Kovacevic: A confession: Jagr was right
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
VOORHEES, N.J. — Jaromir Jagr was right.
For all else that will pain Pittsburgh`s passionate hockey fans once the Penguins complete their epic collapse in these Stanley Cup playoffs, either Wednesday night in Game 4 or later this week, nothing should cut deeper than those four words.
Jagr was right, and we were wrong.
Well, I was wrong, speaking for myself.
It was just last summer, amid all the fuss of "Jagr Watch" and folks staking out Pittsburgh International with dusted-off No. 68 sweaters and turtles delaying his flight out of JFK and endless nonsense from loopy agent Petr Svoboda, that I criticized Jagr once he signed with the Flyers.
In this space on July 2, 2011, the day after Jagr accepted the Flyers` $3.3 million offer over the Penguins` $2 million, I called him greedy. Called him a mercenary. Pointed out that he`d amassed $101 million over his career and still went for the extra million.
"This wasn`t about greener pastures," I wrote that day. "It was about going for the green."
I`ll say it again: I was wrong.
Oh, sure, it can never be known what would have happened had the Penguins countered with, say, $4 million. Jagr might have looked at the whole scene — renewing his bond with the franchise, the city and Mario Lemieux — in a wholly different way.
But that part about greener pastures ... well, kind of hard to argue that now, isn`t it?
The first three playoff games have powerfully illustrated that Philadelphia is the better team to this point, and there`s also no question that the Flyers have been an exemplary fit for what he needed.
I spent some time with Jagr, whom I`ve known since 1997, after the Flyers` practice here last Wednesday, primarily for the purpose of fessing up. Told him what I wrote last summer, the terms I used, the whole deal.
Not surprisingly, he laughed.
"Well, what do you think now?" Jagr came back with a chuckle as he unlaced his skates. "For me, it was never about the money. If it was about the money, I could stay in Russia and make twice as much. I wanted to come to the NHL, play with great players and have the chance to win the Cup again. I`m very happy here."
Happier, no doubt, than he would have been in Pittsburgh.
Remember when Jagr wondered if the Penguins were "serious" about signing him?
That was legit. I have no doubt Lemieux and Dan Bylsma wanted it to happen. But I also have no doubt that general manager Ray Shero, who has every right to build his roster as he sees fit, really didn`t. And Jagr acknowledged Wednesday for the first time that he sensed Shero`s trepidation during the talks.
"For sure," Jagr said. "I knew there were some people there that wanted me, others who didn`t. I know Mario did."
Remember when Jagr said he`d prefer playing with Claude Giroux over Sidney Crosby?
Oh, we howled at that one. Not anymore.
Giroux isn`t Crosby. No one is. But Giroux raised his status to one of the game`s unquestioned top five forwards with a 93-point season, shining as Jagr`s centerman. The two also became good friends.
"He`s a special player, a special kid," Jagr said.
Remember when Jagr worried he wouldn`t have a spot on the Penguins` top two lines, or the first power-play unit?
We scoffed at that, too. But what would have become of Jagr once James Neal began busting out as a 40-goal sniper?
As for the power play ...
"They can`t even have Sid on the power play," Jagr said, with the trademark devilish grin. "Where would they put me?"
Remember when we saw Jagr joining the rival Flyers as a direct shot at the Penguins?
Well, this was what he had to say about being up, 3-0, in this series against his former team and the city that boos him with each touch of the puck: "All I know is that I appreciate every time I`m on the ice. I don`t know how many playoff games I have left in my career. If I`m happy about beating Pittsburgh — if we do — it`s because they`re the best team in the league. That`s special."
Jagr is openly talking about coming back for another NHL season, and he`s told the Flyers he`d prefer to stay put. I can see that happening, especially if he goes on to play a productive-mentor role similar to Mark Recchi`s with the champion Bruins last spring.
I`m guessing No. 68 would happily take a third Cup over that statue outside Consol Energy Center.
It was the right call.
Game 3 Pens vs. Flyers 4/15/12
The Pittsburgh Penguins lose 8-4 against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sunday, April 15 at the Wells Fargo Center in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup playoff series.
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