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Ex-Pens say Jagr would fit well in Pittsburgh

| Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jaromir Jagr would fit in just as well with the current Penguins as he did with the players two decades ago, according to those who would know that best.

Members of the franchise's Stanley Cup champions in 1991-92, several of whom participated in team owner Mario Lemieux's celebrity golf outing Wednesday at Nemacolin, expressed optimism the team and player would make the right move if they reunited when NHL free agency opens Friday.

"Jaromir coming back is a tremendous thing for the city and for Jaromir himself," said former forward and NHL head coach Rick Tocchet. "A player that great should finish his career in the NHL. And to do it here makes more sense than anything."

"It's pretty phenomenal," said former forward and current Root Sports analyst Jay Caufield. "Jaromir's going to have one last shot at a Cup, and he's going to do it with this great group of players. It's a tremendous story."

How such a story would unfold depends on whether Jagr assimilates.

The majority opinion was that Jagr would work well on a second line to the right of center Evgeni Malkin. That, in their minds, would keep Sidney Crosby on the top line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis or James Neal.

"We haven't had much creativity on the wings," said former forward and current Root Sports commentator Bob Errey. "Jaromir doesn't play in a straight line, but that's OK. We need that diversity. Geno needs that. He needs that guy who can protect the puck, pull up and hit him down the middle."

"More than anything, I like the idea of Geno and Jaromir together," Caufield said.

Caufield added defenseman Kris Letang into the equation.

"Jaromir pulling up like he does, he's always great at hitting that trailer," Caufield said. "I think Letang will flourish."

None had serious doubts about Jagr's ability to keep pace with coach Dan Bylsma's speed-based system, even though he will turn 40 in February.

"There are a lot of defensive responsibilities in Dan's system, but I think he can make adjustments, including who Jaromir plays with," said former forward and current youth coach Troy Loney.

"He still has a quick step," Tocchet said. "He doesn't have the explosive speed he once had, but he still has the attributes to play a north-south game. That was Alexei Kovalev's problem. He couldn't do that."

Errey mentioned that a Malkin-Jagr line could operate with a different system.

"You see that a lot in hockey, and I think we could benefit from a little east-west," Errey said. "It keeps teams from getting too comfortable in how they defend you."

Off the ice, these former Penguins saw both sides of Jagr, from the gregarious overgrown child to the broody, pouting version. Here, too, no serious doubts were raised.

"Jaromir's going to have a supporting role, not a leading role," Loney said. "But we've seen him do well with that in the past under Mario."

"He has to have grown up," Errey said. "And, hey, this is someone who had all kinds of money and fame thrown at him at a very young age. There's only one Sid who can handle that without it changing him."

Speaking of Crosby ...

"It's Sid's team, and it's Sid's locker room," Caufield said. "In Mario's conversations with Jaromir, I'm sure he made that clear. Mario can oversee that, make sure things stay the way they should. And Jaromir's going to have to prove himself. It's a good locker room, and he's going to have to earn it."

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