Like the Washington Capitals of the late 1990s and early '00s, the Philadelphia Flyers' signing of Jaromir Jagr has the feel of more than just a team addressing roster needs. Broad Street wants a Penguins poacher, somebody to close any gap and elevate the franchise beyond that of its greatest division rival.
The 2011 Atlantic Division champions, Philadelphia saw April showers last season, as a late-season slide nearly became the storm that allowed a flower, Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins, to steal the crown.
Even with the loss of its top two stars in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Pens achieved 106 points and stood tall in the postseason, finishing with a narrow loss to the Lightning. Losing the two superstars wasn't simply a matter of two standout performers being off the ice; it meant that every favorable matchup that existed for the team's lines was now eliminated as the opposition did not have to honor the deterring forces of No. 87 and No. 71.
Make no mistake that despite their seat atop the Atlantic, fans in Philadelphia know that their arch-rivals for the king's seat don't keep stay in the New York/New Jersey area. Their games do not air on the MSG network.
Philly and its fans have been devastated by the Pens. Including the Flyers' season series victory over Pittsburgh this past season, the Penguins boast a winning record against their intrastate rivals in the past two seasons. In the previous half-decade, the black and gold have had oranges for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, composed of an 8-0 regular season sweep, countless memories of Sidney Crosby heroics, and two playoff victories.
Make no mistake: it is the Flyers who know they'll be needing to catch the Pens this upcoming campaign.
In a wildly shocking offseason set of events, the Penguins withdrew an offer to their former MVP, Jaromir Jagr, creating a whirlwind of speculation regarding his future team and his current abilities. A look back at history could have revealed the mindset of those offering Jagr four million smacks.
Fans will argue about the aggressive off-season needed to replace inevitable losses, most notably the scoring penchant that left with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Naturally, every team is looking to refine their roster with powerful and proper puck potentates, but the natural inclination for most squads includes, in part, one all-encapsulating question in the back of GMs' minds:
What do I have to do to defeat (insert specific team's name here)?
It doesn't take a lot of analysis to figure out what team fits into Paul Holmgren's inner-dialogue.
And, no, it isn't Boston!
The recent events are similar to moves made by another team devastated by Pittsburgh in the past couple of decades. Season after season, it seemed as though the nation's capital exited the postseason due to the heroics of a new all-star, from Mario Lemieux to Ron Francis to Jaromir Jagr.
After years of losing in the playoffs to the Penguins, the 2001-02 Washington Capitals took the "if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em" approach, acquiring Jagr in an attempt to finally get over the hurdle of their pesky rivals from Pennsylvania.
While not as directly targeted as the Caps' acquisition, the Flyers signed Jagr, envisioning a solid contributor but also dreaming of the electric skates that won Hart Trophies, scoring titles, and Stanley Cups that have hung from the rafter of former Mellon Arena (Civic Arena) and current Consol Energy Center.
Will their franchise find a rundown ex-hero no longer able to compete at a star level in the NHL, making them a playoff outsider like those same 2001 Capitals?
Or, will history view the Flyers as a superior squad simply upgrading, beneficiaries of their willingness to take a chance on the former best player in hockey?
Only time will tell, based on the upcoming division standings and (wouldn't fate seem to point this way?) a potential playoff matchup.
The truth of this acquisition doesn't lie in the reality of the team's intentions, and it will not be remembered for the replacement of any ex-Flyers wingers. It will be looked back on as the success or failure of two franchises, one boasting two of the others' greatest playoff heroes. The pregame promotional spots and journalistic flair will gravitate to this new-found and entirely marketable angle:
Pens vs. Flyers' ex-Pens- who wins?
Whether Penguins snatching, trying to transpose eras to overcome those birds of the 'Burgh, or adding the potential of a scoring stick, the Flyers have fueled a Jagr versus the city of Pittsburgh angle that will see no boundaries from sports journalists heading into games this upcoming hockey year, notably during two contests in the season's final days.
On the same day as the Jagr signing, Flyers management signed a piece of their modern rivalry's history from Pittsburgh, acquiring Max Talbot.
Nothing about Talbot jumps off of the statistician's sheet, aside from a legendary Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena to secure the team's championship in 2009.
For the Flyers, however, Talbot jumps off of any sheet in bright orange and black, and nobody can deny that images of April 25, 2009 didn't factor into the decision largely!
It was a Saturday afternoon. In a playoff rematch from a year earlier, Philadelphia was fresh off of a 3-0 victory in Game 5 at Mellon Arena, and lead Game 6 by the same score. Game 7 seemed inevitable, and all momentum would be wearing a flying "P."
Yet, it was a few flying "F's" that would change the momentum, as fists swung back and forth (but mostly back) in a second period rumble provoked by Max Talbot. Thousands of Flyers fans screamed in unison as Dan Carcillo got the better of the Penguins star, yet he was not phased.
Iconic imagery enhances the sports experience, and few snapshots in time are more iconic in history than the finger Talbot placed to his lip, hushing the vocal crowd in Philly. Buoyed by his gesture, the energized Penguins won the contest 5-3, eliminating the Flyers from playoff contention.
With 30 NHL squads in the league that could use Talbot's passion and presence, it was the Flyers that would use his karma.
Entering the 2011-12 NHL season, it will be the Penguins and Flyers tied with current 9-to-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup. The historical perspective on these key acquisitions will be largely decided by the slim margin between these clubs in the year ahead.
Ultimately, it may be addressing their need at goaltender that puts Philadelphia over the top. As I look at potential players of interest for the squad at the start of the free agency period, I can't help but chuckle at one of the names that was listed: Ty Conklin.
Naturally. Anything to fuel the fires of speculation!
Truth or mere perception, the reality is that this season's historical context will be one of the Pens vs. the Pens snatchers, no matter the amount of resentment Flyers fans harbor at the notion.
A season of intrigue will culminate with an answer to the question "which of these scenarios is correct?"
a) The Penguins will return to form and dominate their Pennsylvania foes with a healthy and dynamic roster.
b) The Flyers' acquisitions will complete the puzzle, bringing in pieces of Pittsburgh to take down their Atlantic Division rivals.