Mr. Orpik, first name Hooks, asked me if I'd like to write a little something about Jaromir Jagr.
"Hell yes," I didn't actually say when I responded, but thought giddily. "I loves me some Jaromir Jagr. My favorite thing to write about is Jaromir Jagr and the emotions my profound, borderline-creepy appreciation of him manufacture."
About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a confused, borderline-frustrated ode to Jagr. It was partially an act of coming to grips with other excited-to-disappointed feelings that Jags being Jags can occasionally cause for people who really like Jags.
Like I said, complicated.
I heard he's a jerk. Is he a jerk? I don't know. I've not met him. He seems like a pretty decent, earnest guy in interviews. Members of the Pittsburgh media don't seem to like him. But if a group of out-of-touch, predominantly egotistical windbags talk badly about you, is that a bad thing?
"Sorry Jaromir, we can't hire you for this position. The character reference a cadre of pricks gave you didn't check out. We wish you well in your future goalie sniping endeavors."
Whatever. Here he is. It's the Stanley Cup playoffs and he's about to play in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001... back when he dominated lesser hockey players for the Penguins.
It's pretty crazy in perspective. Jagr lifts The Cup at the culmination of each of his first two seasons in the NHL. He sports a spectacular mullet, probably buys a bunch of things and gets laid a billion times. Because that's what rich, young athletes who spend two summers underage drinking Iron City and wine spritzers from The Cup do.
And then by design and/or dumb luck, he just couldn't get a sniff that very same cup for a decade-plus span. I consider this semi-final appearance, near the culmination of his career, a sniff.
Between his introduction to Lord Stanley and this most recent trek through the playoffs, Jagr managed to accomplished something perhaps even more impressive -- he became, for a time, the most dominant offensive force in hockey. As the Ron Francises, Paul Coffeys and (briefly) Mario Lemieuxs of the world left the Penguins, Jagr's powers grew, as though supporting talent was kryptonite.
The Penguins' roster withered, the defense casually waltzed towards laughable, and still they still continued to make the playoffs perenially until No. 68's departure. Alexei Kovalev was blessed to play alongside Martin Straka and Robert Lang for a spell. Jagr? He basically begged to have Kip Miller and Jan Hrdina force him the puck.
And it worked.
By then, everything worked for Jagr. He was good enough that the linemate didn't matter. It only mattered that he was on the ice with two living, possibly sentient linemates. Or maybe even Marty McSorley.
He thrived through an unbeatable combination of powerful skating, elite hands and a massive ass. The legs and ass to create space and protect the puck; the deft stick skills to take advantage of the opportunities provided by his physical talents. These are the tools a Hall of Famer is made from.
Jagr is now 41 and his impact is waning. As recent tenures in Philadelphia and Dallas displayed, he's still definitively a useful player and the skill hasn't evaporated..
But he hasn't quite cottoned to Boston's style, especially in the playoffs. That could change at the drop of a hat. After all, even slower and about a couple decades older, Jagr still has a big ass and those diamond-encrusted hands.
That's him -- with slightly grayer, definitely less robust hair -- prowling the ice around the two-minute mark. Not so fast anymore, right? But give him an inch and he'll dangle you, throw a finger to his mouth and tell your fans to shut up. And they will, because he just shut them up.
Sorry. Is it proper etiquette to be this effusive in praise towards an opposing player on a Penguins blog? Let's step back. Are Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin better than Jagr today? Yeah. Is he the best player on the Bruins? Nah, that's probably Zdeno Chara or Tyler Seguin or something.
But carrying a team isn't in his job description anymore, is it? It's to work the power play, create offense and provide a calm, steady influence. And yeah, even without the current numbers, that offensive stuff is a given.
Then again, that doesn't mean he can't take over a shift, a period... even a game.
There's a phrase that's used in soccer: "form is temporary, but class is permanent." Streaks will come and streaks will go, but true skill remains through the years, the surgeries and the wear and tear.
Maybe he's a nefarious, backstabbing Judas. Maybe he's a jerk. But he still has those hands. And as long as his ass hasn't withered away, Jaromir Jagr deserves your -- and the Pittsburgh Penguins' -- complete attention.