Matt: I was thinking about this as soon as the Pens withdrew their contract offer. How many hated athletes do we have in this town? Nobody really hates Barry Bonds. He left because the Pirates told him in advance they didn’t have the money to make him a competitive offer and weren’t even going to try to resign him. All Neil O’Donnell ever did was throw two bad interceptions. Hossa was a rent-a-player, and we knew from day one that there was never better than a 50-50 shot he would be back. Nobody cared enough about Derek Bell or Matt Morris to hate them. We don’t turn on our own.
The circumstances under which Jagr left Pittsburgh were tenuous at best. He’d been playing here since he was 18 years old. The franchise was coming apart at the seams because of Howard Baldwin’s financial mismanagement, and Jagr faced the near-impossible task of picking up where Lemieux had left off as the team leader. He wasn’t cut out for it. He had to move on, and intelligent fans recognized and respected that. Intelligent fans also didn’t boo him when he came back through town. This guy is still the second-best player in franchise history, and helped the team win two Stanley Cups.
If he actually meant what he said about being willing to play for Lemieux at the league minimum, or when he said through his agent that his “heart is in Pittsburgh,” he could have sealed all of this up on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. Or Friday morning. This was, for all intents and purposes, a done deal. Everyone thought that, including the people calling the shots in the Pens’ front office. Jagr had an opportunity to close out his career on a positive note, mend all the fences and restore his reputation and legacy as a fan favorite in the town that adopted him when he was just a shy 18-year-old who didn’t speak the language. Instead, he scoffed at that opportunity — that offer of redemption. Then, he slapped Lemieux, his would-be redeemer, in the face by signing with the enemy. I never felt any ill will toward Jagr. Not when he requested a trade from Pittsburgh, not when he came back through town wearing other colors, and not as recently as yesterday. But now? After this? As far as I’m concerned, he’s on a list by himself. Jaromir, you are no longer welcome here.
Nils: Yes, partially because the pool of candidates is small, and partially because this just happened. Who do Pittsburghers like to hate? Barry Bonds, Kordell Stewart, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Derek Bell, Marian Hossa? No one comes close to Jagr right now. He may have topped the list before this whole fiasco. The only way he could be dethroned is if Rashard Mendenhall signs with the Flyers.