RICHMOND, Va. -- We’ve seen quite a bit of ol’ Jags in Cartoon Canon of late, but in the long view, his gutsy performance in the spring of 1999 might be his most significant contribution to the Penguins.
Man, those late-90s Penguins were odd. The were never really that good, and not a legitimate Stanley Cup threat in an NHL that had already become slow and sludgy, but they had the league’s best player in Jaromir Jagr, and as such, were always a factor in the postseason, with tremendous national profile and appeal. Even once the dire reality of their financial straits became widely known, the thought that they could leave town seemed impossible … this was the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team of two Stanley Cup championships and Mario Lemieux, for pete’s sake!
But the uncertainty seemed to mount with every passing day, and the wait to see what would happen was brutal. I had a friend email me during that grueling span to tell me that it had been announced that the team was moving to Oregon, and would be called the Portland Puffins. I was sure it was just a cruel prank, of course, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sweat a bit as I logged onto the World Wide Web (via an interminable dial-up connection!) to confirm that it wasn’t true.
Mario buying the team was a glorious outcome, a storybook ending. But if not for his protégé’s heroics, he may never have had the chance.
[caption id="attachment_821020" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] ROB ULLMAN / DKPS[/caption]