I played with so many great players. Especially in Pittsburgh with Mario (Lemieux) and Ron Francis and Bryan Trottier and Paul Coffey - all those great players. I had a chance to learn hockey from them. I was very lucky.
"Probably the luckiest year was when I was 18 years old and came to the Pittsburgh Penguins," continued Jagr. "It's not only about winning the Cup but it's about the players that won the Cup. They players on that team worked so hard to win that Cup. When you're a young guy and you see how hard the older guys work, you feel bad if you don't do that with them. They taught me everything - on the ice and off the ice."
On Thursday, Rangers general manager Glen Sather said the club could no longer wait for Jagr to decide where he wanted to play and signed former Vancouver captain Markus Naslund to replace him.
"I gave him the information that we are going to move on at this time. I couldn't wait any longer," Sather said in a conference call Thursday.
Nevertheless, Jagr was grateful for his time in New York.
"I'm thankful for the three years I had in New York," said Jagr. "They were great years. I understand that I'm older and the team decided to go in a different direction because they couldn't get the deal done.
"I will never say one bad word against the Rangers organization or Glen. They were great to me. And I'm not lying when I say that, it's really how I feel. They were always great to me."
Despite the Rangers moving on, there had been reports that Jagr was being pursued by the Edmonton Oilers, who were offering $7 million, and his former squad the Pittsburgh Penguins. All of teams are believed to have been offering one-year contracts - something Jagr was unwilling to agree to.
"I wanted to go home in three years so I was looking for a three-year contract if I wanted to stay here," said Jagr. "But it looks like with the new [Collective Barganing Agreement], it's tough for older guys to sign long-term contracts because teams are worried you're going to get injured or retire and they're stuck with the salary on the salary cap."
Under the current CBA, contracts of players 35-years of age or older will still count against the cap even if the player retires midway through the contract.
"So it was too tough for any team to sign me to a three-year contract," said Jagr. "But I didn't want to do a one-year deal because I didn't want to go through the same thing again next summer. Because I really didn't enjoy this."
Jagr, who tallied 25 goals and 46 assists for the Blueshirts last season, also played for Avangard during the NHL's lockout season in 2004-05.
"Don't forget I'm from Europe," said Jagr. "Russia is nothing new for me. It's close to the Czech Republic. It would be different for American or Canadian players but for me, I enjoy it. The people love hockey and I had a great time out there."
An eight-time NHL All-Star and 1999 Hart Trophy winner as the league's MVP, Jagr has registered 646 goals and 963 assists in 1,273 NHL games with Pittsburgh, Washington and the Rangers.
The Czech Republic native was also a part of two Stanley Cup winners in 1991 and 1992 with the Penguins.
With files from the Canadian Press