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Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com

The Long Goodbye

June 27, 2001

Parting is such sweet sorrow, that is, presuming it actually happens. That Jaromir Jagr was not traded over the draft weekend and almost certainly won't be moved before NHL free agents are allowed to sign with other teams on July 1, was perhaps surprising to some. Nevertheless, it only prolongs the inevitable.

The formalities of a few official blanks on a sheet of paper aside, Jaromir Jagr has been traded. While essential details (to whom, to where; for whom, from where) all still linger, anyone who has ever born witness to a divorce of any kind knows the truth. This marriage is over.

Mike Milbury can take the Islanders off the list and turn them into a home for wayward malcontents all he likes. He can even put the polish on a three-way deal that adds Petr Nedved and Nikolai Khabibulin to his collection, there are still places for Jagr to end up, and if Jagr's not moved today, he'll be moved eventually.

There may be some crying after the door shuts for the final time, or some quiet reflection years down the road, but right now all that's missing is a notary and a moving company.

Yet, contrary to what current events might suggest, this story didn't end when Mario started casting off subtle insinuations to the press, or even when Jagr was signed to the princely sum the organization can no longer shoulder years ago. This partnership ended the day Mario Lemieux decided to return to the ice.

This union dissolved the moment two people were talking and neither were listening; when nights ended twelve hours before they began with a peck on the cheek and an obligatory, 'don't wait up for me.' However, to the chagrin of many, just as it is in any number of relationships, there is no right or wrong here, and no one individual is to blame.

Jaromir Jagr isn't leaving Pittsburgh because he's too expensive, because he's unwanted, or even because he's unloved. He's leaving because people, and times, change.

Nobody is the same person at thirty that they were at twenty, and few would want to be. The set of circumstances surrounding the Penguins, Mario Lemieux, and Jaromir Jagr right now are over a decade removed from the faded picture hanging above the mantle.

Sometimes lives change together, sometimes they change apart. This is the case of the latter, it should benefit all involved if they'll only let it, and it's sad to attempt to ascribe blame simply for affect.

Were Jaromir Jagr to retire this summer, he would still go into the Hall of Fame with ease, but he would also be tied inexorably to Mario Lemieux. Just the way a number of New York Yankee Hall of Famers were overshadowed by the likes of Mantle, DiMaggio, and Ruth, Jagr the Penguin will always be judged by the feats of Lemieux as the Penguins of this era have always been Mario's team.

Outside of Jagr's few seasons without Lemieux, most of which involved an under-talented collection of role players unsuited to realistically contend for much more than a playoff spot, Jagr has never had the extended chance to make a team his own the way other legends did.

Jagr, who has always maintained a desire to be one of the best ever, now says that he would welcome the chance to take a young team to the top—a la Mario and the Penguins. But this isn't going to happen in Pittsburgh with Jagr getting pushed deeper into the wings by the day. This is why Jagr needs to leave.

Jagr wants something Mario's Penguins can no longer give him, something even he probably didn't want ten years ago. Like or not—ready or not—Jagr wants to be on his own.

As the playoffs displayed in a color all-too crisp, Jagr and Lemieux no longer work in concert. Now they look for the same opportunities and instead of pushing each other to new heights they seem to pull on each other to the point of frustration.

Over the last few seasons without Mario, Jagr has been willingly, and unwillingly, pushed into the role of team leader and franchise centerpiece. Then, in December, when Jagr struggled again with everything that's been asked of him, he was dealt a de facto demotion to second chair by Mario's return. Yet Jagr is neither the same player nor person he was four years ago when Mario first retired. Jagr has since moved on, so has his game, which was essential for the success of both Jagr himself as well as the team on the whole.

Were Jagr seven, eight, or ten years older than he is, the argument could be made that he should be the one willing to adjust his game and salary to fit Mario's program. But Jagr is the best player in the game, at the top of his game, asking him to take a step back now would be a disservice to his talent and to the game itself.

Jagr will only get the right to stand on equal footing with Lemieux, Gretzky, and the like when he captains his own team to the Cup. Whether this happens in New York, Tampa, Los Angeles, or parts yet unknown, until it happens away from Mario's coattails Jagr will forever be saddled with an invisible asterisk.

It is unfortunate that it will end as it does, but no one ever imagines having to move on one day in any serious relationship, it is rather a byproduct of change and time. It just happens.

Whether Jaromir Jagr is traded this week, this month, or this year, the point is just this. The marriage is over, it is disappointing, and it may hurt, but it is a fact. The sooner this is accepted, the sooner Jagr can be remembered for the good times, and the sooner everybody can finally move on.

Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and believes that the right person, place, and time is the toughest thing one will ever find—and that these are sadly not mutually exclusive.

Back to Karsh's Column List


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