Jaromir signs in Philly. This shot of Jagr wont go down smooth in Pittsburgh
It’s official: Jaromir Jagr is returning to the NHL. But what was supposed to be a glorious homecoming of number 68 to the city of black and yellow has taken a turn for the worse. Jagr spurned the offer from the Penguins, instead opting to sign with their bitter rivals: the Philadelphia Flyers. Now the streets will be up in a blaze as the fromer Penguin’s jerseys will be burnt and the steel city will have a new public enemy number one. How did this happen? It was supposed to be between the Pens and the Red Wings. How did the Flyers steal one of Pittsburgh’s favorite sons? We will look at the answer below.
We must start at the beginning. Rumblings about Jagr’s return to the NHL began as soon as he left to play in Russia 3 years ago. His exodus from the league was driven by one thing: money (and lots of it). In Russia’s KHL, Jagr was making more than was allowed in the NHL (over $10 million a year tax free). But 2 years after returning to Europe, Jagr really fueled the speculation that he would return to North America. He was quoted as saying that he would be willing to return to Pittsburgh and play for the league minimum because of all that team owner Mario Lemieux has done for him. Fast forward to this summer, his contract in Russia was up and Pittsburgh was interested.
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero was early to get in contact with Jagr’s agent Petr Svoboda and express interest. Shero decided to offer a one-year contract worth $2 million. I believe this was a fair offer for the 39 year old former superstar, who hadn’t played in the NHL for 3 years. The mistake that Shero made was setting a deadline for an answer 2 days before he could officially sign. This unneeded pressure on Jagr. But Jagr seemed to play the good guy and said he was flying to New York to announce his decision. The problem was he never arrived. Pittsburgh couldn’t get in contact with him and neither could his agent. This was the point the relationship took a turn for the worst.
Svoboda then released a statement that several other teams had expressed interest in his client. This prompted Pittsburgh to withdraw their offer citing that they did not want to enter into a bidding war. I believe that Jagr underestimated the amount of interest there would be in him. He has proven to be money driven in the past, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he still is. But in any case the courtship ended, and ended badly.
On the first day of free agency, Jagr signed with the Flyers. His rationale was that he plays better with right-handed centers, which Philly has (Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere) and Pittsburgh doesn’t (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malking, Jordan Staal). Jagr plays left-handed and likes to have his back to the boards, so right handed centers would make it easier for him to send and receive passes. To his defense, a large amount of his success could be attributed to playing with Mario Lemieux, who was right-handed. But he didn’t have that luxury when he played in New York and still won a league MVP. Elite players can adapt, and should be able to play with anyone. I wouldn’t take his rationale to be anything more than an excuse.
I believe that the real reason he signed with Philadelphia was pride. He was insulted that Pittsburgh had pulled their offer and he wanted to hurt them. He said he took less money than was on the table to sign with Philly. And in the grand scheme of things, the $3.3 million he will be getting next year isn’t that much more than the $2 million Pittsburgh offered; so I might be inclined to believe him.
Jagr has never showed much loyalty to the Penguins. True they drafted him and he played for a long time in their sweater. But lest we forget, he was paid a lot of money to stay there. When he left for the Capitals, it was because he requested to be traded. He was going to go down as one of Steel-City’s greatest, almost assured to have his number hanging in the rafters. Now his legacy will be forever tarnished. He will be seen as the man who spurned a city that always embraced him. A mercenary who turned to the darkside. Perhaps he really did want to play with someone right-handed; but it’s impossible to think that this was the right hand to play.
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