Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How did Jágr end up in Philadelphia?

by Petr Polák

Many people were really surprised by Jaromír Jágr’s recent decision to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers. There seemed to several more likely destinations for arguably the world’s greatest hockey player over the past 20 years, but in retrospect it makes sense. Let's take a look at how Jágr's signature ended up under the Flyers’ letterhead.

Earlier this summer, Jágr was already showing signs that he wasn’t going to be rushed into making a decision when he was in negotiations with a few KHL clubs. He had several suitors, including Atlant, Kazan, and the hottest candidate was SKA St. Petersburg. The negotiations dragged on for a long time until SKA finally said, "Enough!" and withdrew the offer.

Although it was late June and Jágr still had no contract for the coming season, he stayed cool: "I have always had faith and I believe that whatever happens, it will be the best possible thing for me."

Finally, it reached a point where there were no more opportunities to stay in the KHL other than re-signing in Omsk, which wasn't Jágr's preferred choice. So he took a look across the sea. "I don't know if there will be any interest for my services in NHL, but I'll wait and we'll see," Jágr said.

The fairytale started again. Two big favourites put forth their offers: the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. Both are prestigious organizations and most players would take real pleasure in donning the jersey of either. But these two clubs, naturally, also keep their eyes on the bottom line. They put relatively low offers on the table and, particularly in the case of the Penguins, emphasized reasons why Jágr should play there instead of releasing statements that the club really needs Jágr.

Jágr got the feeling, especially with Pittsburgh, that he wasn’t their first priority, just as he wasn’t number one with St. Petersburg. They gave him ultimatums. But Jágr's philosophy says that "If you go into anything head-first, with no patience, it'll cause you grief." And so Jágr decided to back away; he would rather become Pittsburgh's number-one enemy than just an item among their, or Detroit’s, list of stars.

So, as Jágr said earlier, he kept waiting. But in true butterfly effect, the Penguins and Red Wings didn't. Pittsburgh and Detroit withdrew their offers, just as SKA St. Petersburg did two weeks earlier, and left Jágr to meet his fate.

Jágr's destiny was fulfilled a short time later. The Flyers announced that Jágr signed a one-year deal for $3.3 million.

Yes, you can be pretty sure that it could have worked perfectly: Jágr on a line with Yevgeni Malkin and/or Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh . . . Jágr with Pavel Datsyuk and/or Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit . . . But on the other hand, the next headlines sound like the cliches:

"Jaromír Jágr came back to Pittsburgh to end the career with the team he started (to win his third Stanley Cup)." This sounds more like a B-class Hollywood scenario than a real-life chapter.

"Jaromír Jágr took his place for the end of his career on the roster of the Detroit Red Wings (to win his third Stanley Cup)." Do you remember the others? Todd Bertuzzi, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fyodorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Dominik Hašek, Brett Hull, Uwe Krupp, Igor Larionov, Mike Modano, Brian Rafalski  . . . You can call it "evergreen", but Jágr? I would call it "cliche". Yes, the Red Wings are a famous team where young players are mixed with veterans in a great cocktail of amazing hockey, but Jágr is a special person.

A person who prefers to play over 20 minutes per game, all the power plays and all the important situations; on a club that will be proud to have him on the roster. On a team where he will be the leader. The Philadelphia Flyers are that team.

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