One of the more delicious plot twists in the NHL free-agency period which began on July 1 was Jaromir Jagr’s decision to sign a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, the arch-villain rivals of his former team the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and its readers are having an aneurysm over it.
Mr. Jagr had stated two years ago, while playing in the Russian KHL, that he, for the honour of rejoining his original team and out of respect for his idol, mentor, and current Penguin owner Mario Lemieux, would go so far as to sign a Collective Bargaining Agreement one-year minimum contract. In this last month, while Mr. Jagr was hard to pin down or even locate, his whereabouts being as uncertain as Schrödinger’s cat, Mr. Svoboda did profer that his heart was in Pittsburgh. After all, he still owned a home there.
On June 30th, various rumours surfaced from Pittsburgh that there already was a deal with the Penguins in place, that Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Jagr had spoken and the contract only needed to be signed.
Fast-forward to yesterday, with Mr. Jagr unable or unwilling to face cameras and deciding instead to take part in a conference call. He variously states that it’s difficult to explain his joining the Flyers, because his English is rusty, and he would have an easier time in Czech or even Russian (there is no word as to whether an interpreter was offered by a dogged Pittsburgh media scrum), and also that he had a good conversation with Chris Pronger, the now undisputed top dog in the Philadelphia kennel, after abrasive pups Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were shipped out. That heart-to-heart chat with noted wit and confidant Mr. Pronger, and murky existential leanings too tenuous to grasp with his rudimentary English, a language he only started picking up twenty years ago, are the only reasons we are provided.
Of course, the Flyers will pay Mr. Jagr $3.3 million this season, as opposed to reported offers from the Penguins and other teams in the $2 million range. This detail was not mentioned as a contributing factor to his decision, despite Mr. Jagr’s well-known gambling issues and problems with the U.S. Revenue Service. There were many other offers from many other teams for more money, he claims.
He is not made of stone however, and is foggily aware that this turn of events may not play well in Pittsburgh. For this he made the quarter-hearted faux-apology that transgressors make nowadays, seemingly baffled that their conduct wasn’t appropriate. They ask pardon not for their actions, but for the fact that these, however impenetrably, ‘may have offended others’.
The Montreal Canadiens were reportedly ‘in the race’ for Mr. Jagr’s services, although General Manager Pierre Gauthier flatly denied that he was interested. He is to be congratulated for not getting sucked in to this charade, only to be used to spur the bidding war.
Mr. Jagr was seen in sober circles to be an interesting acquisition this off-season. He was thought to be more mature, and be motivated to add to his legacy before retiring. It is obvious however that he is still the same unpredictable person who is solely concerned with his material well-being and that concepts such as ‘team’ and ‘honour’ are as foreign to him as he claims English is.