Many coaches will say this to teams in big moments, “How do you want people to remember you?” Many say they want people to remember the good they did in their lives. Others say that they want to do something that makes people remember them. Throughout history, especially in sports, a person that may be remembered as a “hero” to one team may be a villain to another.
On Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be taking on the New Jersey Devils. These teams have been rivals for a long time. However, there is a bigger story headed into this game. This game against the visiting Devils may be the last time that future Hall-of-Famer and former Penguins forward Jaromir Jagr may ever strap on the skates during a regular season game in Pittsburgh.
Jagr is without a doubt one of the greatest players to ever play the game. However, the big question is: How will Jagr be remembered in Pittsburgh? Will he be Jaromir “The Great” or Jagr “The Trader”?
Jaromir “The Great”
Jagr should be known as “The Great” because the man established his career in Pittsburgh. Jagr was drafted into the NHL by the Penguins and instantly made an impact. In his first two seasons in the NHL, the Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups. Jagr was second on the team, behind the great Mario Lemieux. It was in Pittsburgh that Jagr won two Lester Pearson Awards (MVP voted on by players) and his only Hart Trophy. Jagr was also selected to eight straight All-Star games as a Penguin.
The two things that Pens’ fans should remember, besides the Stanley Cup wins, were these two titles. First, Jagr won all of his Art Ross Trophies (NHL’s leading scorer) while as a member of the Penguins. His most impressive one, in my opinion, was in 2001 when Lemieux came out of retirement. That year, Jagr played hurt for most of the season and still won the title. Second, Jagr was one of the only captains under the “Lemieux Era.” Jagr was the third longest to hold this title, only behind Lemieux and current captain Sidney Crosby.
After looking at all of these things, how can a true fan of the Penguins actually hate Jagr?
Jagr “The Traitor”
If you have ever gone to a Penguins game when the Pens have taken on the team that Jagr was currently playing for, then you already know how Pens’ fans feel about him. The moment that he skates onto the ice, all you hear are “Boos” raining down from the Penguins’ faithful.
These jeers are well deserved. In 2001, once Mario Lemieux came out of retirement, Jagr demanded to be traded. Mario never did that! He saved the team many times, and what did Jagr do? He wanted to be traded away from the Penguins because he was no longer the star of the show! Once gone, Jagr always seemed to haunt the Pens every time he came to town. He either had a late goal to steal the victory away from the Pens or hooked a player so that the Boston Bruins could win an overtime game in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The worst act of treason that Jagr could have done was when he acted as if he wanted to return and retire as a Penguin. Two offseasons ago, Jagr made it clear that he wanted to return to the NHL. Mario Lemieux wanted Jagr to return to the Pens and have his career come full circle. However, Jagr used Lemieux as leverage to get more money from the Penguins’ rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. This was the knife through the hearts of Pens’ fans that many could not forgive.
The answer about Jagr’s legacy in Pittsburgh is uncertain. Many fans will tell you that he deserves to be honored as one of the greats to ever play in Pittsburgh. Others will say that his actions were as worse as Brutus putting the last knife into Caesar. No matter how you feel about him, Jagr is one of the greatest of all time. It will be interesting to see what side of the coin his legacy will land on in Pittsburgh when he hangs up the skates.