Respect “Ray-Ray’s” Gangsta

It’s been approximately 100 hours since “Jagr Watch” came to its unceremonious end, ultimately with Jaromir Jagr spurning a return to the Penguins to sign a one-year free agent deal with the highly-detested Philadelphia Flyers.

While the response in Pittsburgh has ranged from considerable relief for not bringing in a 39-year-old potential locker room detractor, to blind, angry rage at the thought of Jagr eventually blowing off a man whom he said he owed his career to, former Pens’ teammate and current owner Mario Lemieux, I’m rather surprised that I don’t find myself at either end of this emotional spectrum.

I quickly came to grips with Jagr’s decision, especially after considering how it all played out.

Bear in mind, it wasn’t Jagr that turned down the Penguins; it was that GM Ray Shero pulled the Pens’ one-year, $2 million contract offer at 11:00 Friday morning, an hour before the NHL free agency period began. Shero explained the team had a firm deadline where they were either going to move on with Jagr, or move on without him.

Shero: "I don't know Jaromir Jagr, so I'm not bitter at all."

Soon after, the Detroit Red Wings — one of the other two original teams mentioned as possible destinations for Jagr — pulled their offer off the table as well, opening the door for the Flyers and GM Paul Holmgren to ink Jagr to a one-year, $3.3 million deal.

I hold no fault with Shero for holding firm to his plans for signing Jagr and sticking to his deadline. In fact, I applaud him for it. The way he handled it was decisive, disciplined and handled with the utmost confidence and conviction.

In a word, it was gangsta. (Yeah, I said it.)

Shero could’ve played the pining, spurned lover role when Jagr pulled a Fredo Corleone and broke Mario Lemieux’s heart after Lemieux personally reached out to Jagr and expressed his desire to have Jagr in a Pens’ sweater once again. But Shero wasn’t about to show any emotion. He didn’t even appear the least bit fazed.

“For me, I don’t know Jaromir Jagr, so I’m not bitter at all,” he said during a news conference Friday afternoon. “This is business to me.”

While the rest of Pittsburgh and its hockey team’s fans in surrounding areas lived and died all things Jagr for 72 hours, when the whole spectacle came to an end, the only man who didn’t have an emotional response was the one who, in essence, told him to step off.

He stood toe-to-toe with one of his employer’s (and the league’s) biggest stars of yesteryear, stared him down and stood his ground. Then, with a blank stare on his face and ice water in his veins, told the world he wasn’t pressed about it.

That’s gangsta, people.

Ray Shero stared down Jaromir Jagr and his agent, and pulled his offer before Jagr could make a fool of him. I'm sorry, but that's gangsta.

He might as well have been standing as godfather for the baptism for Connie and Carlo’s son, renouncing Satan and all his works.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if reports surfaced later that day that Jagr’s agent, Petr Svoboda, was found in the back of a massage parlor somewhere in the Czech Republic with a bullet in his eye.

If the Penguins win another Stanley Cup or two during Shero’s tenure in the front office, I expect to see internet photos surface of him shirtless, holding hockey sticks in each hand with the words “CUP LIFE” tattooed in English script on his abdomen.

(In fact, I don’t feel like waiting to see that. Somebody with Photoshop and a lot of free time get on that. PRONTO.)

While yes, Shero could have used a 20-plus goal-scoring winger for one of his top two scoring lines, he wasn’t going against his plan to get it. Even if it was an international mega-star like Jagr.

At the end of the day, Shero has two of the world’s best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin returning to play for him next season, healthy and ready to make a run at the team’s fourth Stanley Cup. He has one of the league’s best — and still up and coming — goaltenders in Marc-Andre Fleury, and now has the reigning Jack Adams Award-winning coach in Dan Bylsma.

But I get the feeling that even if he didn’t have all of those elements in his own locker room, he still wouldn’t have put himself out there to appear desperate for Jagr, either before or after the outcome.

There’s a reason why Shero has quickly risen to the top of the ranks in his five years in Pittsburgh: because he has the foresight, conviction and discipline to make what he feels are the right decisions to run a championship-caliber organization. Not only that, but he’ll stand by each decision he makes, right or wrong.

It takes a certain level of confidence in your ability to do such a stressful and volatile job while holding firm to those qualities.

It takes a little bit of gangsta, and ol’ “Ray-Ray” just put the world on notice that he ain’t afraid to show it.

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