Pittsburgh Penguins: Jaromir Jagr to Return Home Next Season?

Russ GodekContributor IIIMay 11, 2011

For years since Jaromir Jagr left, rumors often floated around that he would eventually return to the city where he began his NHL career.

Recently, more fuel has been added to the fire.

Jagr is without a contract for the next hockey season. After spending the past three years playing in Russia for the KHL team Avangard Omsk, Jagr's future remains up in the air.

Penguins General Manager (GM) Ray Shero intends to reach out to the former Penguins star at the IIHF World Hockey Championships, the tournament in which Jagr is currently playing. The Czech National Team faces off against the U.S. today, and Shero plans to speak with Jagr afterwards.

Shero will extend an invite to Jagr for a summer golf tournament in Pittsburgh to celebrate the 1991 Stanley Cup win that will act as a reunion for much of that glorious team.

This act by Shero will hopefully re-establish a once broken line of communication between the Penguins organization and Jagr.

Jagr left the Penguins in 2001, after 11 successful seasons with the team. While most fans took his departure roughly and have become bitter toward him ever since, Jagr did so for the better of the organization.

Jagr at the time was being paid well, and with the Penguins' financial struggles, Jagr deemed it best to part ways so the team was not burdened with his salary.

Despite his good intentions, Penguins fans still turned on him, booing him every time he touched the puck upon his return to Pittsburgh in an opposing uniform.

In an article covered by www.tsn.ca, Jagr spoke of the Penguins and his time in Pittsburgh fondly.

"The fans in Pittsburgh, they all wanted to help me, and they all liked me when I was younger," said Jagr. "Plus the biggest thing is I had a chance to watch and play with the best player ever and that's probably the best thing that happened to me in my life."

Jagr is referring to Mario Lemieux, his line mate and good friend who, together with Jagr, dominated the league in the early '90s.

While Jagr did and always has had nothing but nice things to say about the city, the team and the fans, his return has never come to fruition.

Before leaving for Russia a few years back, there was similar speculation that Jagr would don the Penguins crest once more. It would seem that money is a major factor in making this a reality.

Jagr, who was making $7 million a year with Avangard Omsk, may still want a large salary should he return to the NHL. With the Penguins squeezing the cap every year because of their talent loaded roster, it would be unrealistic for the team to pay Jagr anywhere close to that number.

But should Jagr still demand such a high salary?

At 39, Jagr is in the twilight of his hockey career and his next contract, will most likely be his last.

A similar aging star, Teemu Selanne, signed a two-year contract with the Ducks in 2008, at the age of 38. The contract was worth $2.65 million a year.

The Penguins have been down this road before with veterans, having signed Petr Sykora, Mark Recchi and Billy Guerin near the end of their careers.

If Jagr were willing to take $2 million or less to come back to Pittsburgh, the Penguins could and should make it happen.

For anyone fearing he has lost his talent with age, have no worries.

Jagr, even at his age, can still make it happen on the ice. In the TSN article, Jagr referenced Selanne as a comparison.

"My advantage is I don't think my game was about speed. When you're older, you're losing the speed, but my game never was about speed. That's why Teemu Selanne surprised me because his game was about speed and he still has it. And he's still older than me."

The Penguins just this year took a gamble on a former, aging star in Alexei Kovalev that didn't pay off. But that should not discourage them from pursuing Jagr. Kovalev was a low risk, high reward move that didn't hurt the Penguins in the short term or long term.

Jagr, whose talent is on a much higher level than Kovalev's, is a different case altogether.

If the price is right, if Jagr's heart is in the right place, a reunion between Jagr and the Penguins could become reality.

We could see Jagr on Crosby's wing when the second season at Consol kicks off this October.

Whether or not Jagr ever does come back to the Penguins as a player is yet to been determined, but he should definitely come back as part of the Penguins family.

Jagr began his career and self admittedly had the best years of his life in Pittsburgh.

In 11 seasons with the Penguins, Jagr racked up 439 goals, 640 assists and 1,079 points. He also won five Art Ross Trophies, two Lester B. Pearson Awards, one Hart Trophy and two Stanley Cups during his time in Pittsburgh. His legacy is probably second only to Lemieux's on the Penguins.

At the very least, Jagr's jersey should be retired as a Penguin and hang alongside Lemieux's in Consol's rafters. He deserves the recognition.

So I offer one final request in this situation.

Please, come home Jagr.


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