Jaromir Jagr: 5 Reasons the Pittsburgh Penguins Are Better Off Without Him
Jagr Watch came to an end early on Friday, July 1st. Living in Pittsburgh, I can say without a doubt that the only thing that had more people talking in the past year was the Pittsburgh Steelers making it to the Super Bowl.
The hype was near endless. Aside from Pens fanatics and local sports reporters, just about everyone in town joined the fracas. It was hard to go on Twitter or Facebook and not see comments about it. I know I put up a few, including a picture of my old Snoop Dogg "Gin and Juice" era Jagr jersey.
There is no shame in admitting that Pittsburgh Penguins fans everywhere were all hoodwinked. We had the best of intentions.
Deep down we did not want Jaromir Jagr back because he was the piece that would put the team over the top for its fourth Stanley Cup championship. Sure, he could have helped, but what we were looking for was a piece of our past.
If there is one thing that Pittsburgh does as well or better than any area in the country, and perhaps the world, it is live in the past. A return of Jagr would have been cathartic for the entire city. This was the chance to forgive.
Sure we can forgive Ben Roethlisberger for buffoonery or sexual assault, depending on whose story you believe, because he wins. After many years of exile, Terry Bradshaw has found a figurative "home" with the Steelers again.
Dave Parker spent years having batteries thrown at him, but he regularly appears at Pirates Fest now. Water under the bridge—relax guys.
There is, however, a trio of athletes—the un-holy trinity of Pittsburgh sports. Ones that can never be forgiven. Barry Bonds, Jaromir Jagr and Marian Hossa. Each committed the sins of trying to ply their talents outside of the Burgh.
Over the past few years the topic of Jagr would come up, and the potential for him spending a last hurrah with the flightless bird on his chest would intrigue us all. But each year he would sign another KHL deal and that would be that. He remained persona non grata.
This time it seemed different. He had a short list of teams: Detroit, Montreal and Pittsburgh. It started to seem like Hossa-gate all over again. But word slipped out that the Patron Saint of Pittsburgh hockey himself, made a call. Mario Lemieux and Jagr were said to have spoken about a potential return.
Time was spent watching the internet, tracking a potential flight out of the Czech Republic to New York to see when Jags would arrive. Many hours were spent speculating line combinations, how he would fit into the dressing room, if he had "matured" from his "dying alive" days, etc.
Then buzz-kill former NHLer and agent Peter Svoboda said that Jagr's "heart was in Pittsburgh." It slowly became obvious that this was all about the money, as other teams were said to have entered the mix.
While it may have been meaningless, GM Ray Shero took the Penguins offer off the table early in the morning of July 1st. Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland did the same, to his credit.
The Penguins and Wings lost nothing in the process. After all, they were not the team that traded away two bona fide goal scorers, one of which was their captain, in the past few weeks.
The Philadelphia Flyers won this round. Whether or not they win the season-long battle remains to be seen.
Two things are for certain. First, Barry Bonds will see his number retired by the Pirates sooner than Jagr will with the Penguins.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Penguins are better off without Jagr. Here are five reasons why.
No. 5: Maturity
The question of "maturity" came up many times from local detractors of Jagr, notably Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist and 93.7 FM personality Ron Cook. He said over and over again that you do not want a guy like Jagr around this team. It is simply not worth the risk.
Ron Cook was right. Read that twice because it hurts to write it.
In Jagr's initial Philadelphia press conference (July 2nd) via Josh Yohe of the
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, he was quoted as saying, "I didn't promise anybody anything. If the Penguins feel like I did something wrong or something bad, you know, I don't feel like I did anything wrong."
That's all fine and dandy, but the Penguins did not start the process. According to Rob Rossi on May 16, 2011, Jaromir said, "You never know. Maybe it will be still fun to go back to NHL. Maybe Pittsburgh, I don't know."
At this point, it seems like nothing more than a "Jagr said, Jagr said" situation. If the guy did not want to play in Pittsburgh, that is fine.
At his July 2nd press conference, Jagr also said, "I still had a chance to go wherever I wanted. Just because somebody is telling you they want you to go there (Pittsburgh), that doesn't mean that's where you have to go."
To say that, Jagr seems to be no more aware of his role in the process than he would as the youngster that started his career here in 1990.
No. 4: Work Ethic
Sidney Crosby has many critics out there in the hockey world. Maybe you've noticed. But I don't believe one of them would say that Sid is not a hard worker.
Call him a crybaby, whiner or whatever. No matter what, in your heart of hearts you know that Crosby is dedicated to the sport of hockey on a level that few can rival.
Which brings us to Mr. Jagr. By most accounts, he has gotten by on talent his entire life in hockey. There is not anything wrong with that per se. His supposed "hero," Mario Lemieux, was not exactly a marathon runner in his early days either.
Jagr is blessed with hands that many NHL players could not achieve with a million hours of practice. Talent can only take you so far, though, especially in a team setting.
Years back, the Penguins dressing room at the old Civic Arena had a sign that read, "Whatever It Takes. We Walk Together."
Something tells me that, at age 39, Jagr is not really interested in spending the extra time in the weight room tossing a medicine ball back and forth with Brooks Orpik.
He is the captain of this team, after all. Each player in that dressing room sees the work Sid puts in and feels the pressure to match it.
Would Jagr put in that extra work? Again, I do not know him personally but given his history and tendencies I do not think he would set a shining example for guys like Dustin Jeffrey and Mark Letestu to follow.
No. 3: Attitude
The Pittsburgh Penguins of the mid-1990s were said to have a "country club" atmosphere when it came to practice and their approach to hockey in general.
This was not instituted by Jagr. It was Lemieux's creation, but Jagr sure enjoyed it.
As years went by, he was described as "pouty," "moody" and pretty much any other adjective that could show him as someone who was only good when times were up—even then he was not that high up.
I come back to underappreciated visionary Ron Cook's work with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. An article dated Friday, December 1, 2000 titled "A Lemieux Scolding Could Kick-Start Jagr" included some of the following gems, which are somewhat taken out of the context of article.
For weeks, [Jagr] has felt sorry for himself, often going through the motions on the ice. During a nationally televised game against the Philadelphia Flyers Nov. 8, he had nasty words with Ivan Hlinka, showing him up and making him look bad. Even more alarming were his surreal comments after the Penguins' 3-1 loss in Boston Tuesday night.
"I just don't feel comfortable here right now...Maybe I'm going to think about retirement pretty soon...I feel like I'm dying alive."
So this was Jagr when there was not the intense pressure and scrutiny on Penguins hockey that there is currently. Remember last year's slogan as the team moved into the new Consol Energy Center? "Destiny Has a New Home."
Pompous slogans aside, the expectations are real. Would Jagr pout during a scoring slump? Would he drag sometimes Jagr-esque Evgeni Malkin into the doldrums with him?
The chance is certainly not worth taking. Destiny only waits for so many years, and the current Cup total of Team Destiny remains at one.
No. 2: Coach Killer
Another area of concern with Jagr is his constant need for approval of coaches. When things go well, things are fine. But if Jaromir turns on you, it will get ugly.
In another Ron Cook article (I swear he is not paying me for this) dated June 10, 2003 titled "Jagr Pathetic as Sports Figure," he again unleashes some pretty good insight on Jagr as a "coach killer." At the time, many felt that Cook was unfair toward Jagr. As I have stated repeatedly in this article, time has proven him right. Cook's article states:
That Jagr was a coach-killer with the Penguins is indisputable. OK, so he learned from the master, Mario Lemieux, who ran off a coach or two in his time, including the great Scotty Bowman. But Jagr is worse, much worse. He led a revolt against Kevin Constantine—eventually getting him fired—then openly feuded with Ivan Hlinka. His problems with Hlinka would have been comical if they weren't so sad. Hlinka was brought in from the Czech Republic strictly to appease him.
Now, the story goes, Jagr is at odds with Capitals Coach Bruce Cassidy. This is the same Cassidy, who, upon taking over the team before last season, made it a priority to visit Jagr in the Czech Republic. That's the way it works in pro sports these days. Paying an athlete millions isn't enough. You have to show him some love, too.
None of it has been enough to keep Jagr happy.
Not the ego-stroking from Cassidy.
Not the free-agent signings of his pals, Robert Lang and Kip Miller, before last season.
Not even the eye-popping contract the Capitals gave him soon after the trade. Washington owner Ted Leonsis must curse his foolishness each morning when he wakes up and realizes he still owes Jagr a guaranteed $55 million over the next five seasons.
Jagr supporters (aka Philly fans) will suggest that this was almost a decade ago. But is there really any proof that his act has changed? What if he goes into a long slump? Is the Philly system to blame? Will it be the coach's fault or will he just pout and anger the Cup-hungry Flyers fans?
No. 1: Malkin and Crosby
At the end of the day, the flirtation with the notion of Jagr returning to Pittsburgh was nothing more than a luxury—the icing on the cake that has already been baking for a few seasons.
All signs point to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin continuing their road to recovery from season-ending injuries. In a recent article, I indicated my belief that the season will hinge on Malkin's performance.
Penguins fans have seen what Crosby and Malkin can do for the team when they are running wild on the league. Thanks in large part to them, the franchise was able to add its third Stanley Cup banner to the rafters.
While there is no disputing Jagr's place as a Hall of Fame player, it can certainly be questioned as to whether he has the makeup at age 39 to contribute in a significant way to a championship.
Remember, Jagr's last Stanley Cup was in 1992. His last Art Ross Trophy was 2000-01.
Crosby and Malkin hoisted the Cup in 2009. Malkin won the 2008-09 Art Ross. Crosby won the 2006-07 version.
Even if Jagr had joined the team, the success or failure of the 2011-12 team would fall mainly on Crosby and Malkin.
Heck, the defense and Marc-Andre Fleury would likely have a lot more to do with the results than Jagr as well.
For Penguins fans, do not lose any sleep over missing out on Jagr. After going through this article, the notion almost seems so silly I'm embarrassed I gave it any thought in the first place.