Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It Is Time To Stop Booing Jaromir Jagr

You know what? You know what? I think people have forgotten that Jaromir is an anagram of Mario, Jr.

There's been a curious development in the NHL in the past 10 years. Whenever a superstar leaves his original team because that team doesn't want to pay him the mega scratch, he gets booed whenever he returns to his old rink. Sometimes, with guys like Paul Kariya, the booing eventually peters out because, really, who could hate li'l Paul Kariya? Sometimes, with guys like Rob Blake, he returns to his original team in his twilight years. So you have a super fun situation where Kings fans mercilessly booed Blake every time he touched as an Av, only to cheer him when he became a King again. Like a couple who had a nasty divorce, said every miserable thing you could possibly say about another human being, and then they get remarried. It is awkward.

Now, nobody will ever accuse Pittsburgh fans of being evenhanded. Hell, they hated Terry Bradshaw for over a decade and all he did is win four Super Bowls. Though, in fairness to the fans, Bradshaw did play for 14 seasons, so clearly 10 of his Steeler years were abject failures.

Ever since Jagr was traded to the Capitals in 2001, he has been severely booed in every return trip to the Igloo. And considering that he's only played for the Caps and Rangers since, that's been a lot of return trips.

But in 2001, the Penguins were on the verge of bankruptcy. Again. Jagr was clearly the best player in the league and deserved to be paid as such. Problem was, the Pens could only afford to pay him not very much. He was going to be an unrestricted free agent shortly and the Pens had a choice. Trade him now or get nothing for him in the future. The die was cast and the booing commenced.

Sure, Jagr was pouty at times. He still is. Not everybody can be sunshine and berries all the time. But here's a guy who was on both Penguin Cup teams, a guy who won the Art Ross four straight years and five times overall. When the Four Straight Art Ross Trophies Club meets for their annual barbecue in Toronto, do you know who's there? Gordie Howe, Phil Esposito, Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Clarence Washington. (Clarence is the pit master they hire every year. His brisket is more tender than pudding.) And that's it. Guy LaFleur keeps trying to make it the Three Straight Club so he can snag an invite, but 9, 7, 99 and 68 like the exclusivity.

Here's a guy who was suffering from groin problems all season in 1998-99 and basically singlehandedly beat the Devils in 7 games. A guy who was the league MVP that year. A guy whose Top 10 Goals Montage on Youtube is patently insane, even through the pixelated graininess. And here he is getting booed not just in warmups or introductions, but every single time he has touched the puck in Pittsburgh for seven years.

If you want to boo somebody, boo Kris Beech, Michel Sivek or Ross Lupaschuk, the, ahem, prospects we got back from Washington. You can get Beech next season when Vancouver comes to town. If you want Sivek, he's playing in the Czech League. While you're over there, swing by Russia and see if you can't track down Lupaschuk. He'll be the short guy at the end of somebody's bench.


Sean said...

"Trade him now or get nothing for him in the future"

isn't what the Pens got in return the same as nothing?

I've always like Jagr, even after they traded him, regardless of how he left the team. If fans booed every athlete over money matters, then Wayne Gretzky should be booed each time he visits Edmonton.

Unfortunately, most fans don't spend the time to understand the full impact of a players time in the respective city and just immediately hop on the "Boo train" because it's vogue to do.

Watching the NHL Network and old Pens games, Jagr was an absolutely beast then. Probably the best stickhandler in the league during the 90's. Smooth, silky and worked great with Mario.

Benzy said...

I hope the pens make a run at him this year. Lease him for the last few months of the season; make a run at the cup and let him retire as a penguin.