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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jaromir Jagr by @ExcitedBobErrey

I don't need to tell you about Jaromir Jagr.  You already know the story, but I want to reiterate some numbers from his time in Pittsburgh.  11 seasons.  806 games.  439 goals.  640 assists.  1,079 points.  5 Art Ross Trophies.  1 Hart Trophy.  2 Lester B. Pearson Awards.  6 NHL First Team All-Star selections.  1 NHL Second Team All-Star Selection.  9 All-Star games.  1 iconic mullet.  2 Stanley Cups.  He's a surefire HOF'er and one of the best ever to play the game, let alone play for the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He's the type of player whose best moments should be replayed for younger generations, whose jersey should be worn long after he last put it on, whose name and number should be hanging from rafters for years to come.

The story took a turn for the worse in the summer of 2001, when Jaromir Jagr was traded to the Washington Capitals.  Whether it was Jagr demanding a trade, the team being unable to pay his salary, or most likely a combination of both, Jagr left Pittsburgh that year.  We as a fanbase haven't forgiven him since.  It should have happened long ago, but it's time for Pens fans to stop hating Jaromir Jagr.

It's easy to understand why trading a beloved superstar and all that happened surrounding the trade would get the fan base so mad, but in a trade like this the returning prospects can either act like water or gasoline to the flames that burnt his bridge out of town.  Great players in return will dull the pain, but busts will keep the fire burning.  Craig Patrick traded for jet fuel in that regard.

The greatest thing Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk ever achieved was being the trivia answer for "Who was traded for Jaromir Jagr?"  The trio combined for 239 games, 28 goals, 45 assists, and 73 points in their NHL careers with Beech accounting for the majority of those totals. In his 1 full season in Pittsburgh, Kris Beech scored 10 goals with 15 assists in 79 games.  Hardly fitting to be the centerpiece for one of the greatest players to ever play the game. In just 4 and a half years, he was traded for a conditional draft pick.

But we've already forgiven Jagr for all that happened on his way out of town, haven't we?  Two summers ago when rumor had it that Jagr wanted to sign with Pittsburgh, the city and the fans were incredibly excited. We buried the grudge right then and there.  We made peace with what had happened a decade ago.  We were not only alright with Jagr signing here, we welcomed it with open arms.  Only, it never happened.  He signed a 1 year contract elsewhere.  Only it just wasn't elsewhere, it was with the Philadelphia Flyers.  And the hatred returned.  He's not the only player to spurn the Pens for a rival in recent years.  After losing the Stanley Cup to the Red Wings in 2008, Marian Hossa turned down our longterm contract offer to sign with Detroit.  Max Talbot signed with the Flyers as well after being one of the more popular role players in recent memory.  The fan base initially turned on both these players, but where are we now?

After winning the Stanley Cup the following year and seeing what the contract actually would have done to our salary cap situation, who in Pittsburgh really still hates Hossa with a passion?  Is Talbot really still hated more for signing in Philadelphia than he is fondly remembered for the Carcillo fight sparking the Game 6 win against those same Flyers, or for scoring the only 2 goals in our Game 7 Stanley Cup clinching win?  Neither of those players had anywhere near the animosity towards them prior to signing those contracts as Jagr did, but neither of those players meant anywhere near as much to the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise as Jaromir Jagr did.  For a stretch of time he was the consensus 'Best Player in the World", like Mario Lemieux before him and like Sidney Crosby after him.  He was a fan favorite and the face of the franchise during the first Lemieux retirement.

It's the twilight of Jagr's career, and we're going to see #68 back in black in gold, back in the Eastern Conference Finals.  But it's the wrong black and gold, the wrong team, the wrong ending to the wrong story.  This isn't the way it was supposed to have ended, but that doesn't mean we need to have to wrong reaction.  When Jaromir Jagr steps out onto the ice for Game 1 at Consol Energy Center, let's give him a standing ovation.  Let's cheer all that has happened instead of booing all that did not.  There won't be a fancy Jumbotron tribute, but the fans can still commemorate the time he spent here.  I know it's probably a grudge too entrenched to let go, but let's take the final moments in the career of one of the greatest players ever to end things on the right note.

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