One of the cooler aspects in Pittsburgh Penguins’ franchise lore is how it’s basically impossible to have a jersey number retired. Many other teams have cheapened the tradition by giving the honor to players who didn’t play with them very long, or didn’t really have a tremendous impact.
In Pittsburgh there are only two numbers retired, as you might know. One is the #21 of Michel Briere, a talented youngster who sadly was involved in a car accident after his rookie NHL season and passed away.
The other, of course, Mario Lemieux’s #66.
So that’s the bar in Pittsburgh - it’s only been used to honor the franchise’s singularly most important person ever and then also to honor a tragic fatal accident.
But the Penguins should bend this sooner than later. It’s time to put #68 in the rafters of PPG Paints Arena and forever welcome Jaromir Jagr fully back into the family.
Jagr’s accomplishments merit it — he scored 1,079 regular season points with Pittsburgh in 809 games. He won the Art Ross trophy as the league’s leading scorer five times out of his eleven seasons with the Pens, which is just an astounding achievement. By comparison to modern day greats, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin only have two Art Ross’s a piece, Jagr’s got more than those two combined.
Jagr remains as the Pens all-time leader in game-winning goals with 78 (though Malkin currently has 68 and Crosby has 60).
Jagr helped the team to their first two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 and added a few MVP trophies as well. Simply put, Jagr was the best player in the NHL in the 1990’s during his stint in Pittsburgh.
And, of course, he famously had a heroic performance in a potentially franchise-saving event helping the number 8 seeded Pens to upset the number one seeded New Jersey Devils (themselves at the height of their powers) to give the bankruptcy-bound Pens franchise more revenue and enough to keep afloat through the darkest of times.
There is, naturally, some trepidation and controversy in mentioning this. Jagr, a person prone to speak big in the media made some grandiose statements about coming back to the NHL and playing in Pittsburgh in 2011, even “for free”. Instead, when the rubber met the road, he did not come back to the Pens, and instead took the highest offer on the table, which just happened to be from the Philadelphia Flyers.
That didn’t go over well at all in Pens’ HQ, but time has passed, and time heals all wounds. There’s no reason to still hold grudges. Jagr’s 47 years old now, and while he still kicks around for a few games a season playing in the Czech second division team he owns in Kladno, the competitive portion of his playing career is more or less complete.
Thus why the time is right to make things right and welcome back a great player into the franchise’s “family” where he also has belonged.
It’s of incredibly great fortune to Pittsburgh that Jagr isn’t regarded as the team’s second best player any longer. But that doesn’t diminish or lessen Jagr’s accomplishments with the team. One day (hopefully long in the future), without a doubt in the world, surely Crosby’s #87 will hang as a retired number. Perhaps too Malkin’s #71 will join him.
When they get there, Jagr’s 68 should already be there. There’s been whispers and hints that this will probably happen eventually, but a delay isn’t necessary. Jagr helped blaze a unique trail with a wonderful career that helped the franchise literally stay alive —at the risk of being too dramatic, yet that’s still a statement covered by truth. Jagr deserves the pomp and circumstance and honor bestowed on him.
And it should to be done soon.