By Rob Rossi, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
One of Pittsburgh's greatest athletes wants to return.
Jaromir Jagr has approached the Penguins about resuming his hockey career with his original NHL franchise, multiple sources confirmed to the Tribune-Review on Monday.
Jagr's new agent, former player Petr Svoboda, contacted Penguins general manager Ray Shero over the weekend to express his client's intent to play again in the NHL after a three-year stint in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Shero didn't return messages seeking comment about Jagr, who can sign before the July 1 free-agent period opens because his previous contract was not with an NHL club.
Jagr, 39, met with Svoboda yesterday in the Czech Republic to consider preferred NHL suitors, including the Detroit Red Wings -- the Penguins' Stanley Cup Final rival in 2008 and '09.
Jagr has cited Detroit, the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens and Penguins as NHL teams that piqued his interest.
An NHL source said neither the Canadiens and Capitals is a "mystery" third team that has joined the Red Wings and Penguins as a potential Jagr suitor.
Shero and his staff were open to the idea of signing Jagr, two sources said, but the Penguins were waiting to hear from Jagr before seriously exploring the option.
The Penguins have decided not to publicly comment about any interest in Jagr, who is ninth all-time in NHL scoring with 1,599 points and nearly a point-per-game player in three KHL seasons.
At the world championships in May, Shero extended Jagr an invitation to the Penguins' annual summer golf tournament that will serve as a reunion for alumni of the 1991 Stanley Cup champions. Shero said that invitation was passed along to Jagr by his Czech Republic teammate Zbynek Michalek, a Penguins defenseman.
Jagr has not informed the Penguins if he will attend the tournament, a date for which has not been announced.
Also at the world championships, Jagr reflected fondly on his 11 seasons with the Penguins -- a tenure that began with back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and '92, and also included five NHL scoring championships and an MVP award.
Previously one of the most popular athletes in Pittsburgh history, Jagr was booed mercilessly by Penguins fans after the team granted his request for a trade in July 2001. His last NHL contest was at Mellon Arena in May 2008 in Game 5 of a second-round playoff series between his Rangers and the Penguins.
Before the start of that series, Jagr spoke reverently of Mario Lemieux, calling the Penguins majority co-owner "my idol ... and probably the greatest player ever."
Jagr expressed similar thoughts at the world championships and hinted strongly that he wouldn't mind playing with "two great centers" in Pittsburgh - referring to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins can afford Jagr, who sources said is not seeking an outrageous salary. The salary cap for next season will increase to $64 million from $59.4 million, Canada's TSN reported Sunday.
The Penguins are committed to $55.5 million against the cap for 17 players on guaranteed NHL contracts -- eight forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.
They do not have a top-six natural right winger under contract, and Tyler Kennedy is an impending restricted free agent with whom Shero said the team is exploring all options - including a possible trade, perhaps at the NHL Entry Draft this weekend.
Shero said last week his intention is "to keep" Kennedy, coming off a career-best 21 goals and 45 points. The Penguins expect Kennedy to command at least double his $725,000 cap hit on a new contract or in an arbitration ruling if they elect to extend a qualifying offer.
There is debate within the organization if Kennedy is a capable of handling top power-play minutes. Jagr would -- potentially becoming the ideal fit along the half-wall where the Penguins believe neither Crosby nor Malkin are an ideal fit on the man-advantage.