As I was reading an article this morning about Jaromir Jagr on the NHL web site and his plan to play another season for his hometown team of Kladno in the Czech Extraliga, a not-so-original idea popped into my head.
Why not bring Jaromir back for one game so he can officially retire from the NHL as a Penguin? Put him out there on the power play for a shift with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (if we sign him). It would shake PPG Paints Arena to the rafters.
Who knows? The 50-year-old legend just might score, too.
Personally, I can not think of a better way to close out the Jagr Saga and restore him to his rightful place among black-and-gold greats.
Such an event might heal some old wounds, too. I’m thinking specifically of the 2011-12 season, when “Jags” returned to the NHL following a three-year hiatus in the KHL as a member of the hated Flyers. Having spurned an offer from the Pens to sign with Philly, he was booed with frightening vitriol each time he played here. A far cry from his early days, when he arrived in the ‘Burgh as a mullet-topped 18-year-old kid from the Czech Republic who barely spoke English and quickly became the darling of the fans.
I still remember the “Zivio, Jagr, Zivio !!” (Cheers, Jagr, Cheers !!) sign that hung like a championship banner from a Civic Arena railing. And all the incredible goals he scored.
A Jagr return would also make the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer only the second player in NHL history to play past the age of 50, Gordie Howe being the other. Somewhat fitting, given that Jagr’s 1921 points stand second on the all-time NHL scoring list behind only Wayne Gretzky and 71 points ahead of Howe.
Riikola Returns to Europe
Erstwhile Pens defenseman Juuso Riikola ended his four-year stay with the club yesterday, inking a one-year deal with IK Oskarshamn of the Swedish Hockey League.
Originally signed by former Pens GM Jim Rutherford on May 18, 2018, following five seasons with KalPa Kuopio in the SM-liiga, Riikola made an immediate impression with his wheels, blistering shot and surprisingly physical play. During his NHL debut against Vegas he famously crunched former Pens heavyweight Ryan Reaves into the boards… and lived to tell about it.
Although Riikola possessed some intriguing elements, his game never quite coalesced at the NHL level. Nor did he ever seem to fully gain coach Mike Sullivan’s trust. Still, Juuso proved to be an effective third-pairing defenseman when used, often partnering with Chad Ruhwedel.
During his 80 games with the Pens he had a solid 5v5 goals for percentage of 56.3. The 6’0 ”189-pounder also registered 178 hits and 65 blocked shots in what amounted to roughly one full season in the NHL, along with three goals and 13 points.
However, following a 2020-21 season spent largely in limbo, Juuso skated virtually the entire ’21 -22 campaign with the Baby Pens, tallying a goal and 35 points in 53 AHL games.
Given that he signed Riikola to a two-year extension in the fall of 2020, I’m a little surprised Rutherford and Patrik Allvin did not try to acquire the 28-year-old Finn when they set up shop in Vancouver. Perhaps making a final silent statement regarding Riikola’s potential on North American ice.
Count me among those who wish he’d been given more of a chance.