By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
July 2, 2011
One day, Penguins general manager Ray Shero will thank Jaromir Jagr. Not today or next week, maybe. The wounds and anger from being used and abused by Jagr, who signed Friday with the hated Philadelphia Flyers, still are too fresh. But sometime next season. The Penguins will be competing for the Stanley Cup and an immature, erratic Jagr will be pulling his usual Operation Shutdown routine with the Flyers. You bet Shero will thank Jagr for not coming back to Pittsburgh. Let him be the Flyers' problem. They deserve each other.
I didn't understand the Penguins' interest in Jagr in the first place. Approaching 40, not having played in the NHL in three seasons and needing U-Haul's biggest truck to bring all of his baggage, he just wasn't worth the risk. If you've been paying attention the past week, you saw his character. His agent, Petr Svoboda, kept telling everyone how much Jagr loved Pittsburgh, how doing a deal wasn't about the money, how he wanted to be reunited again with his hero, Mario Lemieux.
Blah, blah, blah.
When the Penguins got tired of waiting for Jagr and pulled their one-year, $2 million offer Friday morning, he signed with the Flyers shortly after noon. It turns out it really was about the money; the Flyers' deal is for $3.3 million. Nice. That should make for some warm reception for Jagr when the Flyers come to Consol Energy Center Dec. 29 for the first of three times next season. Max Talbot, who also signed Friday with the Flyers, will be cheered. He was nothing but class with the Penguins -- not to mention a Stanley Cup hero -- and left with class even if it was to go to Philadelphia. But Jagr? You know what they say. Once a jerk ...
Really, it's just as well it didn't work out for Jagr here. I couldn't see how he was going to fit in with the Penguins. I doubt there was room for his sizable ego in their locker room.
You don't have to spend much time around the Penguins to know they have something special going. You saw that on HBO's "24/7" series last season. It starts with owners Ron Burkle and Lemieux and works down through president David Morehouse, Shero and coach Dan Bylsma. They create an atmosphere that makes players want to play and stay with the team even if it means taking less money. It happened again this week when unrestricted free agents Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy re-upped with two-year deals.
Chances seem pretty high that Jagr's presence would have damaged the karma. When he was with the Penguins the first time -- granted, a lifetime ago -- he sulked when things didn't go his way. It was so bad at the end that he repeatedly begged Lemieux and then-general manager Craig Patrick to trade him and put him out of his misery. He was a real baby. That's the last thing the team needs now.
I hear people say the Penguins' desperate need for offense made it imperative to sign Jagr. They point to the playoff series recently against the Tampa Bay Lightning when the team went 1 for 35 on the power play. They point to the 1-0 loss in Game 7. It's as if they've forgotten that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed that series with injuries. I know the power play has struggled with the two stars at times, but I would bet it would have scored more than one power-play goal against the Lightning if they were healthy. Many more, actually.
As for the desperate need for scoring wingers, I'm not buying it. Crosby was having a career year last season playing with Chris Kunitz and Dupuis before he was hurt. It's also as if people have forgotten that Shero traded a good player -- power-play specialist/defenseman Alex Goligoski -- at the trade deadline last season to bring in scoring winger James Neal. I know, Neal struggled, getting one goal in 20 games before getting just one more in the playoffs, although that one won Game 4 against the Lightning in double overtime. Let's see what he can do playing with Crosby or Malkin. He's 23. He scored 24 goals with the Dallas Stars in 2008-09, 27 goals in 2009-10 and 21 in 59 games last season before the trade. If he doesn't score at least 25 goals this season, Shero will be disappointed. So will I.
Maybe Jagr would have provided another 25 goals, his total in his most recent NHL season, 2007-08, with the New York Rangers. Maybe he would have pushed up the power play's conversion rate to the 20- or 22-percent range. Maybe he would have withstood the grind of the long NHL season and been able to play 70 games for the Penguins. Maybe he would have been the perfect teammate.
Or maybe not.
I want to believe a guy can go home again and be successful, but I just didn't see it in this case.
Jagr did the Penguins a favor by picking the Flyers.
They are better off without him.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author
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