Dec 29, 2011, 2:27 PM EDT
We’re not quite halfway through the NHL season, but Jaromir Jagr’s tour of NHL bridges he’s somehow burned is nearly complete. He’s been to DC and Manhattan already, and tonight, he’ll skate in front of the fans for whom he was a multiple Cup winner and MVP.
A staggering amount of column space and blog posts have already been devoted to Jagr’s return to Pittsburgh, much of which was discussed over the summer, when the Czech surprisingly signed with the Flyers when everyone expected him to be a Penguin again, or turn up in Detroit. Hell, it was undoubtedly covered in some fashion the first time he returned to the confluence after leaving for DC, the first time he returned to DC as a Ranger, the first time he returned to Pittsburgh a Ranger, and so on…
Point is, Jagr’s been fielding some variation of the same questions on and off for days, weeks, months, and years. Some of the stories written based on his responses have been pretty solid and interesting despite the overall saturation (I liked Dave Isaac’s and Anthony San Filippo’s
in particular). But the impression I get after reading the Philly and Pittsburgh coverage in total is that at nearly 40, Jagr really doesn’t care about his hockey past right now.
When you boil down all his responses to questions about Shero’s offer and wordplay with Jagr’s agent and in the press, what it’s like to play for a rival, and the feelings Pittsburgh fans may harbor about him, you’re left without much substance or sentiment related to anything but the hockey itself. The persona he chooses to put forward in words and in practice is that of a guy who just loves to play the game at a high level; he’s made his decisions on where he wanted to do it, and he doesn’t seem to want to focus on much else. Now, that’s not a very interesting quote or headline, but as fans of his current team, would you have it any other way?
Drumming up a compelling narrative isn’t always easy in daily sports writing, and the potential for animosity from all angles was obviously going to be a big part of the Jagr coverage. “The Return…” is easier to write about (particularly if the subject is worn down with incessant and similar questions and finally takes the bait) and more interesting to the masses than, say, his feelings about Vaclav Havel (who also had a big fan in Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones) or some other off-ice topic.
I won’t pretend to understand Yinzer culture or go too far into the reasons many Pens fans are preparing to boo Jagr and Max Talbot, or whether any of it is justified for two guys who played massive and important roles (respectively) in Pittsburgh having something we don’t—Stanley Cup wins in past few decades.
Hell, Phillies fans boo WFC Jayson Werth for reasons not exactly clear to me, so I’m not judging whatever motivations will lead fans in the ‘Burgh to give one their franchise’s few legendary figures the business tonight. Nor am I concerned with their reactions to a key role player they grew tired of somewhere between the time he raised his own Cup and the moment he signed with the Flyers, although that’s somewhat more current.
But Jagr’s shadow looms so large in Pittsburgh that Talbot’s far more recent departure to the same rival team is just a filler paragraph in most of the past two days’ coverage.
All of this is Pittsburgh’s baggage to deal with, and I do enjoy the fact that it’s caused something of a civil war among them.
Our own baggage has nothing to do with Jagr, who has been a perfect fit here, helping to raise the game of Claude Giroux and showing a good example to younger players about training and staying in shape no matter how legendary your talent is. His baggage no longer has anything to do with Pittsburgh.
Our baggage is, as usual, the cloud of uncertainty we have in net. Ilya Bryzgalov has been struggling, and despite the big Winter Classic spotlight coming on Monday, he will not play in the team’s final game before it. Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start, and for all we know, if he plays well, he could be the man in goal at Citizens Bank Park.
Lavvy has shown some patience in trying to get Bryz established as the starter, but you don’t have to look too far back to see that he doesn’t mind riding the hot hand no matter whom it’s attached to. When it comes to the standings, the Classic is just another contest among division foes with two points on the line. But will the magnitude of the event affect Lavvy’s goalie decision? Should it?
I don’t envy him the weight of that decision…
We’ll see what Bob offers the process tonight when he gets to work in the building he christened with a Flyers win. And of course, nothing would make us happier than to hear a chorus of boos sliced into silence as Jagr buries a wrister and gives a salute.
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