Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: Bring Jagr Back? No Thanks

By: Casey Shea
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(Photo Credit: Donald Miralle/Allsport/Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Donald Miralle/Allsport/Getty Images)

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Over the last three years or so, the talk of Jaromir Jagr returning to Pittsburgh has intensified. Now, with it appearing as if the Penguins are the co-frontrunners along with the Detroit Red Wings to land Jagr, I have a few reservations.

Personally, I do not want to see Jagr wearing the black and gold next season. The next time I want to see him wearing a Pens jersey is when the franchise elects to retire his number.

Believe me, I was one of the biggest Jagr fans on the planet as a kid and maybe that’s why I’m still holding on to the pain he caused with how he left this team in the first place.

After the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New Jersey Devils, Jagr demanded a trade out of Pittsburgh.

Of course he saw what we all did. The team was hemorrhaging money, they couldn’t afford to keep their star players, it was time to usher in the rebuilding era, etc.

I could be off-base here, but when Mario Lemieux came out of retirement that very same season, things seemed to get worse with Jagr.

No longer was he “the guy” in Pittsburgh. Mario was back and that’s all that mattered to most Penguins fans.

To me, it looked like Jagr wasn’t happy to continue to share the spotlight with Lemieux anymore. He had been “the guy” in Lemieux’s absence and stepped out of his shadow.

It’s likely that no one, perhaps not even Sidney Crosby, will live up to what Lemieux has done for hockey in Pittsburgh and the Penguins. That honor has been well-earned for sure.

The maturation issue was a big one for Jagr when he demanded the trade out of town.

What made matters worse about the trade was what the Penguins got in return for Jagr.

The return on investment for one of the best players in the world was roughly worth a bag of pucks:

Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk.

If anyone can remember any memorable moments this trio had on the ice, I’d love to hear about it.

Is Jagr more mature now at 39 years of age? I should seriously hope so, but will he be able to handle not being “the guy” in Pittsburgh? He’s not even going to be in the discussion with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Co. on the current roster.

I’m not overly worried about the fan reaction at CONSOL. I’m certain the cheers will be louder than the intense boos he received every time he touched the puck while playing for the Caps and Rangers.

Just admit it, you were a little excited to see the Penguins send the Rangers packing in five games in 2008 and having it be Jagr’s last game in the NHL. The irony was beautiful wasn’t it?

Also, is spending roughly $2 million on him for one year going to be worth it? If the Penguins can sign him for $1 million or less, I may re-think my stance on this issue a bit. Jagr did say at one point that he’d come back and play for the league minimum as a sign of respect to Mario for everything he had done for him.

One aspect no one is talking about is the difference in styles of play between the KHL and NHL.

First, the hitting level is much higher in the NHL. North American hockey in general is a harder hitting, more physical game, while the Euros and Russians are better known for being silky smooth skaters and playing a finesse game.

It’s no wonder some veterans continue to play hockey in Europe and Russia after hanging up the skates in the NHL.

Secondly, the ice surface is larger in the KHL.

Combine a larger sheet of ice with less hitting and I should hope a player like Jagr would be able to put up some numbers.

Guys like Jagr thrive on having time and space and both of those advantages would disappear with a return to the NHL. Of course, being set up by Crosby and Malkin would probably help to free him up a bit.

He’s still in great shape and looks like he can skate and play at a high level. However,I question how he would actually fit into Dan Bylsma’s system.

As we all know, Bylsma likes players to be responsible in their own end, forecheck like crazy and backcheck hard.

All three of those aspects are not exactly synonymous with Jagr.

I can remember watching Jagr constantly fly the zone to camp out at center ice to await a home run pass. The only problem was that his teammates were essentially playing shorthanded in the defensive zone.

Could he help the power play?

That’s sort of a loaded question because I’m not sure how the power play could have gotten any worse last season.

Obviously losing half your roster and the two best players in the world played just the smallest of roles in the man-advantage struggles.

Getting Crosby and Malkin back would go a long way toward rectifying the power play and I suppose having a third guy out there, who was never afraid to shoot the puck, wouldn’t be a bad thing.

I want to be excited about the prospect of one of my childhood heroes being back in a Penguins sweater again. I honestly do.

As stated previously, I endured constant heckling from family, friends and strangers about being a Penguins fan while growing up in New England. I endured beer cups being thrown at me while cheering a goal by Jagr at the Fleet Center (now TD Garden). Did I mention I was wearing my Jagr jersey at the time? Oh, and I was 12 or 13 years old at the time.

Stay classy drunk college Bruins fans sitting four rows behind me.

Anyway, everyone seems to have forgotten about the negative aspects of how he left this team in 2001.

Maybe others have forgiven him and moved past it, but I haven’t and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to.

Perhaps him helping the Pens raise a fourth Stanley Cup banner to the rafters would do something to change that.

Time will tell.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.

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