Quietly, at some point in the recent past, the Pittsburgh Penguins made a small but significant change in their locker room. It’s one of those things you could easily miss if you weren't looking for it. They changed “The Ring of Honor”
A mural titled “The Ring of Honor” sat high above the press box on the western side of the Mellon Arena. The mural honored the franchise’s “Millennium Team” and was meant to immortalize past greats without having to retiring their numbers. Sixteen player or coaches were depicted on the mural first mounted in 2003. When the Igloo was slated for demolition, the Ring was lovingly spare a fate in the demolition pile when it was preserved for display in the opulent home locker room of the Pens at CEC.
The mural is anchored by memorials for Bob Johnson and Herb Brooks on either end. It depicts goalies Les Binkley and Tom Barrasso, defensemen Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Dave Burrows and Ulf Samuelsson and forwards Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Rick Kehoe, Jaromir Jagr and Jean Pronovost as well as Craig Patrick Gm/Coach.
At some point over the past summer, Jaromir Jagr’s portrait in The Ring of Honor was painted over. Mark Recchi is now honored.
The Ring has been on display in the Penguins locker room since day one. On July 1, 2011, Jágr returned to North America, and rather than signing with Pittsburgh, he opted to sign a one-year, $3.3 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Pens had made him an offer and there was a messy fallout following his Philly signing but the mural remained intact. On Tuesday, April 2, 2013, Jágr was traded to the Boston Bruins for two prospects and a draft pick by the Dallas Stars. This trade returned him to the Penguin’s division but still, his place on the mural remained unchanged.
According to Dejan Kovacevic of The Trib, Team officials declined comment on the move, other than to say the Penguins didn't want a currently active opponent having such a presence in that area. Yet, he had been in that area since the CEC opened its doors. His image remains in other parts of the building in other displays but was unceremoniously removed from "The Ring."
At 41, Jagr will begin his 20th NHL season with the New Jersey Devils. What does his removal from The Ring of Honor say about the organization’s attitude toward Jagr? Does it say nothing more than that they no longer welcome the likeness of an opposing player in their locker room or does it say that they are distancing themselves from Jagr as his career draws to an end? The Jagr depicted in the locker room was the young Jagr who was the glorious mulleted one who’s name is on the Stanley cup forever a part of the Penguin legacy. By removing his likeness does that send a message to younger players that the logo on the front of the sweater matters more than the name on the back?