Jagr: 'Maybe Pittsburgh, I don't know'
Jaromir Jagr can't stop saying nice things about the Penguins, but there remains no indication that Jagr's original NHL club is interested in him playing for them next season.
After his Czech Republic squad defeated Russia, 7-4, for the bronze medal at the world championships Sunday in Bratislava, Slovakia, Jagr told the Edmonton Journal that he has not ruled out returning to the NHL next season.
"You never know. Maybe it will be still fun to go back to NHL. Maybe Pittsburgh, I don't know," Jagr said, also adding "maybe" for the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers -- the latter another of his former NHL teams.
Regarding the Penguins, for whom he starred from 1990-2001, Jagr said: "I played there for a long time. Mario (Lemieux) is the owner. It's better to play with great centers like (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin."
Jagr, 39, is second to Lemieux in almost every significant Penguins offensive category, including goals, assists and points. He won five scoring titles with the Penguins before they traded him to the Washington Capitals in July 2001.
Speculation regarding Jagr's return to the Penguins began after a Tribune-Review report Tuesday indicated the team planned to invite him to an annual summer alumni golf tournament that will serve as a 20-year reunion for the 1991 Stanley Cup champions. General manager Ray Shero, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, attended the world championships and personally extended the invitation to Jagr.
The Penguins hope to reconnect with Jagr but for only legacy purposes. When he ends his career, the Penguins would like to retire his No. 68. Only Lemieux and the late Michel Briere have had their numbers retired by the Penguins.
The club does lack experienced right wings other than impending restricted free agent Tyler Kennedy.
The Penguins, who are expected to engage Kennedy's representatives about a new deal soon, likely will lack the salary-cap space needed to pay any free agent a premium salary. The cap was $59.4 million last season, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has not informed clubs whether it will increase for a sixth straight season. According to Tribune-Review records, the Penguins are committed to about $55 million against the salary cap next season with eight forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.
Jagr has spent the past three seasons with the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, averaging nearly a point per contest in what is widely considered the world's second-best professional league. He reportedly made $5 million to play for Omsk this past season.
At the world championships, he had five goals and four assists in nine games -- including a hat trick against the United States in the quarterfinals.
Several NHL agents privately have expressed doubt that Jagr truly desires to play again in the NHL -- a league that features more regular-season games and that sports a more physical nature.
Jagr's U.S.-based agent, Pat Brisson, also represents Crosby and is a close friend of Lemieux's -- Jagr's boyhood idol, former teammate and the Penguins' majority co-owner. Brisson said he is not sure of Jagr's intentions for next season; Jagr could not be reached for comment.
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