There are few athletes in D.C. sports that elicit such disdain as Jaromir Jagr.
Capitals fans, employees and even owner Ted Leonsis would rather forget Jagr’s time in Washington and prefer instead to think of Alex Ovechkin’s crushing hit on him in the 2010 Olympics.
To call Jagr’s career with the Caps disappointing would be a drastic understatement. His lack of production after signing a seven-year contract worth $11 million a year eventually led to his being shipped out of town in the middle of the 2004-05 season.
Now, Jagr is back in the NHL - and back in a place where he’ll engender plenty of hatred from Caps fans - as the Philadelphia Flyers signed the 39-year-old right wing to a one-year deal worth $3.3 million.
“He’ll be a great fit for the Flyers,” new teammate Max Talbot said.
Jagr’s presence will add spice to a rivalry that has heated up again since the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that Washington lost in seven games.
From a pure hockey perspective, Philadelphia is gambling that Jagr can be more like the 123-point player from 2005-06 with the New York Rangers than the player who didn’t earn his money in Washington and symbolized the pre-Ovechkin. In 2009, Leonsis wrote on his blog that he voted for Jagr as the “biggest bust for a local athlete” in a poll.
“We’re excited to have Jaromir,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. “He’s going to bring a lot of leadership, and we still believe he’s a guy that’s capable of putting up a fair amount of points.”
McPhee and Leonsis expected that in 2001 when they acquired him from Pittsburgh. Instead, Jagr totaled just 79, 77 and 45 points in D.C. Fortunately for the Caps, Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk never amounted to anything.
Spending the past three years in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, Jagr has shown he still has game. Playing for the Czech Republic, he was one of the best players in the world championships this past spring and scored a hat trick against the United States.
“There’s a reason why there was so much interest and so much hype about him in this free agent market - it’s because he’s a good player,” Talbot said.
But there was no interest from the Caps - understandably. Leonsis used two blog posts to shoot down rumors that Jagr could be back with the team. There likely was a better chance of Rod Langway putting on the pads again than a red-white-and-blue “Jagr 68” jersey hanging in a locker at Verizon Center.
Jagr’s ego hasn’t deflated much, as he cited getting more ice time and a chance to play where he wants on the power play as reasons - over money - why he signed with the Flyers. But perhaps his time with the Caps taught him something about pressure and accountability.
“If I play bad and people criticize me, that’s fine. But on the other side, if I play bad, people are going to criticize those people who brought me to Philadelphia, that would be tough for me,” Jagr said. “It would be tough for me because I let somebody down who believed in me.”
That rings hollow around these parts, as does Jagr’s claim that there’s “only one life” and no looking back. But Caps fans will get an opportunity to show their disapproval: The Flyers visit Verizon Center on Dec. 13 and March 4.