June 27, 2008
The difference in dollars is roughly $8 million annually between the contracts that Brooks Orpik and Jaromir Jagr might sign this summer. The difference in mileage ... well, how far is it from the Northeast United States to Omsk, Russia, as the crow flies?
Here's where the players are surprisingly similar: Both have swooned like a schoolgirls in adoration for their current teams. Jagr on the New York Rangers being his No. 1 option this off-season: "They gave me a chance to show everybody I still can play hockey. Everybody doubted me when I was playing in Washington for whatever reason." (Let's see ... locker room cancer, lazy play, complete apathy towards the franchise and its fans ... we just don't have that kind of time, Jags.)
Orpik on why he doesn't want to leave the Pittsburgh Penguins, from a quote back in January: "I've talked with a lot of guys I've played with here who have gone other places, and they kind of wish they could come back." (*Cough* Michel Ouellet *Cough*)
Yet now, with the money on the table and Oprik and Jagr holding their officially licensed piggy banks in hand, we're about to really see the price of loyalty.
One day after getting beleaguered Penguins fans' hopes up with word that he was in talks with the team, Orpik and his agent rejected GM Ray Shero's initial bid to retain his services. As Steel City Sports Fan discovered, candy is evidently not free.
If this is Orpik putting a price tag on playing for Michel Therrien, then The Sweater Ted believes it's time for Brooks to suck it up and accept what the coach's tough love did for him. If it's about the money, we'll say this for Orpik: Even in rejection he's a good soldier, hinting that unrestricted free agency next week isn't the guarantee it was for Marian Hossa upon his contract denial.
Orpik's going to re-sign in Pittsburgh. That's the vibe. It's a negotiation, and agent Lewis Gross is a negotiator. Maybe Shero should start screaming, "Get me Chris Sabian!" like in that movie whose name escapes us.
As for Jagr, loyalty has always seemed about as important to him as monogamy is to Colin Farrell. That's why his postseason declaration of love for the Rangers was so jarring in its supposed honesty. Now, that loyalty will be tested with cold, hard, previously more valuable U.S. dollars. The Hockey Rodent first reported the terms of Jagr's contract offer from Omsk Avangard, and Larry Brooks fills in the details in today's NY Post: A three-year contract offer for the equivalent of $35M after-tax US dollars.
Jagr certainly appreciates the value of money, having lost more on Internet gambling than most Americans make over the course of a decade of employment. So does he grab the cash and reject the Rangers and the NHL? In the Post, GM Glen Sather sounds baffled:
"He has all the strings. There's nothing more that I can do at this point. If he wants to become a free agent and see what else is out there for him whether it's in the NHL or in Europe, that's his privilege.
"I know that he's told me before that he doesn't want to play in Europe, but at this point, I honestly don't know what he's thinking."
Although the specifics couldn't be more different, Orpik and Jagr face the same dilemma: Previous loyalty oaths coming in conflict with the Scrooge McDuck-swimming-in-goal-coins nature of free agency. For Brooks, it's a decision whether or not to leave a tight-knit Stanley Cup contender and a city that frankly adores anything with a Penguin on its sweater these days. For Jagr, it's a decision to leave a Stanley Cup contender (one assumes) and the relevancy of being an NHL star for Russia's answer to the USFL and a dump-truck of dead presidents.
The great hip-hop philosopher Paul Wall said it best: "If you snooze you lose, and if you sleep you won't eat pimping. I go and get it, being broke I ain't with it." OK, so it's not exactly Jeffersonian; but it's the thought that counts.