One of the most difficult things as a sports fan is to watch an athlete from afar and think about how special it would be to watch that athlete on a nightly basis. To think about what it’d be like to have that athlete on the hometown team. To buy his jersey, sing his praises, and of course, to update the rosters on Xbox Live. And not just the obvious ones, like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. I’m talking about the ones who are consistently excellent, potential Hall of Famers who still tend to lack fanfare, guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Tony Parker. It’s made so much worse when fans have to watch such likeable players toil away on hated rivals. Supporting Ryan Kesler would be so much easier if he didn’t play for the Canucks. Cheering for Wayne Chrebet back in the day would have been more appealing had he not played for the Jets. Same goes for Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, and Andy Pettitte. I’d list some examples of guys who’ve played for the Canadiens, but when you think about it, they’ve never had a likeable player on their team. It has never happened and never will. Just trust me.
Jaromir Jagr has played for the following NHL teams: Penguins, Capitals, Rangers, Flyers, and Stars. After a trade earlier today, he can add the Bruins to that list, and that’s where the previous paragraph comes into play. Jagr is one of those guys with once-in-a-generation skills. Think of the most accomplished, decorated, and well known hockey players over the past 20 years, and many of the names that always come up are Jagr, Joe Sakic, Nicklas Lidstrom, Martin Brodeur, Sidney Crosby, Ray Bourque, Alex Ovechkin, Dominik Hasek, Steve Yzerman, Peter Forsberg, and Wayne Gretzky. Those are the guys you always played with in video games, the guys whose jersey you bought, and the guys who have been the face of their franchise. And while Jagr played for so many franchises, let’s not forget who held the down the Penguins while Mario Lemieux missed timed because of cancer and his first retirement.
As a longtime Jagr fan, it’s been painful to see him play for teams like the Pens, Caps, and above all, the Flyers. If there were two hockey players from this generation that I’d want on my team, I’d choose the aforementioned Datsyuk, and Jagr. Both are marvels on the ice, as talented, skilled, and graceful as yo’ull ever see. Jagr’s turn on HBO’s “24/7: Road to the NHL Winter Classic” last year sealed the deal, seeing him joke with his teammates and have them in stitches when dissing Ilya Bryzgalov when Bryz tried to sit at his table during a meal. This is a guy you want on your team, no matter the situation, no matter the temperature of your locker room. He’s been there, done that, and I’ve always wanted to see him ply his trade in Boston.
On paper, it’s a bad trade for the Bruins, who gave up Lane MacDermid, Cody Payne, and a conditional second round pick. MacDermid is a bruiser whose ceiling is as a third line tough guy, but more likely a fourth liner. Payne has shown promise in the OHL, tallying 45 points in 66 games. And the pick becomes a first rounder if the Bruins make the conference finals.
The troubling part about the trade is that rather than trading two players and a pick for Jagr, the Bruins could have simply tried to sign him in the offseason. He was an unrestricted free agent after 2012, and the Stars stepped up and offered him $4.55m to play for them. It’s understandable that Boston didn’t make a push to sign him. Their lines coming into the season were full, first through fourth, and there wouldn’t have been room for him. Topping $4.55m would have put them near or over the cap at the time, as Tim Thomas was still on the books. And it’s not a given that Jagr would have come to Boston. But it is head scratching, in hindsight, to say, “Wait, we just gave up two prospects and an early round pick for a 41-year old who we could have just signed in the offseason for nothing? And there’s a chance he could play fewer than 20 games for us before either retiring or signing somewhere else?”
Looking at it that way, the deal doesn’t make a ton of sense. But the Bruins are going for it this year. They plan to contend for several years to come, but in the past few years, they’ve made a point to trade at the deadline in an attempt to augment the active roster and make a deep playoff run. It’s worked to varying degrees of success, the pinnacle being 2011, obviously.
In my opinion, Jagr is somewhat of a consolation prize for missing out on Iginla. The Bruins needed to do something, and the best piece was off the board, so they went for Jagr. The counter-arguments are that the Bruins gave up less to get Jagr than what they’d offered for Iginla, Jagr has more points than Iginla this season, and both will be difficult to sign beyond this season.
Still, I think Peter Chiarelli feels cheated by losing Iginla and pulled the trigger on this move to make up for that debacle. It’s a move that should improve the power play and bolster the offense, but knowing that Jagr was out there for the taking last summer and required two prospects and a pick makes it feel like a panic move.
At long last, Jaromir Jagr will play for my hometown team. Despite who the winners and losers of the trade are, I’m happy he’s here. Hopefully the select few games I’ll get to see him play in a Bruins sweater will make up for the years of having to watch him play for the rival Penguins, Capitals, Rangers, and Flyers. Maybe he’ll even propel Boston to another Cup and sign on for a couple more years at a reasonable price. Regardless of the outcome, it’s going to be a pleasure to finally get the chance to root for Jaromir Jagr, Boston Bruin.