Wednesday, December 25, 2013

'I'm Dying Alive Without Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh One Last Time'

Jaromir Jagr has been seen as a villain ever since demanding to leave Pittsburgh and then spurning them in the 2011 off-season even after he said he would play for the Penguins for the league minimum.

     "I feel like I'm dying alive. ... I don't feel comfortable here right now," (1.)  Those were the exact words from Jaromir Jagr uttered during his final season in Pittsburgh before eventually being traded in the off-season to the Washington Capitals. During his time in Pittsburgh, Jagr accumulated 1,140 points (467 Goals, 673 Assists) in 806 career games, and helped lead the Penguins to back to back Stanley Cup Championships In 1991 & 1992! (Jagr also recorded 147 points, 65 Goals, 82 Assists in 140 playoff games with Pittsburgh. See Below).

 <---Regular Season


     When Mario Lemieux was out due to injury, including his 1st retirement, Jagr was the man in Pittsburgh and the beloved Captain all the fans supported and cheered for! One of the best examples of this came in the Quarterfinals of the 1999 NHL Playoffs when the Penguins were facing elimination in Game 6 against the #1 Seed New Jersey Devils as Jagr's status for playing in the game was questionable and faced the possibility of being a healthy scratch. Jagr however, would approach his way towards the ice with a screaming crowd where you could just feel the adrenaline in the arena all the way into your living room!


     The Devils were leading 2-1 in the game with 2:12 remaining when a Penguins rush into the New Jersey zone started with Jagr passing the puck to teammate German Titov, who mishandled the pass but regained possession of it quickly and passed it back behind to Jagr who was in front of the net to finish the play and put the puck past Martin Brodeur! Giving the Penguins new hope and life! The captain was not finished! With 11:01 remaining in the 1st overtime (OT) Martin Straka skated along the boards and centered a pass over to Jagr and found the open net and scored the game-winning goal as the crowd erupted as their hero helped the Penguins stave off elimination to force a Game 7 back in New Jersey!

     Up 2-1 in Game 7, late in the 2nd period, Jagr created a turnover in the Devils zone. Jagr would pass to Jan Hrdina and would pass it back once more to each other before finally there pitch and catch resulted in a goal when Jagr fed Hrdina who was out in front of the net to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead! The Devils brought themselves back within one, but another turnover proved costly as Jagr and Straka had a 2 on 0 breakaway. Jagr's shot was denied, but the rebound allowed Straka to bury it home into the net and give the Penguins a two goal lead once again, 4-2!

The Penguins would go on to win by that same score and upset the heavily favored New Jersey Devils to advance to the next round (where they would ultimately be eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games).

     Despite playing the role of hero, Jagr would have a fallout with the Penguins the following season, (which saw Mario Lemieux come out of retirement) and was no longer happy with the team and its new system with then Head Coach Ivan Hlinka. Jagr wanted out and it was then he uttered those (in)famous words "I'm dying alive in Pittsburgh". Penguins fans (including me) felt betrayed and after Jagr left Pittsburgh. Whenever Jagr would return to face Pittsburgh and came onto the ice he received a loud chorus of "Boos" throughout the arena. This animosity would continue until the conclusion of the 2008 NHL Season when Jagr left the NHL and went over to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for three seasons.

     After spending three seasons in Russia playing hockey, Jagr decided he wanted to head back over to North America and play in the NHL once again. Speculation was rampant that Jaromir Jagr would bring closure between he and the fans of Pittsburgh as there was apparent interest from both sides on Jagr becoming a Penguin once again! It was even reported that Jagr said if Mario Lemieux contacted him to play for the Penguins, that he would play for the league minimum, as he stated he owed his hockey life to him. Here is the full quote from the article (which I will leave a link to if you want to read the article in its entirety )

                              "A week ago Jaromir Jagr claimed he would come back and play for the Penguins at the league minimum if Mario asked him to.  'I was thinking about it and if Mario would call me and say, I’d like you to play for our team,  I would think about it a lot,” Jagr said in a phone interview. 'I would play for the minimum salary. I would play for $350,000 just for him, because I owe him my hockey life. I want to pay him back because he has made me what I am, besides my parents.' "

     When 2011 Free Agency began, everyone was ready to bury the hatchet and anticipated for Jagr's long overdue return to Pittsburgh. The event was so closely followed that " #JagrWatch" was trending on Twitter, waiting for him to arrive in North America and sign a deal with the Penguins. Here is a fan made video that embraced the return of Jaromir Jagr, as it seemed as it was basically a done deal that Jagr would be coming home!


     It seemed like a sure fire deal that Jagr would once again become a Penguin, and why not, he even said he would come back to Pittsburgh to play for the league minimum because he owed his hockey life to Mario Lemieux! Unfortunately as we all know, what people say and do are two completely different things! In a big twist of events, Jagr declined Pittsburgh's offer of a 1 year $2 million deal (which was more than the league minimum he said he would take to return to Pittsburgh), and apparently money may have been an issue and signed a 1 year, $3.3 million deal, with the Philadelphia Flyers of all teams! Tensions and hostility were bigger than ever before because of Jagr pulling a 'Benedict Arnold' by spurning  Pittsburgh for in state rival Philadelphia. Some fans were even calling to have his jersey removed from the rafters because of his actions.

     The Penguins would meet the Flyers in the 1st Round of the 2012 playoffs and ultimately lost in 6 games, giving Jagr the last laugh on that end of the deal. In 2013, this time with the Boston, Jagr once again came out on top against his former team when the Bruins swept the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jagr signed as a free agent this past off-season with another rival of the Penguins, New Jersey Devils. The Devils however, are struggling a bit at the moment this season, and if they fall out of playoff contention I would love to see Pittsburgh trade for him at the deadline!

     I know many may be thinking "No" or "We do not need him" or "it would cost us prospects and/or draft picks that we may need" etc. But I guess I am looking for that fairytale ending where everything is finally made right! Going back to his heroic performance in the 1999 Quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils, Jagr received a huge pop from the crowd when he stepped onto the ice for Game 6 and he saved the Penguins by tying the game late and eventually the game winner in overtime, that sent everyone in Pittsburgh into a frenzy!  Just imagine for a moment Jagr coming back to Pittsburgh one final time, stepping on the ice once again in a Penguins uniform! The crowd's cheers are echoed throughout the entire arena as Jagr once again returns to help Pittsburgh! It is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Jagr steps up while superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Penguins are being shutdown! The Penguins are struggling in a back and forth game with its opponent but Jagr takes the game into his own hands and scores the Stanley Cup game winning goal as the Pittsburgh Penguins are once again Stanley Cup Champions, thanks to Jaromir Jagr's heroic performance!

     Too much time may have passed by, or there just is not simply any need for Jagr on the Penguins at this point. But think of it like this, it would be like a family reunion, where two members of that family have been in a feud for so many years that they have not even spoke a single word to each other! After years of hostility and turmoil, the pain and emptiness without the other family member in their life, causes them to break down crying and embrace one another and are sorry and forgiving of for all the grief and aggravation they caused. As a Penguins fan, I feel I am "dying alive" a little inside without closure and peace between the fans of Pittsburgh and Jagr. What better way to come together to see Jagr sporting a Penguins sweater lifting Lord Stanley over his head with tears of joy running down the face of the fans of Pittsburgh, the team's organization, owners, players and Jaromir Jagr himself while he is doing so!

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