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Monday, July 12, 2010

The Return of Had A Bad Day - Episode 6

(Ahhh, the good old days)

I haven't posted one of these in awhile because I was trying to look on the bright side of being a Pittsburgh fan.  With the NFL draft completed, the Steelers have signed all but their top two picks and training camp is just around the corner.  Big Ben has been out of the news for a few weeks and things are starting to look up on that front.  The Penguins, while missing out on defending their Cup, struck gold in the FA Frenzy a couple weeks ago by letting Gonchar walk but getting the top two defenseman available.  It's also the All Star Break in baseball and the Pirates are going into it with a 6 game losing streak and are 18 games out of 1st.  Okay so all the news isn't great but did anyone really think this was the Bucs year?

So that little segue brings me to the 6th day on my list of bad days as a Pittsburgh fan.  In fact, yesterday marked the 9 year anniversary of the day my favorite hockey player of all time was traded to Washington for a box of nails, some half-used chapstick, and a bag of chocolate donuts.  Yes, my friends, today's episode recaps the events that turned Jaromir Jagr into a Capital.

(Possibly the greatest hockey haircut of all time.)

I spent a good portion of my youth having the luxury of having two of the biggest hockey players to walk the face of the earth on my team.  When the Penguins drafted Jaromir Jagr in the first round of the 1990 Entry Draft, I really didn't know who he was or why I should care about a guy from Czechoslovakia that couldn't speak English.  The only thing that I did know is that he and I shared the same hair cut; thick dark brown/black hair that was as wavy as the ocean, with a little party action in the back for good measure.  The only thing missing was the Aqua Net.

Anyone who didn't know about this phenom was quick to find out.  Jagr was a key element in the Penguins winning back to back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.  His talent was virtually unmatched on the ice and his playmaking abilities were only shadowed by the fact that he always played on the same team with Super Mario.  In fact, the comparisons between the two are so great that if you scramble Jaromir's first name, you get Mario Jr.  Freaky, isn't it?  Denying his offensive talent is impossible considering there were only three Art Ross winners from 1981-2001...Wayne Gretzky (10-only because he had no equal until 1986), Mario Lemieux (6-only because of lingering injuries and cancer cutting his career short), and Jaromir Jagr (5).

I'd like to know who the scout was that was quoted on the back of his 1990-91 Score rookie card.  He said "He is not real flashy; he doesn't attract you with his finesse as much as his overall performance in all areas of the game."  That is priceless.

After Ron Francis took off from Pittsburgh to be reunited with his original franchise in Carolina, Jagr took over the captaincy of the team.  For four straight seasons, he led the league in scoring and capped off an 11 year playoff run.  But in 2000, things went south.  His relationship with his teammates became strained when he fell into a scoring slump.  He lashed out at both players and coaches and publically criticized team officials, alienating himself in the process.  Despite efforts to appease Jagr, like bringing in a European friendly coaching staffs and picking up some of his fellow countrymen as teammates, he was desperately unhappy and it showed.  2001 was the year the Mario came out of retirement but even "getting the band back together" did little for his motivation.  Jagr began asking to be traded.

On July 11, Craig Patrick called Jagr at his home in the Czech Republic, letting him know he had been traded.  Prior to his departure, he was costing the Pens (already bankrupt for the second time) about $10 million per year, which many people felt was what kept the Pens from adding that key element to pushing them over the top.  The Rangers tried to broker a deal but fell short in the negotiations.  Washington, fresh off the "Jordan Experiment" were happy to take a shot at the man that single handedly killed their playoff runs each and every year.  Jagr became the highest paid player in NHL history with his $77 million dollar contract. 

Trading for arguably the best player in the world is going to surely cost you something.  If you are adamant about adding that kind of caliber talent, you have to be prepared to give up some draft picks, semi/all star talent, and some cash.  So what did the Pens get in return?  3 minor league players...Michal Sivek, Ross Lupaschuk, and Kris Beech!!  Not since the indians traded Manhattan had their been such an insult of a trade (at least in the mind of Pittsburgh fans).  But wait, you say!  These are some quality prospects, you say!  Well, let me break it down for you...

At that point in time, here is what we gave up:

Games Played - 806
Goals - 439
Assists - 640
Points - 1079
Hart Trophy in 1999 (4 other as a finalist)
5-time Art Ross Trophy
2-time Pearson Award (Player MVP)
6-time First Team All Star (1 Second Team)
All Rookie Team
Olympic Gold Medal Winner

And....drumroll is what we got in return:

Michal Sivek - Second round draft pick of the Caps in 1999.  Played 38 games for the Penguins in 2002-03, scoring 3 goals and 3 assists.  Returned to the Czech Republic in 2004.

Ross Lupaschuk - Second round draft pick of the Caps in 1999.  Played 3 games for the Pens in 2002-03 racking up two penalties and no points.

(Just the fact that he is touching the Cup makes me want to throw up.)

Kris Beech - The #7 draft pick in the 1999 Entry Draft.  Played in 95 games for the Pens over three years (technically 100 because he came back in 2007 and played 5 more).  Contributed a total of 27 points in both "runs" with Pittsburgh.  My favorite was his awesomely bad -25 in +/- rating.  He also played for the Predators, Capitals again, Blue Jackets, Canucks, and now resides in Sweden.

So let me sum this up.  A franchise player, one of the greatest of all time, leads the league consistently, is a proven winner, and has a cult-like fan following is worth on the open market in trade value...3 unproven draft picks from a few years ago that will ultimately amount to NOTHING!  What a deal!! 

That was the beginning of the downward spiral for the Pens.  They would live in obscurity and became the virtual joke of the NHL.  This time in Pens history is referred to by many as the "Dark Ages" because of the lack of talent and futility of competition that was brought to the team.  That is, of course, until a random bounce of a lottery ball in 2005 changed Penguins history forever.


  1. Jagr is one of the reasons I started collecting hockey. I remember busting packs of 95/96 Finest packs chasing his Gold Refractor. I spent so much money on my credit card buying that stuff.

  2. Nice post, great job pointing out just HOW LITTLE the Pens got in return for Jagr! At least the team you follow has won a few cups in your lifetime (cough cough...Bruins...cough cough)...

  3. Oddly enough I think the trade did almost as much damage to the Capitals. It's not like they were a house a fire when he was suiting up in their pre-rock the red uniforms.

    Interesting how that trade brought both franchises to such low depths that they were in a position to draft generational players...

    Guess it all works out in the end.


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