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Nylander hopes to be reunited with Jagr in Philly

by Adam Kimelman
Michael Nylander has been trying to resurrect his partnership with Jaromir Jagr for a few years now. In Philadelphia, he might get the chance.

The Flyers signed Jagr to a one-year contract on July 1, and on Aug. 17 signed Nylander to tryout contract and invited him to training camp.

"We've been talking for a couple years about that we want to play together, when he was in Russia and I was everywhere else," Nylander told "Finally this opportunity came up. I am excited about that. We'll see how it goes."

For Nylander, about anything would be an improvement over the last few seasons. He had spent 15 seasons in the NHL with seven teams, but following a 2008-09 season that saw him total just 9 goals and 24 assists in 72 games with the Washington Capitals, the Caps waived Nylander and ended up loaning him to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League and Jokerit Helsinki in Finland.

Still under contract for another season with the Caps but unwanted in Washington, he again requested to be sent to the AHL, this time landing a job with the Rochester Americans.

"Last season I really wanted to play in the AHL so I could be a quick pick-up if someone got injured last season," said Nylander. "Unfortunately, I myself got injured."

That injury nearly ended his career. In the second period of a game on Oct. 23, 2010 against Grand Rapids, Griffins defenseman Brendan Smith hit Nylander from behind along the right-wing boards. Nylander fell into the boards at an awkward angle and suffered a broken vertebra in his neck. Days later he had spinal fusion surgery to fix the break, but missed the remainder of the season.


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"I thought I broke my collarbone," Nylander said of the injury. "It was tough to find out the results, but I had a good doctor there."

Nylander said retirement never was an option during his time out of the planet's best hockey league.

"I tried to stay in shape and play wherever I was told to play," said Nylander. "It's a business. It wasn't the greatest situation I wanted to be in -- I wanted to be part of the Capitals all the way -- but they chose to send me away somewhere else.

"You have to look at different things, not all about hockey … what else you're doing, your family. I have six kids to take care of. There's things that happen outside of hockey. When stuff like that happens, you're pretty fortunate anyway."

Now 38, Nylander said he's 100 percent healthy and has no residual issues with his neck or back, and is looking forward to getting back to the NHL.

"Now it's just a matter of getting in good hockey shape and game shape," he said.

Adding to Nylander's desire is a chance to again work with Jagr, who he's played with in Washington and New York.

They first were paired together in November 2002 with the Capitals, when Nylander arrived in Washington following an early-season trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. In 71 games with the Caps, Nylander had 17 goals and 56 points, while Jagr had 36 goals, the most he scored in his three seasons with the club.

They were reunited when Nylander signed with the Rangers for the 2005-06 season and the result were career-highs of 56 assists and 79 points for Nylander, while Jagr had 54 goals, 123 points, won the Ted Lindsay Award and finished as the runner-up to Joe Thornton in the Hart Trophy balloting.

The following season was even better for Nylander, who set personal-bests with 26 goals, 57 assists 83 points and 14 power-play goals. Jagr had 30 goals -- the 15th straight season he hit that mark -- and 96 points, and the Rangers advanced to second round of the Eastern Conference Finals.

That was the final season they played together, as Nylander signed a four-year deal with the Capitals in the summer of 2007. Jagr played the 2007-08 season in New York, and has spent the last three seasons playing in Russia.

"Sometimes you have a really good understanding of each other and how both are playing," Nylander said of his synchronicity with Jagr. "For some reason we just clicked form Day 1, almost. And we did have pretty good in seasons after that. It's exciting to play with him. Hard to say or pinpoint why or what, it's just some players fit good together. I enjoy playing with him. He's easy to find on the ice."

Nylander said he talked to Jagr about joining him in Philadelphia, but he isn't the only person Nylander knows in Philadelphia -- Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren was Nylander's first NHL coach, with the Hartford Whalers from 1992-94.

"I felt it was a good opportunity here with a great team that has been successful the last few years," said Nylander. "They're building up something here. Signing good goaltending, have a good defense, good forwards. It's tight to win the Cup with any team, but I think this team has an opportunity to do something."

With the Flyers' litany of offseason changes, coach Peter Laviolette said jobs will be available in training camp. And having coached against Nylander six times a season when Nylander was with the Caps and Laviolette was coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, he knows what Nylander is capable of.

"He's a talented guy," Laviolette told "I know he's coming off some tough years, but he's back now and he's healthy and looking to get back (to the NHL). Certainly a guy who's dangerous with the puck and offensively creates an awful lot -- or has in his past. There's lots of guys in here looking for opportunities and trying to make the most of that opportunity and I would say he fits in that category."

Laviolette said Nylander's past chemistry with Jagr won't win him any bonus points on a team that already has three centers on NHL deals -- Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Blair Betts -- as well as top rookie Brayden Schenn and 2011 first-round pick Sean Couturier competing for spots in the middle.

Nylander said none of that fazes him.

"It is what it is," he said. "It's nothing I can control. I come out here and play the way I can play. Hopefully they're going to like it."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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