Penguins remain up in air over Jagr
Jaromir Jagr might be totally sincere when he says he would like to play for the Penguins again.
But he doesn't seem to be in a hurry to commit to doing it.
Although the Penguins told Jagr they wanted to know by Wednesday whether he would accept their proposal, neither he nor his agent, Petr Svoboda, had given team officials confirmation of his willingness to do so by last night.
A team spokesman, at the behest of general manager Ray Shero, contacted media outlets at around 10 p.m. to alert them that, contrary to some reports, club officials had not spoken with Jagr.
It was not a completely wasted day for Shero, though. He re-signed rugged winger Arron Asham to a one-year deal worth $775,000.
At least part of the problem in getting Jagr's immediate future clarified Wednesday might have been travel-related. His flight from Prague in the Czech Republic to JFK airport in New York arrived late, and it was not immediately clear where he connected to after arriving in the United States.
Assuming he got on another aircraft at all.
Jagr publicly began to discuss his desire to return to the NHL several months ago and attracted attention from the Penguins and Detroit, both of whom have proposed one-year deals.
Svoboda has suggested that at least one other, unidentified NHL team has pursued Jagr, and he is believed to have had a standing offer to return to the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia as well.
Regardless of which offer he accepts, Jagr is not permitted to sign a contract formally until Friday.
Jagr, who was a first-round draft choice in 1990, spent the first 11 years of his NHL career with the Penguins, winning two Stanley Cups, five NHL scoring championships and a league MVP award.
The bar for personal achievements will not be set nearly so high if he joins them for another stint -- after all, Jagr is 39 years old and has not gone through the demands of an 82-game NHL season in three years -- but the Penguins would expect him to be a significant contributor.
He almost certainly would be penciled in at right wing on one of their top two lines and would get work on the No. 1 power-play unit.
In a meeting with reporters earlier this week, coach Dan Bylsma said he did not believe adding Jagr would require any major adjustments by the coaching staff.
"I don't think we'd have to change everything drastically for him to able to fit in," he said. "If you watched Jaromir play in the world championships, his play down low [in the offensive zone] is outstanding.
"We're a team that wants to play in the offensive zone. There's a speed part to our game, but it really lies largely in playing in the offensive zone and wearing teams down. I don't think he has missed much of a beat, in that regard, to his game."
Jagr put up 66 goals and 80 assists in 155 games while playing for Avangard Omsk in the KHL for the past three seasons. That's essentially a point-per-game pace that he might be hard-pressed to match in North America.
His most productive season in the NHL was 1995-96, when he set career highs in goals (62), assists (87) and points (149) in 82 games.
Shero and his staff spent about 10 days discussing where Jagr would fit with their team -- and looking into his motivation for coming back to the NHL -- before making a contract proposal Tuesday.
Although he was one of the Penguins' most popular players for the better part of a decade, his relationship with some of the franchise's fan base had curdled by the time he was traded to Washington in 2001.
On subsequent visits to Mellon Arena, both as a member of the Capitals and the New York Rangers, Jagr was jeered mercilessly by much of the crowd, with boos pouring down any time he touched the puck.
Presumably, the reception would be considerably less hostile the first time he stepped onto the ice at Consol Energy Center wearing a Penguins sweater.
Certainly, the prospect of him returning has captivated thousands of Penguins fans, some of whom seem to be on the cusp of hyperventilation while discussing and dissecting every minor twist and turn in the Jagr saga the past few days.
But in addition to trying to sign Jagr, Shero has been putting time and energy into trying to work out deals with wingers Tyler Kennedy and Mike Rupp, both of whom will be eligible to explore unrestricted free agency beginning at noon Friday.
First Published June 30, 2011 12:00 am