Friday, June 24, 2011

The Return of the Jagr-Bomb?

Don't look now, but the Jaromir Jagr hockey sweepstakes are on.

Hey wait. What year is this? Did I wake up in 1990 again?

Damn. I hate when that happens.

Nope, it is 2011. I checked.

And it looks like, after three years playing for the Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, Jagr wants to come back to the NHL. Currently, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in pursuit, as are the Detroit Red Wings and the Philadelphia Flyers (although, with all the craziness in Philadelphia, I'm not sure they can get it together to properly woo the scoring Czech.)

The Penguins pursuit of Jagr is intriguing to say the least, opening up a whole can of worms with so many questions:

Do the Pittsburgh fans want him back? Or would they hold a grudge over the way he sulked in his last season here?

Does Jagr have enough in the tank to be worthwhile?

How would he impact team chemistry?

Will he grow back his mega-mullet if we ask nicely? [Really, this 'do has to go into the Hall of Fame of Mullets-- this thing is to mullets what Louis Armstrong is to jazz.]

Yeah, he's ten years older than he was when the Pens shipped him off to DC in a preemptive salary dump [the Capitals promptly signed him to a new contract, a (then) ridiculous seven year $77 million dollar deal that the Pens could never have afforded.] It was just a bottom line thing, and I expect, had they been able to keep the greatest player in franchise history not named Mario Lemieux, they would have. The guy had 52 goals in his last year in Pittsburgh -- he was a production machine and the only the player not named Mario Lemieux to score 1,000 points in a Pens sweater.

He's an older guy now, no longer the cornerstone of a franchise or a 50 goal scorer, but I think he can still supply about 25 goals per season. Consider, the only Penguin to score more than 25 goals last season was Sid, and he was out for the last three months. Even with all the injuries, the Penguins were right on the heels of the Flyers in the regular season standings and Jagr dropping 25 goals and about 50 or 60 points would go a long way towards surpassing them.

As to the fans, if Jagr can be as effective as I think he can be, all will be forgiven, and quickly. In fact, the first time he nets a goal from an impossible angle, the first time he bulls through a defender at the blue line, the lovefest will be on in full force. In fact, the revisionist history figures to be spectacular, with every fan from Freeport to Monessen claiming that they always loved Jaromir Jagr, even through that last season when he moped and whined like a cranky little kid who had too much funnel cake at the school picnic at Kennywood. (In truth, he was annoying back then, perhaps a touch immature, but nobody ever doubted his talent or his value to the team on the ice.)

Jagr is now 39 years old and who knows if he could be a first line guy all the time. Probably not. And I don't see him breaking any scoring records, but wouldn't it be nice to deploy him on Sid's line from time to time? Disco Dan Bylsma loves to shift his lines in the middle of games and he often sends Crosby out there with Evgeni Malkin at the start of a period or in the waning moments. He could, from time to time, send Jagr out there with Crosby, too. Heck, with Crosby and Malkin together.

We've all been clamoring for a proper scoring winger since Sir Sidney arrived. Every year, somebody tries to step into that role -- Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone, Marian Hossa, Billy Guerin, Chris Kunitz. Hossa's long gone and way too expensive for the Penguins anyway. As much as I love Guerin, he's also long gone. I'm a Kunitz fan, but there's no question that Jagr is a better pure scorer.

Those are all compelling reasons to try to work a deal, but the single most compelling reason that I'm hoping Mario and Ray Shero work some magic and get Jagr back in a Penguins sweater is that it would get their anemic power play healthy in a hurry. They were embarrassing through the season -- even with Sid and Geno were healthy. Without those two in the playoffs, I don't even like to think about it:  seven games, 35 power play opportunities, one goal. Ya think they could have used Jagr against the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Jagr may be old, and this may be his last hurrah, but he's a sniper and he still has one of the filthiest wristers on the planet.

In short, please come back, Jaromir, and bring those nasty shots with you. The mullet is negotiable.

[Pics from: New York Times,]

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