Greetings from the Garden State, dear readers. Why in New Jersey, you ask? Well, the Flyers’ practice facility is located in Voorhees, and I’m about five miles away on this find Easter Sunday evening. Officially, a first-round playoff “bloodbath” – Scott Hartnell’s word choice, not mine – between the Penguins and Flyers starts Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center; but I’ll be all over the Flyers’ end of things from Monday until then.
Not that anybody back home needs any reason to be more ready for the sixth playoff version of the Commonwealth Cold War (more on that later), I thought this a good opportunity to remind people of the wild events from last spring and summer. You remember #JagrWatch – the saga that helped boost the Twitter audience for this reporter and fellow Trib Total Media colleague Josh Yohe, and one of the strangest stories I’ve covered in my 17 years in this beautiful business. A collection of links that should take you back:
= From May 11, 2011: The Trib learns the Pens would welcome a return by Jaromir Jagr… for a golf outing: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_736331.html
= From May 16, 2001: Jagr keeps talking sweet on a possible return to the Penguins: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_737231.html
= From June 20, 2011: The Trib is tipped off that Jagr has reached out to the Penguins about a return… for actual hockey: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_743030.html
= From June 21, 2011: Jagr’s agent insists legacy is on his clients mind: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_743173.html
= From June 22, 2011: Jagr’s agent says his client “loves that city”: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_743293.html
= Also from June 22, 2011: Columnist Dejan Kovacevic chimes in on what Jagr and Pens need to do: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/columnists/s_743300.html
= From June 23, 2011: Josh reports that it’s time to make a deal: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_743349.html
= From June 26, 2011: Dejan says both sides need to make concessions to get deal done: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/columnists/s_743981.html
= From June 29, 2011: GM Ray Shero says Penguins would like Jagr to “finish his career here”: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_744430.html
= From June 30, 2011: Nobody knows where Jagr is, but word at Mario Lemieux’s golf tournament is that some people believe a deal between Jagr and his old club is in place: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_744594.html
= From July 1, 2011: Jagr’s agent says No. 68’s “hearts is in Pittsburgh”: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_744628.html
= Also from July 1, 2012: Dejan’s brilliant, hysterical letter from Lemieux to Jagr: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/columnists/s_744778.html
= From July 2, 2011: The decision that shocked, well, just about everybody and nobody at the same time: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_744993.html
= Also, and finally, from July 2, 2011: Dejan asks, ‘The Flyers, really?’: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/columnists/s_744984.html
Oh, the memories from all of the reporting that went into those stories, columns, etc. At one point I remember being on the phone at 2 a.m. with a source while awaiting word from Josh, who was at Pittsburgh International Airport with Penguins fans awaiting Jagr, and only hours later hearing from sources within the Penguins organization that Jagr’s agent couldn’t be reached by phone – only to learn that he was actually taking calls from the funny boys (that’s a compliment, fellas) at The Pens Blog.
I don’t remember who coined #JagrWatch … really. I just remember it trending within hours. I also remember the surreal emotional swings by a fan base that so desperately wanted a former hero to return, mostly so that they could seemingly make peace with him.
Finally, I remember talking with somebody very close to Lemieux after Jagr signed with the Flyers, and that somebody telling me that Jagr had just eviscerated his Penguins legacy.
Here’s the thing, all these months later, based off what I’ve heard since: I don’t believe that.
I don’t believe Lemieux was all that bothered by Jagr’s decision.
I also don’t believe that Shero thought Jagr could hold up for a whole season and be productive, which was a fair concern at the time.
I know Dan Bylsma thought Jagr could be a power-play force for the Penguins.
I’ve heard that Jagr did not believe the Penguins had a spot for him, and that he remains eager for a fences-mending moment with the people of city where he still owns a house.
It’s for all those reasons that I will write now words that seemed impossible to contemplate on the afternoon of July 1, 2011: Don’t rule out a reunion and a number retirement ceremony. If #JagrWatch proved anything it was to never say never, and that people back home are more than willing to forgive, though maybe never forget.
Why do I insist on calling Pens-Flyers the Commonwealth Cold War when there is actual engagement between the rivals, unlike the actual Cold War? Well, back when Joe Starkey and I coined the phrase in 2009, we were thinking more of the link between the words Cold and Ice, as in ice hockey. So, yes, maybe Commonwealth Civil War would make more sense, but I think of the word Civil and I just can’t use it when describing Pens-Flyers. So, humor me, eh?