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Reflective Jagr calls time with Penguins 'my best years'

| Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jaromir Jagr is without a contract to play hockey next season.

However, the Penguins -- seemingly the team still closest to his heart -- are planning to extend an offer that could be the first step on a path toward the grandest homecoming by a professional athlete in Pittsburgh since quarterback Terry Bradshaw symbolically rejoined the Steelers family in 2002.

The Penguins plan to invite Jagr to their annual summer alumni golf outing, which will serve as a reunion for members of the 1991 Stanley Cup championship club. He started that season as an 18-year-old rookie and scored 27 regular-season goals before adding 13 points in the playoffs.

Jagr sounded willing Tuesday at hockey's world championships to bury that hatchet with Penguins fans that have long held a grudge against him for requesting a trade from the club in July '01.

During a media scrum, Jagr made several Penguins-themed comments, including:

• "I'm glad I was number five (drafted overall, otherwise) I would never have played with Mario (Lemieux). I would never have been in Pittsburgh. Those were my best years."

• "I had a chance to watch and play with the best player ever, and that's probably the best thing that happened to me in my life."

• "I felt like (former general manager Craig Patrick's) son."

• "The fans in Pittsburgh, they all wanted to help me, and they all liked me when I was younger."

Jagr declined to reflect specifically on his departure from the Penguins, which prompted fans to boo him loudly upon each of his returns as a visiting member of the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.

Those boos lasted through Jagr's final NHL game -- coincidentally at Civic Arena on May 4, 2008 -- when the Penguins eliminated the Rangers from a second-round playoff series. He joined the startup Kontinental Hockey League in Europe the following year and has scored 66 goals and recorded 146 points over 155 games in the past three seasons there.

Jagr, 39, has not committed to playing hockey next season. He has not ruled out that possibility.

No matter his short-term future, the Penguins are hoping for a homecoming of sorts because of Jagr's significant impact on the organization.

He is second to Lemieux in every major offensive category. With five NHL scoring titles and an MVP award, he is a logical candidate to join Lemieux as the only Penguins player to have his number retired for on-ice accomplishments.

Memories of Jagr's legend are apparent at Consol Energy Center. He is a charter member of the Trib Total Media Penguins All-Time Team, and his surname is listed on banners honoring past scoring champions and MVPs. Also, he is one of six former Penguins whose pictures are part of a wall outside the club's dressing room.

Those other players -- Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen and Larry Murphy -- are all members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Jagr is part of that group because of his anticipated enshrinement into the Hall upon his retirement.

His 1,599 career points in the NHL are the most by a European and ninth overall.

The Penguins have experienced difficulty getting in touch with Jagr. They are not sure if he received invitations sent to his KHL team, Omsk Avangard, to return for the final regular-season game at Civic Arena last year or the Winter Classic alumni game in December.

General manager Ray Shero is attending the world championships and is expected to reach out to Jagr after the Czech Republic-United States quarterfinal game today.

Additional Information:

The Great 68

Jaromir Jagr, a five-time NHL scoring champion, has left quite a statistical legacy:

• Six selections as a first-team NHL All-Star

• 1999 NHL MVP

• Ranks second all-time for the Penguins in regular-season goals (439), assists (640), points (1,079), power-play goals (110) and games (806)

• Ranks second all-time for the Penguins in playoff goals (65), assists (82) and points (147)

• Penguins career leader in regular-season winning goals (78), playoff winning goals (14) and playoff games played (140)

• One of two Penguins players to score 60 goals in a regular season

Source: Penguins 2010-11 Media Guide

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