Since making his triumphant return to the NHL, Jaromir Jagr will return to his old stomping grounds, Pittsburgh, for the first time tonight. Most people expect that he will be roundly booed, because….well I guess because he didn’t put loyalty ahead of cash and opportunity.

That, and to me anyway, it seems pretty clear that Pittsburgh didn’t actually want him back. It sounds like the Pens expected the same out of Jagr that I did: utter disappointment (and yes, we were both wrong).

Jaromir Jagr did an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (s/t Pro Hockey Talk), and laid out the “why I signed with the Pens rival” situation.

He told this story about where he thinks the Pens saw him fitting in:

Nobody will tell you how they want to use you. That’s one thing. But you can sometimes read between the lines. I’ve got nothing against [Penguins winger Tyler] Kennedy [who was a restricted free agent last summer] or guys like that, but if somebody tells you, ‘Well, we have to wait for Kennedy,’ and he was playing on the third line, well, where am I going to play if you wait for Kennedy before you sign me? I was reading between the lines.

In talking about what he could’ve done to help out the Pens powerplay, he basically says that even if he were a Penguin he’d probably see as many PP shifts for them as he does now.

I didn’t think I would get on the power play. That’s the way I felt. I didn’t know how I was going to play. I have some confidence in [myself] that I’m not going to be that bad. And in Philly there was a totally different team. There was a new team with a lot of young guys. Nobody had anything guaranteed. Here [Pittsburgh], that’s a different story. Everybody’s been together for probably five, six years, they won the [Stanley] Cup together. The lines are set up. I don’t think I would have had a chance to play – at least, the way I wanted to play.

So, to get this straight: the Penguins offered Jagr less money - significantly less, if what we’ve heard has been accurate – and told him they needed to sign Tyler Kennedy before they could get to him. And they wouldn’t commit any powerplay time to him. …So yeah, he took the better opportunity.

Yet we’re expecting boos?

I get that it hurts for fans to see their childhood hero don the villain colours. And, if there’s one area I can get on board with those fans in this case, it’s that you can’t promise ice time in the summer. You get in where you fit in, no matter what, and he would’ve likely earned a PP spot eventually.

But he still made the right call going to Philly – hockey is a business, and teams will cut you the second they don’t need you. You have to take the money and chance at a top line spot where it’s offered. It was the Penguins organization that didn’t do enough to get him.

So if you do choose to boo, aren’t you the one that’s tarnishing what he did in Pittsburgh over his time there? Doesn’t acknowledging he really did nothing wrong by making the smart decision (and simply rooting for your own team when he’s involved in the play) better preserve the years you did have together? And why does this paragraph read like I’m a relationship counsellor?

While I respect his talent and accomplishments, I’m no fan of Jagr, but I will be on his side tonight. Booing one of the greatest players in the history of your franchise who returns without real sin makes no sense to me.

Comments (3)

  1. Yeah, he’s not hated in Pittsburgh because he signed somewhere else for more money, but because of how he behaved in doing so and because of what he did 12 years ago. If he had said he was coming back to go to the highest bidder and ended up riding shotgun with Plekanec in Montreal, nobody would care.

    Three factors here
    1. Old history (this is most important). This guy quit on the team and demanded a trade in 2000 for spurious reasons (you’re going to check his statline that year and scratch your head, but something like 90 of those points came in Mario’s 30 something post-comeback games. Mario’s comeback was, in part, salvage attempt #1 for his superstar player, but by the conference finals, Jagr had quit on the team again). He’s given a bunch of sometimes contradictory explanations over the years for why he quit, but they’re all likely bogus.

    The real reason he quit on the team and demanded a trade is because he had, at this point, evolved into a capricious, megalomaniacal baby. Pittsburgh hates nothing more than megalomaniacal babies. The only guy with him on the all-hate list in this town is Barry Bonds, who we hated even when he was winning MVPs for the Pirates.

    If you don’t buy this megalomaniacal baby explanation, email Teddy L and ask him about the guy who reported to Caps Camp in 2001. You’re media. He will probably answer this off the record.

    At the time, Jagr’s status in the city was like that of the President. Imagine if Obama stepped down from the presidency to renounce his citizenship and become the president of France for the same money, citing angst he was feeling living in the US. That’s basically what happened from our perspective.

    2. Stringing them along. Supposedly Jagr told Mario he would sign. This largely matches the kind of language his agent was using (heart’s in Pittsburgh, would play for free, etc). If he just wanted money, that would have been fine. Pittsburgh didn’t have the cap space to get into a bidding war and would have wished him good luck. The way he handled the whole thing reminded us of #1. And if Jagr was once like a president in Pittsburgh, Mario’s status is more akin to that of a God.

    3. Picked the Flyers of all teams. This is just salt in the wound, so to speak, not the actual reason for the hate. The wound (or, at least, the reasons we hate the guy), is #1 and a little bit of #2

  2. You know full well fans are incapable of being rational when it comes to “their” team.

  3. Maybe we hate him because he said he was ‘dying alive’ in Pittsburgh Bourne.. The guy says he owes Mario his career, would play for league minimum to play for Mario again etc, and then doesnt actually do it didnt help matters any this past summer.

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