New Year, New Jaromir?
There’s always the resistance from a fan base when an older player comes back for a victory lap. It’s understandable. The automatic judgment that’s placed on the player in question is that he’s giving a last gasp effort. An effort not worth the price that his name commands, an effort that will be lackluster. Mostly because either/or:
He needs the money.
He’s out to prove his critics wrong.
He just wants to see if he still has it.
The usual judgments are based around a hidden premise that the return is about the athlete only. Not about a team or about winning (as it pertains to non-individual recognition), but personal glory. After all, a legendary athlete probably has a pretty hefty ego and a return coupled with media hysteria feeds it quite a bit.
Those conclusions have a tendency to be correct. A shining example would be Michael Jordan. Jordan returned to basketball as a 40-year-old man, and he did it to prove he could (and he could). But the idea of helping the Washington Wizards in his return was on a back burner far from the light of the cameras and microphones. The return was about Michael Jordan. Wins and playoff contention fell far behind his statistics and replays of his patented jump shot.
So, of course it can be a bad decision to sign the aging superstar athlete. As with anything there are exceptions to the aforementioned rules. Jaromir Jagr has looked like he’s not going to fall under the ego-driven reasons of return. Thus far it seems like even if he is going to fall under them he’s falling under them for the right reasons.
He’s been stellar every night out in the preseason for the Flyers, with six points in three games. Report after report illustrates Jagr’s willingness to stay on the ice until the wee hours of the night in the Flyers practice facility. In comparison, many thought his late nights would consist of luck in Atlantic City, NJ, not pucks in Voorhees.
There was a prevailing thought that a level of complacency surrounded Jagr and his status as a NHL great when he left the league three years ago. To come back the same way he left would spell failure for all parties involved. However, every impression made since his Flyers debut press conference, ‘complacent’ is far from every the description of 2011’s Jagr.
But why is there no complacency? Why is there something bigger to Jagr’s return than a personal victory lap? Perhaps it’s no more than the love of the game, but that response would leave little reason why the NHL was a must over the KHL.
It probably boils down to the original reasons for comeback. He wants to show himself and the world that he has it in him to be the Jagr that people recall from his glory days. Obviously he can’t be that Jagr, but succeeding in the world’s best hockey league at his age would help seal a legacy. Sometimes, wanting to prove one’s self can be misconstrued as an effort in personal publicity. For all intents and purposes, that ego-driven train of thought looks to be taking a backseat in Philadelphia.
Maybe the only way to understand it is to realize that within every athlete there is a drive. That drive is stronger in some than in others, and can be manifested in completely different forms. It’s possible that there’s no greater drive than one to prove to one’s self that they still have it. Maybe the drive in Jagr is what made him come back with no strings attached and a fresh start. At this point, that certainly seems plausible.
Whatever the reason is, an eyebrow-raising signing at the start of free agency may raise some more this season. And a fan base that was unsure of why his addition was necessary might become grateful he’s around.
They didn’t used to feel that way with the Jagr of the past. But as the remarkably talented forward has shown thus far, things may have changed.