Pittsburgh Penguins set wrong tone with Jaromir Jagr as regular season begins

Jun 7, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Beau Bennett (19) shakes hands with Boston Bruins right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) after Boston defeated Pittsburgh in game four of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one thing I learned from watching five seasons of Breaking Bad, it’s that actions matter more than intentions.

The Pittsburgh Penguins would be wise to heed that lesson as well, although it has nothing to do with this year’s team as it prepares to open the regular season Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils at home.

Rather, the Penguins’ slip-up involves a bit of revisionist history. As first reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic on Wednesday, team management elected to replace the likeness of franchise great Jaromir Jagr with Mark Recchi on the “ring of honor” above the lockers in the home dressing room at Consol Energy Center.

The Pens declined to comment on the change, but how did whoever made that decision expect it to be received? Especially with Jagr in town as one of the newest members of the Devils, the issue has come to the forefront as the team tries to bury memories of last spring’s brutal loss in the Eastern Conference final.

The 41-year-old Jagr has a complicated relationship with the Penguins and their fans, as his brilliant decade-plus in Pittsburgh has been at least partially overshadowed by his behavior since leaving town in a 2001 trade to Washington. The popular perception is that Jagr asked to be dealt 12 years ago, then “teased” the Penguins by expressing interest to return via free agency in 2011.

Instead, Jagr signed with the rival Flyers two years ago, returning to the NHL after some time playing in Russia. With Jagr in tow, Philadelphia eliminated Pittsburgh in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. Making matters worse, the Czech star was also on the Bruins team that knocked the Pens out of the postseason four months ago.

With all that in mind, it’s understandable if Jagr doesn’t have the healthiest relationship with the team that drafted him in 1990. Still, it’s strange that the Penguins would remove No. 68′s face from the dressing room wall now when it wasn’t a problem for the past two years.

An unnamed source with the Pens told Kovacevic that the team didn’t want an active player to be so honored. But intentions aside, the front office had to know it would appear petty to the general public, to say nothing of Jagr, who is still the franchise’s second all-time leading scorer.

Along with helping the Penguins to their first two Stanley Cup titles, Jagr was a beacon of light while Mario Lemieux was in the midst of his first retirement. He was a captain and MVP in a black and gold jersey, and his heroics in the 1999 playoffs played a large role in keeping the franchise viable until Lemieux stepped into the owner’s box – and eventually back on the ice.

Recent history be damned, Jagr deserves better.

Topics: Jaromir Jagr, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins

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