Thanks to Emma paying way more attention to hockey news and gossip than I do, it has been brought to my attention that not only is Jaromir Jagr considering a return to the NHL, but that his people are discussing the possibility of Jagr returning to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he helped bring to a Stanley Cup victory 20 years ago, with Mario Lemieux and the Penguins management team.
I make no secret of the fact that I have an extreme distaste that is just on the right side of burning hatred for Jaromir Jagr. I do have respect for the fact that he is an amazingly talented hockey player, but other than that, I have no respect for the man at all. This is because the way he left Pittsburgh was extremely disrespectful to the team that had basically made him a star, his loyal fanbase in Pittsburgh, and the city of Pittsburgh in general. I’ll explain that later in this post. It ties in with my overall point.
While there is no doubt in my mind that Jaromir Jagr would be a valued re-addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins because of his proven skill on the ice, I think that it would be a horrendously bad idea for the Pittsburgh Penguins to take Jagr back.
Burning hatred of the man himself aside, I actually put some thought into why a Jagr return to the Pittsburgh Penguins would be a bad idea. I have three reasons why it wouldn’t work out too well. All of these have been vetted by two people-Emma and my mother-who declared them to be Good and Valid Reasons Why Not. Now, my mother isn’t a hockey fan, but she was a native Pittsburgher and pays attention to their sports teams, so she has knowledge of Jagr’s history with the Penguins, and she’s my mother, so I trust her judgment.
Anyways, before this veers any further off into TangentLand than it already has, here are my reasons why Jaromir Jagr rejoining the Pittsburgh Penguins is a bad idea.
Reason #1: The Pittsburgh Penguins are owned by Jagr’s former teammate Mario Lemieux.
Now, this may not seem like a problem to many people. “But Mario and Jagr were BFFs! They played together for years! They know each other really well! How could that be a problem?”
Take a moment to think about this, though: Someone that you have been friends and teammates with for years buys the team you both played for, effectively elevating them above teammate status to what basically amounts to boss status. Suddenly, your best friend is now your boss. You have to answer to them, and they have a say in deciding what happens to you when it comes time for contract negotiations, which means that at some point in time, your former friend has a hand in choosing how much you get paid and whether or not you even get to continue playing for the team.
Think about how it felt to be Jagr at the time when Mario Lemieux took over ownership of the Penguins. All of a sudden, his friend had control of what would happen to his career, and knowing that couldn’t have been easy for him. The only way that wouldn’t be an issue is if Lemieux gave ownership of the Penguins to someone else, and at the time he took over ownership of the Penguins, Lemieux stated that he wanted ownership of them because it was the least he could do to return the kindness the team had shown him over the years. This is not someone who would hand the team over to someone else just to placate the feelings of a former teammate.
Reason #2: Jagr would not be the star of the team if he returned.
Again, this seems to be a somewhat petty reason. However, when Mario Lemieux retired the first time around, Jagr basically took over as the star of the team. He got used to the position, and even when Ryan Malone came in and started being amazing, it was still widely acknowledged that Jaromir Jagr was the star of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But then, Mario Lemieux briefly came out of retirement. In short order, the spotlight that had been Jagr’s for years shifted back to the man that Pittsburgh calls “Super Mario” and loves for all the good he’s done for the city charity-wise over the years. Jagr was no longer the star of the team, and I don’t think he appreciated that.
Because think about it: You’re FINALLY the acknowledged star of your sports team after spending years in the shadow of your friend and teammate. Men want to be friends with you, kids want to grow up to play hockey like you, and women want to hop into your bed at a moment’s notice. The city you play for loves you. Then, one day, said teammate not only buys your team, but decides to come out of retirement and PLAY for your team again. Suddenly, all the affection that had been bestowed upon you switches right back to your teammate, and you’re in the shadows again, just like you were before.
Like the ownership issue with Lemieux, this is a problem that will still be present if Jagr returns to Pittsburgh. Lemieux is no longer playing, but the stars of our team now are Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Jagr would be in the shadows once again, and for someone who was so used to the spotlight for so long, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be able to play without having serious issues re: fan adoration, which, in Jagr’s case, would now be non-existent.
Ironically enough, this brings me to my final point.
Reason #3: The majority of Pittsburgh Penguins fans would not accept a decision to bring Jagr back to Pittsburgh.
I give exactly zero damns or any other units of measurement what Gary Bettman or certain former owners of certain teams appear to think: the opinions of a hockey team’s fanbase DO matter, no matter how different they are from the team’s ownership. The vast majority of Pittsburgh Penguins fans that I talked to via Facebook (because when you spend 4 years in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas for technical college and university, you make friends with a LOT of Penguins fans) regarding the possibility of a Jagr return said that they would not accept Jagr back with open arms, if at all. I said earlier that the reason I hate Jaromir Jagr has to do with how he left the Penguins and that I would explain it later because it ties in with one of my overall points, and this is the aforementioned point.
As best I can recall, because I was still a teenager dealing with some pretty dastardly things going on in my personal life at the time, when it came time to renegotiate Jagr’s contract with the Penguins, Jagr pulled a diva move and made all sorts of wild contract demands on the Penguins. The team, at the time, was having serious money issues, and they were unable to meet the monetary demands Jagr was making on them to be able to stay with the team. They kept offering him what they could, but eventually, Jagr decided that he was done playing ball with the team and decided to leave.
Pittsburgh is not for nothing known as the City of Bridges (I can name a good three or four off the top of my head if I really think about it), and when Jagr departed the Penguins for greener pastures, he burned as many of them as he could. He badmouthed the team, the management, and worst of all, the fans. He did nothing but complain about how he was treated while in Pittsburgh, most of which was a lie. I was only 3 ½ when the Penguins won the cup in 1991, but I was a young kid in the ‘90s and a teenager in the early 2000s, and I clearly remember interviews with coaches and management who said that they felt Jagr was a valuable player, teammates who said he was a wonderful person, and classmates of mine who considered Jagr their idol. In short, when Jagr left, he betrayed the entire Pittsburgh Penguins fanbase and team.
To give you some idea of how the city of Pittsburgh felt about Jagr after he left the Penguins, I’m going to relate an incident that happened a couple years after he left, when Jagr was playing for the New York Rangers.
There is, from what I’ve seen, a general hatred for the New York Rangers amongst the hockey fans I know, so they started out with a strike against them to begin with on this particular game night. Penguins fans, while usually loveable cheeky little buggers, have been known to be jerks before, and if their team is playing a team that they don’t like, the jerkitude is magnified by an infinite amount. Throw a man who threw them under the bus when he left the team into the mix, and you get an amount of virulent hatred from Pittsburgh sports fans not seen since Neil O’Donnell lost the Super Bowl for the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 1996.
I’m sitting in my room, listening to the pre-game on the radio. Phil Bourque and Paul Steigerwald are discussing the game and the odds and all sorts of game-related things. And then they start talking about Jagr. Now, Phil Bourque was on the 1991 Stanley Cup Championship Penguins team with Jagr and Mario Lemieux (if you recall, Bourque was also the one who tossed the Stanley Cup into Lemieux’s pool to see if it would float), so he was friends with Jagr at one point.
Remember when I said that the teammates felt betrayed as well? This apparently was not limited to teammates who were playing with Jagr at the time he left, if Bourque’s digs at Jagr were any indications of his feelings.
The potshots at Jagr continued throughout the game, making for some of the most hilariously biased game commentary I’d ever heard in my life. Then, at one point during the game, Bourque and Steigerwald started laughing hysterically about something going on in the stands. I had left the room to get a drink, so I only heard the last part of their discussion of it before they moved on.
The next day, I was listening to the radio while getting ready for school, and I found out what they had been laughing at: apparently, an intrepid fan had taken an old Jagr Penguins jersey and changed the writing on the back. Instead of Jagr, the back of the jersey read “Jag Off,” a traditional insult used in Pittsburgh to describe someone that you don’t really like all that much.
This was YEARS after Jagr had left the team, so I think it’s a good indication of how the Penguins fans would feel now if he wanted to return. All love was lost when he chose to make his exit the way he did, and if the fact that his name and Neil O’Donnell’s names are never spoken without a certain old-time term used to describe someone whose parents were not married at the time of their birth coming before or after their names years after their transgressions is any indication, I don’t think the Penguins fans have forgiven him, or will EVER forgive him.
Conclusion: If the Penguins take Jagr back, there is a 99.9% chance that history will repeat itself. The circumstances under which he left are very nearly the same as they were when he left, and if you combine that with the fact that the fans now hate him, there is a very good chance that he will one day get angry and leave the team the same way he did before.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jagr would be an asset to whatever team decides to take him. However, given the circumstances, I firmly believe that the team that takes him should NOT be the Pittsburgh Penguins.