Flyers sign on for year-long 'Jagr Watch'On the ice, Jaromir Jagr was last seen helping the Czech Republic capture bronze at the world championships
Think the "Jagr Watch" was weirdly entertaining – wondering where Jaromir Jagr was, what he was thinking, where he would sign?
Wait till you watch the next edition of "24/7 … The Road to the NHL Winter Classic." HBO's cameras will be behind the scenes to capture how Jagr fits in with the Philadelphia Flyers. How will he adjust on the ice at age 39 after three years away from the NHL? How will he get along with Peter Laviolette, his new coach, and Chris Pronger(notes), probably his new captain? Oh, and how badly will he be booed Dec. 29, when he returns to Pittsburgh?
He can pick up his heart while he's there. Isn't that where his agent said it was?
I love the drama, but I don't know about the deal. I love the drama because I don't know about the deal. Jagr took a one-year, $3.3 million contract from the Penguins' hated cross-state rivals when he could have taken less to repair his relationship with his original team. The Flyers signed a faded superstar with baggage when they just traded two young cornerstones – Jeff Carter(notes) and Mike Richards(notes) – to change the culture of their room. Maybe this will be a disaster. Maybe Jagr and the Flyers are a perfect fit. Maybe both.
In the insane free-agent market that opened Friday, just about anything can be justified. Jagr, past his prime as he might be, is a right winger who has won an MVP award and five NHL scoring titles. Right wingers Radim Vrbata(notes) and Joel Ward(notes), who haven't, both signed contracts averaging $3 million a season – Vrbata with the Phoenix Coyotes, Ward with the Washington Capitals. By that measure, Jagr is easily worth just $300,000 more, and you have to love how fearless the Flyers are when they make moves. They are reportedly one of the teams bidding for top free agent Brad Richards(notes).
The problem is what the money means. The Penguins had good reason for offering Jagr one year at $2 million and sticking to it.
At the right number and in the right situation, Jagr would be well worth the risk – especially when options are limited in free agency and prices are sky-high. He has lost a step, but his game was never about speed, and defenders backcheck so hard these days that few plays are made off the rush in the NHL anymore anyway. He still has the size, at 6-foot-3 and about 240 pounds, and he still has the hands. He can still buzz around down low and work the half-wall on the power play. On a skilled team with a strong room, he could still be productive, and his notoriously flaky personality could be kept in line. Probably.
The Montreal Canadiens made some sense, because Jagr could have played with Czech countryman and friend Tomas Plekanec(notes). The Detroit Red Wings made some sense, because they have a stable of skilled players and a long history of success with older stars. But the Penguins made the most sense for obvious reasons. He could have come back to the place where he spent his first 11 seasons and won two Stanley Cups, plus his other major hardware. He could have made up with former teammate, now co-owner, Mario Lemieux. He could have played with Sidney Crosby(notes), Evgeni Malkin(notes) and Kris Letang(notes). He could have had his No. 68 retired someday.
Not everyone inside the organization was enamored with the idea, but after Jagr expressed interest in coming to Pittsburgh after three seasons in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, the Penguins looked into it. Lemieux talked to him. They made an offer Tuesday.
Had Jagr signed for one year and $2 million, they would have known he was doing it for the right reasons – to win and to do it in Pittsburgh. If it just didn't work out because he couldn't re-adapt to the faster, more physical pace, not to mention the longer season and intense playoffs, no big loss. And if he messed up, he would be messing with Mario, right?
But in the end, Jagr messed around with Mario and everyone else. His agent, Petr Svoboda, said Jagr would make his decision when he arrived in the United States late Wednesday afternoon. Then the "Jagr Watch" became more than just a hashtag on Twitter.
Then Svoboda told the Detroit Free Press that Jagr might have missed his connection and he didn't know where he was. Then he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Jagr had a "tough decision to make" because "Pittsburgh is in his heart," and Penguins general manager Ray Shero told the paper that he hoped Jagr "meant what he's said by wanting to do right by Mario."
Though Jagr likely could have made more by staying in Russia – and tax-free, too – it sure seemed like he and his agent looked at an overheated market and weren't going to take too much of a cut to come back to the NHL, no matter how much goodwill it would generate.
At late as Friday morning, the Penguins had no idea where Jagr was, but they knew what was going on. They pulled their offer about a half-hour before the free-agent market opened at noon ET and re-signed Tyler Kennedy(notes) to a two-year deal worth (hmm) $2 million a year.
"We made what we thought was a very fair contract offer to Jaromir on Tuesday, based on his stated interest of returning to the Penguins," Shero said. "But now, after several days, with an extended timeframe for making a decision, and additional teams getting involved, we have decided to move in a different direction. It was never our intention to get involved in a free-agent bidding war."
The Wings pulled their offer and moved on, too, with general manager Ken Holland telling the Free Press: "We made an offer and he doesn't want it, so we're done."
Ouch. Was the extra money really worth that?
Did the Flyers really want to sign Jagr if it was? Maybe it was worth it just to keep him away from the Penguins, and the Flyers spiced up the rivalry even further later by giving five years and $9 million to Max Talbot(notes), who scored both Game 7 goals when the Pens won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Maybe this will work and Jagr can be a solid complementary piece for a team that made the Cup final in 2010.
But remember that the Flyers just traded Carter and Richards to "change the direction of our organization," in the words of GM Paul Holmgren. They had signed Carter and Richards to massive contracts because of their talent, but they got out of them before no-trade clauses kicked in because of other issues.
Now here comes Jagr, who is well known for letting other issues get in the way of his talent, who just tried to squeeze his old team and mentor for a little extra cash. Now he walks into a room led by no-nonsense guys like Laviolette and Pronger, where youngsters like Claude Giroux(notes) and James van Riemsdyk(notes) are supposed to be rising to the fore. What's going to happen next?
The "Jagr Watch" was just a preview. Watch this. Perfect for HBO.