By Nick Craddock
Jaromir Jagr will be playing hockey in the state of Pennsylvania again. But he’ll be donning a different jersey.
Today, the first day of NHL free agency (and fittingly Canada Day), Jagr signed a one-year contract worth $3.3 million with the Philadelphia Flyers, the fiercest Atlantic Division rival of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who Jagr helped guide to two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.
Having spent the past three seasons in Russia with Kontinental Hockey League’s Avangard Omsk, Jagr, 39, impressed while in Russia and at the IIHF World Championship in May, when Jagr scored a hat trick in a game against NHL-level competition for his native Czech Republic, proving he had plenty to offer any team.
In the past week, a return to the city where Jagr’s NHL career began seemed imminent, and he expressed that his love of Pittsburgh was greater than any amount of money offered. The people of Pittsburgh could almost bank on it that Jagr’s soft hands would be setting up a hopefully healthy Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Then the list of teams interested in Jagr’s services began to grow. And then Jagr’s agent, Petr Svobda, started receiving more formal offers. And then Jagr probably realized that $3.3 million is $1.3 million more than the $2 million contract offer that Penguins general manager Ray Shero tabled.
And $1.3 million buys a lot of additional filet mignon dinners.
If Jagr wants a lucrative contract, much like any other professional athlete, by all means follow what I believe rappers refer to as the “paper trail.”
However, by signing with an arch rival of a team that cherishes you is a huge slap in the face. Particularly after your old team entered negotiations with you.
Were Green Bay fans upset when Brett Favre opted to play for the Jets? Perhaps, but the anger was fleeting.
Were Green Bay fans upset when Favre played for the Vikings? Absolutely, but this hurt was deeper. Not only was Favre changing jerseys, but he was burning allegiances and going to the enemy, a cardinal sin in the sports world and life in general—I’m looking at you, Benedict Arnold.
Given the Flyers’ roster upheaval in recent weeks (trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter; signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a long-term contract as the solution to Philadelphia’s ever-present goaltending woes), it’s also difficult to rationalize Jagr’s decision as one based on the desire to go to a team on the cusp of winning a Stanley Cup.
Granted, Jagr signing a contract for $2 or $3.3 million may be excessive either way given his fickle temperament and whether a much older Jagr can continue his KHL production in a much longer, much more physical NHL season. But if the Flyers capture another division crown, thanks in part to Jagr’s strong play, it would also be difficult for Penguins fans to rationalize how he turned his back on a franchise that has been so good to him.
How could it have been a worse day for Penguins fans?
Well, the Flyers also signed free agent Maxime Talbot, the game 7 hero for the Penguins in their 2009 Stanley Cup win, to a five-year deal worth $9 million.
Gah! Is it Saturday yet?
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.