Penguins

Colin Dunlap: Jagr Should Be Admired, Not Reviled

By: Colin Dunlap
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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The Boston Bruins are coming to town.

But forget that. Here’s the important part – Jaromir Jagr is coming to town.

When the Penguins and Bruins nailed down victories in NHL Eastern Conference semifinals, it forced the bracket to funnel into a matchup that, for many reasons, many wanted to see.

But let’s get to the one that should be paramount; a man who is, without any question on hockey’s Mount Rushmore in this town, returning for what could be one final Stanley Cup run as he’s now pushed into his 40s.

Here’s hoping he doesn’t get to the Cup finals.

But, here’s also hoping, when Jagr plays in Pittsburgh during the Eastern Conference Finals, that he doesn’t lustily get booed.

Your ticket, your money, you do what you wish.

From where I sit, however, as a 36-year-old lifelong Pittsburgher who grew up seeing those flashes of Jagr’s brilliance, here’s hoping we can all keep in perspective that he was a heavy part of the concrete in the foundation of what we now understand as one of the most stabile franchises in the league.

So save the boos, save the jeers, forget about all that hate you want to spew his way.

This isn’t a column urging you turn into some Boston Bruins fan. No, never.

It isn’t a column in an attempt to influence you into pulling for Jagr to score 10 goals in this series, either.

But there will be a time, almost certainly, when Jagr is flashed on the Jumbotron at the CONSOL Energy Center. You do what you wish, but if I were a paying customer, I’d stand up and applaud him — all the while keeping my allegiances firmly planted with the Penguins.

You can do both, you know?

Undeniably, the most ardent Jagr-haters will point to the Nov. 2000 comments Jagr made to then-general manager Craig Patrick. No matter what he does, for some, Jagr will never be able to outrun saying, “I feel like I’m dying alive. … I don’t feel comfortable here right now.”

Was that Jagr’s finest hour? Not even close.

Was it something ridiculously dumb to say? You bet.

Should he wear it as a Scarlet Letter forever in this town? No way.

Conversely, Jagr should be remembered as arriving in this town as a Czech teenager who spoke virtually no English in 1990, acclimated himself about as well as he could have, and pumped in 27 goals and setup 30 more in his rookie season with humungous pressure on him.

One will never deny Jagr’s existence in Pittsburgh was made easier by the presence of Mario Lemieux, but every Batman needs a Robin; every Carson needs a McMahon. Jagr will be seen by some as the perpetual Best Supporting Actor to the theater that Lemieux provided, but there were many times, either by necessity or circumstance, Jagr was hockey’s leading man in this town.

In a four year stretch between the 1997-98 and 2000-01 seasons, Jagr netted point totals of 102, 127, 96 and 121 — and that, of course, came well after the two Cups he won as a youngster in 1991 and 1992.

This is megastar stuff. And we shouldn’t boo it when he comes to town with his Bruins.

Know what else Jagr — undoubtedly along with Lemieux and those Cup teams — did for this town? They grew the game to the present state it is in in western Pennsylvania. I know it, I saw it. So did you if you are old enough.

When I was a little kid growing up (again, I’m 36) just about everyone in the suburbs had a basketball hoop in their driveway.

Now go for a drive, take a glimpse into the driveways (because I did it the other day) and you know what is largely there? Hockey nets and kids playing driveway hockey. Tons of them.

This can be traced to Lemieux and Jagr, then pushed forward to Crosby and Malkin.

No one knows what truly would have happened, but this windfall in Pittsburgh-area hockey talent, with this likes of R.J. Umberger, Matt Bartkowski, Brandon Saad, Vince Trocheck, J.T. Miller, John Gibson, Riley Barber and others can be traced back to a guy like Jagr growing the game, pushing it forward in this town.

So when Jagr comes in here with the Bruins, in all his flamboyance and what sometimes can be seen as off-putting gaudiness, remember who he truly is: He’s one of the best to ever play here. He should be treated as such.

You can take a moment to muster a cheer for him while still remaining the deepest Penguins fan. From where I sit, he deserves it.

Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here (http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/personality/colin-dunlap/)

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