The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/02/11 at 04:49 AM ET
Blink. Paul, Alanah and I worked like a well-oiled machine on Friday, coordinating our schedules down to the, “I’m going to get food” or, “Restroom break, boss?” minute, grinding out what looks like…somewhere north of 80 signings and/or entries over the course of about ten hours on the first day of UFA day, with a good forty of those entries coming over the first three hours thereof. I can’t say that it was delightful waking up after four hours of sleep to pull that kind of marathon, and Saturday will see at least another 20 guys sign, so this is definitely a working weekend, but it was fun to be part of a blogging machine.
I’ve already been pulling long days due to the Jaromir Jagr saga, and in all honesty, as soon as I read that his agent had approached the Penguins—never mind the rest of the dramatics—I didn’t want him to come to Detroit. I figured that his heart really was set on finishing his career with the Penguins, and, well, good for him. Trying to cover the Wings’ and Pens’ takes and the Czech press’s interviews after that point, about a week-and-a-half ago, was just about being thorough. But through those translations, I met someone who I can now best describe as a character from Dr. Strangelove made real in his agent, Petr Svoboda.
Even a week ago, Svoboda was spouting off to the Czech press about how it was his idea that Jagr should stage an NHL comeback, first with the Canadiens (and of course Svoboda bases his small North American agency in Montreal), with his pal Tomas Plekanec, after Jagr’s performance at the World Championships. Even a week ago, Svoboda and Jagr’s Russian agent, Pavel Marsoun, were telling the Russian press that Avangard Omsk was still in the equation (you know your and your agents’ activities are not impressing anyone when Putin’s favorite team, the Gazprom-backed and Alex Medvedev-ran [he’s the KHL’s president, and he gets what he wants and who he wants to play on his team] SKA St. Petersburg, says, “Our offer stands, so whatever, dude…”), and they were insisting that Montreal was in the mix, too.
Until it was Pittsburgh and Detroit.
And then, on Sunday, Svoboda told us that Jagr would probably make his decision on Monday.
On Monday, it was definitely Tuesday.
And on Tuesday, definitely Wednesday. Except that, according to Svoboda, there were no more concrete offers—despite the fact that Ken Holland had told the Free Press’s Helene St. James that the Wings tossed Jagr a take-it-or-leave-it offer two weeks previously, and despite the fact that, by then, anyway, the Penguins had made their offer after their brass agreed that Jagr was worth the trouble via a discussion at the NHL Entry Draft.
Then came Wednesday.
When Petr Svoboda lost his client, or at least, pretended to.
First, Jagr’s flight was supposedly delayed. When pictures emerged of Jagr at the airport in Prague, and the industrious types had either tracked Delta’s flight from Prague to New York or found out through Czech sources that Jagr went through London, and Svoboda started getting calls from bloggers and the general public while some Penguins fans actually waited for his arrival in the Burgh…
Svoboda told us that he didn’t know where his client was. For six hours.
Then he got angry and suggested that people call back on Thursday, when, surely, something would happen.
Thursday morning and afternoon came and went, and Svoboda, having found his client—Jagr was in New York, he said, but even with an extremely important and high-profile client’s future in his hands, Svoboda couldn’t be troubled to travel from Montreal to speak to his client face-to-face—told ESPN’s Scott Burnside on Thursday that not only had neither Detroit nor Pittsburgh made “concrete offers,” but that more teams were interested, at least six, maybe more, and that he would both open up the bidding and refuse to suggest whether Jagr would sign by July 1st, despite the fact that both the Wings and Penguins made it very clear that they would not save roster or cap space for Jagr after noon on Canada Day.
By then, Ken Holland had already signed Jonathan Ericsson to a deal which seemed crazy then but now seems almost sane given the money spent on Friday—3 years at $3.25 million per season—so I could only pray to the hockey gods that, as a partisan and paying Wings fan, the now-crazy Ken Holland would not give this yahoo and his nut-bag agent the time of day. I’m all for bringing in veteran players as the Wings have proven to get more miles out of retreads than your local Belle Tire, but I didn’t want the Wings to bring in someone who clearly only cared about himself.
In fact, I was at the point where my friend Leslie and I were talking about the fact that Jagr had a gambling problem back in his days with Pittsburgh, and we were talking about how many casinos Detroit had, whether we might have another Allen Iverson on our hands, and I…
I couldn’t stop giggling at the stupidity of it all. A 39-year-old who hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2007-2008 season still had an ego bigger than Sergei Fedorov’s when Fedorov was 28 and dating Anna Kournikova,and his agent was plain old nuts, to the point that I’m having a hard time believing that Petr Svoboda will ever find another NHL client after the way he’s treated two of the best GM’s in the game in Ken Holland and Ray Shero (there, I said it, you can hit my thumb with a hammer or something). And on the eve before free agency, this guy was stupid enough to essentially tell Holland and Shero that all bets were off regarding bidding for the services of someone who hadn’t played in more than 50 games on a 200’x100’-foot ice surface, where obstruction is at a New Jersey Devils-vs-Babcock’s Anaheim Mighty Ducks level, circa 2003, and the game flows as fast as soccer as five NHL-caliber teams play another 15 that might be at an AHL level?
As it turns out, the Free Press’s Helene St. James reveals that things got weirder on Friday morning—and as a result, Holland and Shero very smartly said, “Yeah, right,” too:
The Red Wings were willing to gamble on Jaromir Jagr, but when his agent kept upping the ante, they folded shortly before noon today.
Ultimately Jagr signed with the Philadelphia Flyers — the in-state rival of his foremost former team, Pittsburgh — for one year and $3.3 million.
The Wings offered Jagr $2.5 million nearly a month ago, then waited around while his agent, Petr Svoboda, used it to entice other teams to make higher offers. As of earlier this week none had materialized; the Penguins topped out at $2.1 million for the former five-time NHL scoring champion.
When Svoboda made demands early Friday morning in the $4-million range, Wings general manager Ken Holland told him Detroit was out of the sweepstakes. The Penguins also withdrew their offer.
That’s [expletive]ing nuts. Nothing more and nothing less.
Hell, I feel bad for Penguins fans, and when do you hear a Wings supporter say that? As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Dejean Kovacevic suggests, we learned all we need to know about Jagr’s character and priorities on Friday…
When Jagr accepted a one-year, $3.3 million offer from Philadelphia, he spurned not only the Penguins — who offered $2 million — but also the Detroit Red Wings, another perennial contender, and the Montreal Canadiens, where his Czech friend Tomas Plekanec plays. So you know this much for sure: Jagr’s decision had nothing to do with winning, a coach’s system, a comfort level and certainly not legacy. The Flyers simply swooped in Thursday and tossed more cash on the table.
This wasn’t about greener pastures. It was about going for the green. Jagr genuinely has grown up in some ways at age 39. I’ve seen it myself, on and off the ice. But he evidently never passed the point where he bases all his decisions on money. Sure, he could have stayed in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and been paid even more, around $4 million, and it would have been tax-free to help cover those Siberian heating bills. I’m sure that’s going to be part of his defense.
But that doesn’t change this about Jagr’s choice of NHL teams: By the end of next season, he will have made roughly $101 million in his career, not counting endorsements and other earnings. The difference between the Flyers’ and Penguins’ offers was $1.3 million. That’s a ton of money to most of us, but it’s roughly 1 percent of everything Jagr has made. It’s a penny on his dollar.
Small wonder the Penguins were furious, even before learning Jagr chose Philadelphia. [Mario] Lemieux and a handful of his closest acquaintances had been guardedly optimistic through Tuesday, according to multiple sources. Some went so far as to express that an agreement or understanding was in place. All that soured Wednesday, especially into the night, when the Penguins heard of Jagr’s lingering flirtations with Detroit and Montreal. General manager Ray Shero, who essentially emptied the team’s pockets to ensure Jagr would get a respectable offer, was said to be livid.
“It didn’t really feel right,” Shero said of that stage.
On the Penguins’ level, this was outright betrayal. It would have been one thing for Jagr to enter free agency and acknowledge that the best fit or highest bidder would win. It’s quite another to tell Lemieux directly that he wants to return to play out of respect for him. And it was worse still that agent Petr Svoboda had the nerve to say that Jagr’s “heart is in Pittsburgh” as recently as Thursday. Even while Jagr and Svoboda — and believe me, Jagr always calls his own shots — were finagling with the Flyers. That’s unconscionable.
And stupid. But, perhaps, predictable, given Svoboda and Jagr’s track record over the past two-and-change weeks.
I can only come to two partisan conclusions:
1. Thank Gordie Howe that he did not end up in Detroit;
2. In the end, Jagr got exactly what he deserves. He’s going to a Philadelphia Flyers team that will have to count on Jagr to contribute as a top-six forward, that’s made the kinds of, “We’ll turn over half the roster and see what happens!” alterations that are downright dangerous in terms of chemistry and the kind of team a GM might find himself with come January, and he’s going to have to share a bench, locker room and charter planes with two of the game’s other biggest egotists in Chris Pronger and Ilya Bryzgalov (and trust me on this one: if you read the Russian press, you wouldn’t think he was a renaissance man—you’d think he was a jerk who kissed and told about his teammates’ deficiencies like a floozy after the fifth date).
So, truth be told, Petr Svoboda served his client’s needs perfectly.
Jagr will earn the money and be held to the kinds of expectations that his ego demands, and he’ll do so after having pissed off enough general managers (something tells me the Habs aren’t delighted by the way they were tossed in and out of the bidding as if playing for Montreal’s only an occasionally useful carrot to be used as leverage) that Svoboda have a ridiculously hard time finding any new clients, and Jagr will be booed as an even greater villain, an even greater sell-out, an even greater egotist and a player even more precipitously perched upon the ledge of success, dangling on his toes over a chasm of potential failure and legacy-tarnishing hubris than he ever could have dreamed of becoming and/or finding himself located at some two weeks ago. With, as Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika notes, HBO’s “24/7” cameras trained upon him to boot.
Seems like a perfect landing to me.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.