The Penguins told Tyler Kennedy he was free to leave Monday.
But not before letting him know how much they'd like him to stay.
General manager Ray Shero declined to extend a qualifying offer to Kennedy by the 5 p.m. deadline, which means Kennedy will become an unrestricted free agent if he's not re-signed by Friday.
Both sides, though, seem fairly positive about the chances of working out a deal.
"[The Penguins] have made it clear they want him back," agent Steve Bartlett said. "And we've made it clear we want to come back."
But reaching an agreement, if it happens at all, likely will take several days of serious negotiating. That means there's a very good chance the Jaromir Jagr situation will be resolved before Kennedy finds out where he will be playing in 2011-12.
Shero confirmed that, as of Monday evening, the Penguins had not offered Jagr a contract and declined to say whether they plan to do so.
Nonetheless, he agreed with Jagr's agent, Petr Svoboda, that Jagr's future in the NHL -- assuming he has one -- should be determined well before July 1, when league rules allow him to actually sign a contract.
Indeed, Shero and Svoboda believe the Jagr situation could play out before nightfall.
"If you call me [today], there will be much more happening," Svoboda said Monday evening, adding that "we'll make a decision in the next couple of days."
Shero said that whatever happens with Jagr is "totally independent" of his dealings with Kennedy.
Jagr, 39, spent the past three seasons playing for Avangard Omsk in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, but has publicly expressed a desire to return to North America several times in recent months.
Detroit has shown an interest in signing him, although the Red Wings' top priority for the offseason seems to be bolstering their defense corps. Shero and his staff, meanwhile, have had extensive discussions about whether Jagr would be a good fit for their team, with which Jagr began his NHL career in 1990.
"He really respects that organization," said Svoboda, who spoke Monday with Shero after flying to Montreal from the Czech Republic. "A few things have happened, but nothing is concrete.
Svoboda was expected to give Jagr a status report Monday night on the talks he has had with NHL clubs.
It isn't clear how much the Penguins will be willing to pay Jagr, in the event they decide to make a contract proposal. Uncertainty about what keeping Kennedy might cost is what caused them to sever ties with him, at least temporarily.
Kennedy is eligible for salary arbitration if Bartlett can't work out a contract with the Penguins -- or, as of July 1, any other club -- and the deals awarded by arbitrators tend to work out in favor of the player.
"[Agents] only file if they have good case," Shero said. "And this guy has a good case."
Indeed, Penguins officials conceded privately that Bartlett and Kennedy could present a stronger case than they could if the issue had gone to an arbitrator.
"I think the whole arbitration thing was unpalatable to them," Bartlett said. "To have a third party tell them on Aug. 5 what they're going to pay someone."
Had Kennedy received an arbitration award the Penguins deemed unacceptable, the NHL's labor agreement would have allowed them to walk away from it.
That would have entailed surrendering their rights to Kennedy, which is pretty much what they did by declining to give him a qualifying offer. The difference is, had they waited until after an arbitration ruling to cut their ties to him, most capable free-agent replacements would have been off the market for weeks.
As it is, if the Penguins don't get something done with Kennedy before the end of the week, they will have a fully stocked free-agent pool -- skimpy though the pickings appear to be this summer -- in which to search for a right winger to move into his spot.
It's apparent, though, that holding onto Kennedy is their option of choice.
He was their No. 4 scorer in 2010-11, putting up 21 goals and 24 assists in 80 games, and joined Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke on what many consider the finest third line in the NHL.
"He's a 24-year-old player who's improving, and you want to try to keep those guys," Shero said.
At the same time, Kennedy has incentive to stay.
"This is the team that drafted him," Shero said. "The team he won a Stanley Cup with. He realizes he has a good situation here for himself."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published June 28, 2011 4:00 AM