Jagr's agent says vet's 'heart is in Pittsburgh'
Jaromir Jagr's agent said Thursday that Jagr's "heart is in Pittsburgh." Penguins general manager Ray Shero is banking on it.
"I'm hoping Jagr meant what he said by wanting to do right by Mario," Shero said, referring to team co-owner Mario Lemieux.
NHL free agency opens at noon Friday, and where Jagr will play next season finally should be answered.
Shero spoke with Jagr's agent, Petr Svoboda, Thursday afternoon. Despite expecting a decision Wednesday, Shero again was not told whether Jagr would accept the Penguins' one-year, about $2 million offer.
But neither were the Penguins ruled out.
"Petr said we're very much in the mix," Shero said.
Lemieux has spoken with Jagr, his former Penguins teammate, and asked him to finish his glorious NHL career where it started in 1990.
Jagr's best chance is to accept the Penguins' offer before noon Friday, though Shero said he would not pull the offer he made Tuesday.
Shero, who apparently is making progress on a deal for right winger Tyler Kennedy, said he doesn't "have a feel" for what will happen with Jagr or Kennedy.
"I know what my backup plan is if one or both of them doesn't come," he said. "That might be not to do anything at the start of free agency."
The Penguins are committed to about $57.8 million against the NHL's $64.4 million salary cap for next season. Shero prefers to keep about $1.5 million free for in-season roster moves.
Jagr, 39, also has one-year offers from Detroit and Montreal. All of the offers are for about $2 million. Reports surfaced late yesterday that the Philadelphia Flyers also were interested in Jagr, although no offer apparently had been made. Svoboda, though, also did not rule out that Jagr would play next season in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, where he spent the past three years.
"It's a tough decision for Jaromir," Svoboda said. "His heart is in Pittsburgh."
Jagr could not be reached for comment, but he has hailed Lemieux as his idol and mentor during their days as teammates in the 1990s. In 2008, he told The Hockey News that he "owed his hockey life" to Lemieux and that he would play again with the Penguins "for the league minimum."
Far from the minimum, Shero said he has made Jagr, the NHL's ninth all-time scorer, a "competitive offer."
That offer won't change, Shero said. He added that the Wednesday deadline for a decision from Jagr came from Svoboda, not the Penguins.
"He isn't holding us hostage or anything," Shero said of Jagr. "I never put a deadline on it. I said that we —and probably a lot of other teams — would want to know by the start of free agency."
Svoboda said Jagr arrived in New York from the Czech Republic late Wednesday night. He believed Jagr would reach a decision last night and inform teams today.
"Petr doesn't want to force him into a decision," Shero said.
In anticipation of a Jagr signing, the Penguins have constructed web pages with tributes to his career, complete with video montages and Jagr-related items.
However, late last night Svoboda told ESPN.com that a Jagr decision might not come for a couple of days.
If Pittsburgh is in Jagr's heart, Montreal is likely on his mind as the wild-card candidate. The Canadiens have the salary-cap space to increase their offer to Jagr and still pursue another top forward in what is considered a weak free-agent class. Also in possible favor of the Canadiens:
> > They are specifically in the market for a top-six right winger, Jagr's position.
> > Center Tomas Plekanec has been mentored by Jagr. They have been teammates for the Czech Republic during international competitions and share the same hometown, Kladno.
Still, belief around the hockey world — including among NHL agents and longtime acquaintances of Lemieux — is that Jagr will play for the Penguins next season and secure his legacy with the franchise and the city in which he still owns a home.