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Kovacevic: Penguins, Jagr must give

| Sunday, June 26, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. — It won't take a power play by the Penguins to get Jaromir Jagr. That plainly is a good thing.

What it will take, based on what I've gathered here at the NHL Entry Draft this weekend, is all parties making a few concessions.

That must start with the team.

No formal offer has been made, though general manager Ray Shero said Saturday he expected to talk today or Monday with Jagr's agent, Petr Svoboda, who was late in arriving from the Czech Republic because of a personal issue but should be in Montreal soon.

"We'll talk in the next day or two and see how it goes," Shero said.

When it reaches the offer stage, the Penguins can't lowball Jagr. No matter their salary cap issues — they have about $8 million free but several of their own players still to re-sign — the Penguins can't approach Jagr with, say, a $1 million that some fourth-liner could collect. They also can't approach with an incentive-based contract. That's for tryout candidates, not first-ballot Hall of Famers. It would be an insult.

Shero can and should do better.

I'm no capologist, but $8 million sounds like enough to keep Tyler Kennedy, Mike Rupp and Pascal Dupuis, their key remaining free agents, with room left to pay Jagr in the $2 million-plus range. If not, it probably would take no more than a minor roster move to clear what's needed.

All this is assuming Shero truly wants Jagr, and I'm not convinced that's the case.

I know Mario Lemieux does. Trust me, he's not in the habit of reaching out personally to free agents as he did with a long-distance call to Jagr earlier this week.

I also know coach Dan Bylsma does. He has used the terms "intriguing" and "power play" in every other sentence when discussing Jagr here, which might as well be code for, "Ray, please, this is my half-wall guy on the power play."

But the Shero with whom I spoke here wasn't exactly doing cartwheels over Jagr. He isn't elaborating on the topic in any way, so this is just a sense I get. Shero has a roster he likes, a chemistry he likes, a style of player he likes, and he is right to have concerns on all those fronts.

"We have some interest," Shero said Saturday. "We've talked to the agent, and we've talked to Jaromir. We want to find out what we have to offer and what his motivation is to get back to the National Hockey League versus going back to Russia."

It's not an easy decision for Shero to add Jagr, but it's the right one. As Shero told me, "There's no question Jagr can still play. He's in great shape."

The Penguins are being handed a gift, and they need to find a way to accept it.

So does Jagr.

I've heard enough to believe that Jagr wants to return to Pittsburgh, that it's his top priority. The idea that he's using the Penguins to get more money from Detroit or a Russian team, with apologies to Shero, is ridiculous. If Jagr wanted to use an NHL team to angle for higher pay, he wouldn't be focused on the Penguins and Red Wings, two teams with little cap room.

But Jagr needs to show he's serious in the most meaningful way and take less money. He and Svoboda are on record as being amenable to a one-year contract, but that's a no-brainer for a 39-year-old. They need to work with the Penguins around their cap issues. Jagr has made roughly $100 million in his lifetime, half of that from the Penguins. He's nearing the end, and an extra $1 million or so shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

Let's rewind to something Jagr told The Hockey News two years ago: "If Mario would call me and say, 'I'd like you to play for our team,' I would think about it a lot. I would play for the minimum salary. I would play for $350,000 just for him because I owe him my hockey life. I want to pay him back because he has made me what I am."

Well, here's your chance, 68.

Lemieux has done his part. There might even be an outreach soon from Sidney Crosby.

If Shero and Jagr each give a little, this will get done.

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