It's July 11, 2001, seven days before my seventh birthday. Hockey was a second life for me. I was never given the opportunity to play but it didn't stop me from loving the game. The Penguins were my best friend. Missing a Penguins game was so upsetting that I would be in tears. I loved the game and I loved the Penguins. Jaromir Jagr was the captain of my beloved Penguins. He was the 5th overall pick in the 1990 NHL Draft and was considered the best player in the world at this point in his career. In his time with the Penguins, Jagr had played in 806 games, tallying 439 goals and 640 assists, totaling 1079 points. The Igloo was something else when Jagr would light the lamp. Quite simply, Jagr was the man.
I remember it vividly. A KDKA special report flashed onto the television screen. I'm sitting in my grandfather's living room. If I remember it correctly, it was anchor Don Cannon who appeared on screen. He's alerted us that there was breaking news regarding the Penguins' star, Jaromir Jagr. I could feel my heart in my throat. In my head, thoughts are all over the place. "Is he injured? Did he get robbed? Is he dead?" I'm sure it was only about fifteen seconds later that Bob Pompeani told us the news: Jaormir Jagr had been traded to the Washington Capitals, along with Frantisek Kucera. In return, the Penguins would receive Kris Beech, Ross Lupaschuk, and Michal Sivek. I felt betrayed. My captain, my favorite player, Jaromir Jagr was traded away for three players I had never heard of. Never before had I felt such anger towards something. I was confused, heart-broken, and disappointed. I hear my grandfather give a little laugh and then he said something I will never forget: "Well, come on, Kev, you had to see it coming. The guy was a ticking time bomb." I didn't understand. To me, Jagr was cool. He had the cool hair, the slick moves, the quick release, he had it all. To me, Jagr was a Penguin for life.
Fast forward to today, twelve years later. Jagr is high on the list of the most-hated hockey players in the league for Penguins' fans. Now, I understand. Over the years, I've heard the stories. The constant berating of teammates, the mishandling of the media, and the inflation of his ego all culminated in his departure from the Steel City. I've heard it all and now, I had to have seen that coming. The guy was a ticking time bomb, just like my grandfather said.
Since the trade, Jagr has bounced from the Washington Capitals, back to his native Czech Republic, back to the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers, to the Dallas Stars, to the Boston Bruins, to where he now sits with the New Jersey Devils. He still wears that #68 jersey. Every time that Jagr hits the ice and touches the puck in Pittsburgh, a sea of boos come down on him. He's been back once this year on the season opener. Consol Energy Center was at its loudest when Jagr would touch the puck. We don't like him. It's that simple. We know what happened and we know who to blame.
With all of that, will we ever see Jaromir Jagr in a Penguins sweater again? We nearly did when he made his return in 2011. The Penguins were making offers but eventually withdrew. It's no secret that the relationship between Penguins owner and legend, Mario Lemieux, and Jaromir Jagr is strained, to put it lightly. Prior to Jagr making his return in 2011, he said that he briefly spoke with Lemiuex during the negotiations and that they hadn't spoken since he left the NHL.
Pittsburgh's an interesting city. You have to visit and spend time there to really understand the culture. It's a blue-collar city with loyalty and hard-work being cornerstones in Pittsburgh's lifestyle. This loyalty extends into the sports world. Players returning in opposing jerseys rarely get standing ovations. You have to be retired to get that honor in this city. The city has welcomed back Jagr with years of boos because we're still hurt. Only he can fix that.
What would it take?
For Jagr to return to Pittsburgh, there are two major sticking points. 1: Jagr needs to mend his relationship with Mario Lemieux and 2: he needs to realize that he's not worth $2,000,000 a year. The truth is, the Penguins need forwards. Right now, Deryk Engelland, a defenseman, is playing forward on the fourth line. Granted, this is due in large part to injuries, but forward depth is a must, and the Penguins don't have it. So the need for someone like Jaromir Jagr, a veteran who can still produce, is there.
How can Jaromir and Mario resolve their differences? Any extended dialogue between the two would have been made public. As of right now, I am not aware of any dialogue established between the two, which is a real shame. Two iconic players, once brothers and even roommates, are now not speaking and, according to Jagr, didn't speak the entire time Jagr was playing in Europe. I believe Jagr has proven in his time back that he has matured and is handling the media a lot more professionally than he has in the past. I can't find either of the two talking about their current relationship, so it's hard to get a good read on what's keeping them apart. A good guess would be how Jagr acted towards the end of his career in Pittsburgh. They have bad blood and that's not a secret. Any chance of Jagr returning would have to start right there with Mario.
I am shocked that the New Jersey Devils paid what they did for Jaromir Jagr. Losing Ilya Kovalchuk hurts, I get that, but in no way, shape, or form does Jaromir Jagr constitute a suitable replacement. They overpaid. If Jagr were to return to Pittsburgh, he would need to take a pay cut. It comes down to if Jagr is willing to take that pay cut. For all intents and purposes, let's say Jagr returns to Pittsburgh next year. According to CapGeek.com, the Penguins will enter 2014-2015 with about $10,000,000 in cap room. The Penguins will have work to do with big names heading into free agency in the offseason, but General Manager Ray Shero can work some magic and I have no reason to believe he won't work some more next year. Jagr will have to take about a 25% pay cut, by my estimation, to join the team. $1,500,000 sounds more plausible than $2,000,000 as it saves room for a cheap forward, or two.
Deep down, I bet Jaromir Jagr wants to come back for his final season. I believe he would take that pay cut. And I believe that Pittsburgh would welcome him back. There's work to be done, though. Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr will have to resolve their differences, GM Ray Shero would have to do some shuffling, and Jagr will have to win Pittsburgh back. Personally, I want to see #68 back in the 'Burgh.
Tell me using the poll below whether or not you would like to see Jaromir Jagr back in Pittsburgh. Use the comments to tell me why it will or will not happen.