Once bitter rivals, Jaromir Jagr (blue) and Scott Hartnell find themselves playing together in Philadelphia
When it was announced last Friday that Jaromir Jagr had signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, local Pittsburgh radio personality Mark Madden asked his listeners, without irony, to call in and opine on the following:
Biggest heel turn in history:
1) Hulk Hogan joins the nWo
2) Judas betrays Jesus
3) Jagr signs with the Flyers
#Jagrwatch had become that big in Pittsburgh.
As the ink dries on Jaromir Jagr’s one-year, $3.3 million deal, Pittsburgh Penguins fans are left asking themselves what just happened. In the span of 36 hours, they went from anticipating a Crosby, Jagr, Malkin power play unit to seeing their 2009 Stanley Cup Game 7 hero (Max Talbot) and old number 68 head to, of all places, Philadelphia.
It is important to get this much straight; This year’s free agent class was one of the weakest in recent memory, especially at the wings.
This market saw Tim Connolly (13-29-42 in 2010/2011) get two years and $9.5 million from Toronto. The aforementioned Max Talbot, a role-player and third-liner at best, earned a contract of 5 years and $9 million from the Flyers.
When Jagr and his agent, Petr Svoboda, saw this, it was clear that accepting Pittsburgh’s offer of one-year at $2 million was not in Jagr’s best financial interest. Penguins fans are smart enough to understand this. There are two major problems though:
1) It’s the Flyers.
Any other team, and Pens fans might have understood. $1.3 million is a lot more money, especially at Jagr’s age. But, the Flyers?!
He claims he turned down more money to join Philadelphia, mumbling something about wanting to play with right-handed linemates as opposed to the left-shooting Crosby and Malkin.
I have a hard time believing that any team was willing to give a 39-year-old who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2008 more than $3.3 million.
2) Jagr lied through his teeth and stabbed Mario Lemieux in the back.
When Jagr decided he wanted to return to the NHL for one more year, he lied that there was no place he would rather be than back in Pittsburgh, playing for his boyhood hero Mario Lemieux.
“His heart is in Pittsburgh,” claimed Svoboda. The Penguins and their fans were led to believe that this wasn’t about the money. That this was Jagr chasing one last shot at another Stanley Cup. That this was Jagr seizing the opportunity to bury the hard feelings of 2000 and 2001, when Jagr became a locker-room cancer.
Turns out it was just Jags being Jags. The same immature and irresponsible player that the Pens traded for a bag of pucks on July 11, 2001. In the process, he made Lemieux and general manager Ray Shero look silly going after him.
And one thing Penguins fans will absolutely never accept is disrespecting Mario Lemieux. He saved hockey in Pittsburgh, got the Pens a new arena, and built a Stanley Cup champion after years and years of misery. Don’t mess with 66.
So now Pens fans have Dec. 29 circled on their calendars, when Jagr will make his much-anticipated return to the Steel City. It will be a surreal moment for those of us who grew up in Pittsburgh and fell in love with the Penguins largely because of Jagr.
Seeing his ubiquitous No. 68 surrounded by Philadelphia orange, black and white will evoke raw emotions in Penguins fans.
Make no mistake, Jagr’s contributions to the Penguins organization will always be appreciated. I will never forget watching him in black and Vegas gold, mullet flowing in the wind, as he used otherworldly skating ability and hands softer than velvet to make opposing defenses and goaltenders look like beer league players on a nightly basis.
He was an absolute force. In 1992, the idea that Pittsburgh could ever hate Jaromir Jagr was absurd. Now it is a reality. I’m sure there are more than a handful of old-time fans for whom their love of Jagr will outweigh their frustration and disappointment.
Unfortunately for him, there aren’t enough.
And in case you haven’t noticed, there is a large contingent of Penguins fans who haven’t been there since the early 90’s. It is no secret that before Crosby the Mellon Arena felt more like a morgue than a raucous sporting venue.
For these fans, Jaromir Jagr is just a name on the back of a jersey on a highlight reel. They may have seen him play, but it was likely in a Capitals or Rangers sweater. They have no emotional attachment to him and could care less what he did for the Penguins 20 years ago.
In their minds he is nothing more than a Philadelphia Flyer, and will be booed and heckled with the same vitriol as Chris Pronger and Scott Hartnell.
It’s unfortunate that it is going to end this way. It hurts me as a long time Pens fan to think that on Dec. 29, I am going to stand up and cheer when Brooks Orpik smashes Jagr into the glass. But that is what happens when you become a Flyer. You are dead to Pittsburgh.