Jaromir, We Hardly Knew Ya, and I’m Not Sure We’ll Miss You

There was, seemingly, a continent-wide silence over the weekend associated with Jaromir Jagr’s departure from the NHL. Indeed, the latest flareup between Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and Ducks’ GM Brian Burke seems to have made a larger impression on the hockey world this weekend than has Jagr’s departure.
It seems oddly fitting that on Independence weekend the Capitals and the NHL would finally be liberated from the seemingly interminable and onerous payoffs to Jaromir Jagr, one of the sport’s ultimate mercenaries.
Back in January 2004, the Caps dealt the underachieving, isolated, and insufferable Jagr to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter and a promise to pay off $20 million of the $44 million remaining on his godawful contract. The deal of course occurred pre-lockout, and at the time Jagr was earning $11 million annually; meaning, that Ted Leonsis was on the hook for a tidy $5 million each season in payments to the Rangers for the duration of the deal. The new CBA that ended the lockout in 2005 included a 24-percent rollback in player salaries, so that payoff sum got sheared off a bit, but both practically speaking and especially symbolically, the Capitals were still tethered to the misanthropic mercenary, through the 2007-08 season, and that association stung.
Word arrived this weekend that Jagr had in essence ended his NHL career, in signing with Avangard Omsk of the new Russian elite pro hockey league. The terms — apparently two years and $7 million per season, tax free — mean that Jagr is back up to the equivalent of $11 million in annual salary. He spent this decade as a temperamental gun for hire, so this new agreement is fitting. Puck daddy’s overview on Jagr’s career, in which daddy terms #68’s tenure in D.C. “the near career suicide,” includes a generous helping of reader comments that seem to capture all of the at-arm’s-length regard Jagr engendered in his NHL career. Including, especially, this sentiment: “Good riddance.”
It’s remarkable that the NHL’s ninth all-time scorer could amass as massive a movement of malignant sentiments as he did, but he did.
Jagr’s was an NHL career of two careers: his years in Pittsburgh, where he brilliantly partnered with Mario Lemieux, catapulting the Penguins to two Stanley Cups, and where he won four consecutive Art Ross trophies; and those that followed, in Washington and New York, where he showed flashes of his dominant past but most often earned reviews that he was slowing down and grossly overpaid. This was especially true of his aborted stay in D.C.
Even in Pittsburgh Jagr has no shortage of detractors. Near the end of his run there he made no secret of his wish to play in the NHL’s largest market. Pittsburghers become particularly parochial over such sentiments. Jagr never seemed vested in the Penguins, emotionally or otherwise — certainly not like Mario Lemieux always has been. It’s distinctly possible that in about 7 or 8 years’ time Jagr will be regarded there as merely the fourth best forward to play in Pittsburgh — a stunning possibility, when you consider his scoring standing in the league’s history. Jagr is one of only 16 players to score 600 goals; only the 12th player to surpass 1,500 points; and only Mike Gartner is a rival to Jagr’s tally of 15 consecutive seasons with 30 or more goals. He is the only player to score goals in 53 different NHL arenas.
But for all of his red lamp lighting, he possessed an uncanny ability to leave you cold. Hockey is in many respects the ultimate team sport, in which a goal scorer typically celebrates lavishly in the arms of his teammates. Jagr seemed to celebrate many of the goals he scored with the detachment of a hitman.
It is true that the Washington Capitals today would not have Alexander Ovechkin were it not for the ruinous run of Jagr in D.C. It is therefore fitting that hockey fans here have in Ovechkin the outsized personality, a total team-first dynamo, one who is also disarmingly modest and an irrationally exuberant scoring celebrator. He is the antidote to Jaromir Jagr, our tonic from those two-and-a-half seasons of tumult.
In so many ways Jagr was an extraordinary paradox. He accumulated 1,599 points in his NHL career; that he is a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame is beyond dispute. And yet, he departs the NHL and it’s news on hockey pages for all of 12 hours, before the next free agent signing bumps it. He had fans by the thousands who wore sweaters bearing his name, but he seldom had spirited defenders. Serious hockey fans never ragged on his skill set, but even at the height of his brilliance he seemed to engender a detachment from fans. Most often you got the sense that if there was such a thing as hockey player really in it mostly for the money, Jaromir Jagr was that hockey player.
Now near 37, he’s crossing an ocean, and turning his back on the planet’s best league, for more of it.

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This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Former Coaches & Players, Hockey Hall of Fame, Jaromir Jagr, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Jaromir, We Hardly Knew Ya, and I’m Not Sure We’ll Miss You

  1. vt caps fan says:

    Good Riddance.

  2. TG says:

    Yeah, I know it worked out badly here with JJ, but if it had come out that the Caps could have had him for essentially three spare parts/minor leaguers and the Caps didn’t pull the trigger on the trade, Ted would have received hundreds of e-mails calling him an idiot. When his head was in the game, he was amazing to watch. Too bad he wasn’t into it that much.
    And any thoughts on how much longer Ron Wilson would have stayed had he not been undercut by Jagr? Although BB has worked out well, I still miss Wilson.

  3. NS2NOVA says:

    “He is the antidote to Jaromir Jagr, our tonic from those two-and-a-half seasons of tumult.”
    You could call him the Anti-Jagr.

  4. nadir says:

    I was never a fan of Jagr, even when the Caps signed him. He even said it himself when he left the Caps, he didn’t give 100% because the Caps didn’t play his type of game.
    This all stems from Mario. He took a young Jagr and was with him 24/7 and instilled the “Mario” outlook on the NHL. It was great for him when he played for the Pens, but once he left, he as a spoiled little “kid” that wanted things his way. If he didn’t get it, he didn’t play.
    Fast forward to the present. Same “Mario taking the youngster under the wing” has happened to Crosby. Crosby gets pissed just like Mario does when things don’t go his way. While they all have and have had game, the mental training of Jagr and Crosby in the NHL is Mario’s mindset of the game. The hack and slash behind the play when things don’t work out for them.
    Good riddance to Jagr. I won’t miss him.

  5. dmg says:

    One thing worth noting: when the new CBA was approved it included a provision that any player’s salary could not exceed 20% of cap space, so Jagr’s contract was reduced by more than 24%, from $11M to $7.8M
    @TG: I maintain that trading for Jagr was a good move. The bad moves were (1) the $77M, seven-year contract and (2) making personnel moves to trying and placate him.

  6. Tilman says:

    Great article and no typical tribute story to JJ.
    I like it 😉

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