Jaromir Jagr leaves no doubt as to who is running the Penguins
When SI asked NHL coaches in September, "Who is the best
all-around player in the world?" 19 of the 26 respondents named
Penguins right wing Jaromir Jagr. The other seven coaches fell
into one of those hard-to-figure minorities, like the one dentist
in five who does not recommend sugarless gum for his patients who
Of course, best all-around doesn't mean most coachable, as
Pittsburgh's Ivan Hlinka, the Czech-born coach who was hired in
the off-season largely in deference to the Czech-born Jagr, is
finding out. Jagr, 28, has been showing familiar signs of
disrespect lately. Before a Nov. 4 game against the Flames, he
rounded up the Penguins' top two five-man units and devised a
checking scheme to replace Hlinka's left wing lock system. Jagr
informed the coaches of his initiative after the fact. Then, in
the third period of a 5-2 win over Philadelphia on Nov. 8, Jagr
went Scottie Pippen on Hlinka, refusing to take the ice during a
power play. That led to a long postgame meeting between the two.
Since then Jagr--who, despite scoring 25 points in 19 games
through Sunday, says he has been disappointed in his play--has
missed part of one practice and all of another without
"He's a great team player," Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux says.
"He's just frustrated with his game." Lemieux greatly influenced
Jagr during the Czech's early years in the NHL. In 1992, Jagr,
then 20, watched as Lemieux and other veterans revolted against
Scotty Bowman's practice routines and demanded that Bowman's
assistants run the drills.
From the start of the 1997 season to December '99, Jagr
repeatedly complained about coach Kevin Constantine's system
(too constrictive) and hands-on style (too oppressive). That led
to Constantine's firing, despite an 86-68-35 record. When
Constantine was replaced by the open-ice-minded Herb Brooks,
Jagr said he felt as if he had gone "from Siberia to Florida."
Brooks left Jagr alone, realizing that a player of his caliber
needs instruction about as much as Yo-Yo Ma needs cello lessons.
Hlinka, who coached Jagr and the Czech national team to a gold
medal in the '98 Olympics, has abided by a similar philosophy and
hasn't criticized Jagr for his shenanigans. The Penguins, after
all, led the Atlantic Division with a record of 10-6-2-1 at
week's end, and Jagr recently scored his 400th career goal. Not
long ago Jagr explained his outbursts by invoking a name from his
past: "One great thing Kevin Constantine said was, 'The best
teams try to fix things when they're winning, not after they
start to lose.'" Even the world's best player can learn a thing
or two from a coach.
No Solution for Habitual Losing
In explaining Monday's long-anticipated firings of general
manager Rejean Houle and coach Alain Vigneault, Canadiens
president Pierre Boivin said he had to act "somewhat radically
with respect to our hockey administration." The management moves
were dramatic but don't expect much change on the ice. The
Canadiens, at 5-13-2, were 30th in the 30-team NHL at week's end,
and there's not much that new G.M. Andre Savard (formerly the
team's personnel director) and coach Michel Therrien (who had
been the head man at Montreal's AHL affiliate in Quebec City)
will be able to do about it.
A much-needed overhaul of the Canadiens' thin, starless roster
won't occur as long as the team is up for sale. Boivin expects
new owners to be announced by the end of the year. "We went into
this season knowing that we can't expect much until they sold the
team," said Montreal defenseman Eric Weinrich a few days before
The Canadiens have been lousy as well as unprofitable for years,
and though last spring they failed to reach the playoffs for the
second straight season, they made no moves to improve the team.
That's partly due to the unsettled ownership situation. Before
Therrien's hiring, at least one coaching candidate turned down
the job for fear that new owners would prefer to bring in their
Savard may make some changes--don't be surprised if veteran center
Trevor Linden is dealt to the Flyers--but this team has been
mismanaged since Houle took over in 1995, and only a general
manager with long-term security can begin the revamping needed to
reverse its fortunes. Therrien says he wants to bring "passion
and emotion" to the Canadiens, and he might. He's less likely to
bring many victories.
New G.M.'s Make First Big Deal
When Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe and his Bruins
counterpart, Mike O'Connell, completed the most significant trade
of the young season last week--Edmonton surrendered front line
power forward Bill Guerin for Boston's explosive right wing Anson
Carter--they took bold strides in their respective careers. Less
than six months ago Lowe succeeded Glen Sather, while O'Connell
replaced Harry Sinden on Nov. 1. With last week's trade each man
stepped from the shadow of a legend.
The Bruins, who also yielded a 2001 second-round draft pick,
should benefit immediately from the trade. At week's end Guerin
was fifth in the NHL with 12 goals, which is a greater
contribution than Boston was getting from Carter, who was sitting
out the Bruins' season in a contract dispute. Guerin, 30, helped
win a Stanley Cup with the Devils in '95 and is a native of
The impetus for Lowe to make the deal was a factor for Sather as
well: finances. Carter, 26, has been inconsistent in his four
seasons in the league but has 30-goal potential, and Lowe was
happy to sign him to a two-year, $3.6 million contract. Guerin
not only earns $3.2 million this year but is also eligible for
restricted free agency after the season and for unrestricted free
agency in '02.
Both G.M.'s like what they got out of the trade. "It was my first
deal, and a big one," says O'Connell. "I'm happy I got it done.
Now I'm thinking, What's next?"
For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis from
Michael Farber and Kostya Kennedy, go to cnnsi.com/hockey.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Jagr has gone behind the back of Hlinka (right), refused to take the ice and missed practices.
COLOR PHOTO: M. BUCKNER/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
COLOR PHOTO: A. PICHETTE/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
At 33 he is playing better than he ever has, and at week's end he
had a league-best .936 save percentage. Phoenix re-signed him in
September even though he played lousy in a five-game loss to the
Avalanche in the playoffs last spring.
The 27-year-old has missed more than 100 straight games in a
contract dispute. The Wayne Gretzky-led ownership group that's
set to take over the Coyotes plans to sign him immediately, on
the strength of his 32-23-7 record for Phoenix in 1998-99.
The Verdict: Because Khabibulin is rusty and expensive (he could
get three times Burke's $1.3 million salary), we'll go with the