BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Jaromir Jagr appears to be headed for a NHL reunion, but it’s not necessarily the kind of one that has fuelled rumours at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to re-establish an open line of communication with their former star forward during this tournament. General manager Ray Shero plans to extend Jagr an invitation to a summer golf tournament in celebration of the 1991 Stanley Cup win after Jagr’s Czechs face the U.S. in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
The organization has had a difficult time getting touch with Jagr in recent years.
“When you think of the Penguins, you think of Lemieux, Crosby and Jagr,” Shero said Tuesday at the world championship, where he’s working with USA Hockey. “Three dynamic players, franchise-type players.”
Most of the speculation around Jagr in recent weeks has surrounded his playing future. The 39-year-old remains without a contract for next season and won’t rule out trying to make a return to the NHL despite spending the past three years in Russia.
“It’s too early for me, I don’t really know what I want to do next year,” Jagr said Tuesday. “I don’t know where I want to play. Right now I just want to concentrate for this tournament, it’s not going to be more than one week.
“Then I have to make a decision.”
Jagr started his NHL career with the Penguins in 1990 and spent 11 years with the franchise, teaming with Mario Lemieux to help the franchise win back-to-back Stanley Cups. He also claimed five scoring titles and one Hart Trophy before causing fans to turn on him by asking for a trade in 2001.
However, when asked about his time in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, he gushed about the city and heaped heavy praise on Lemieux.
“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.”
The Penguins attempted to invite Jagr to participate in the closing of Mellon Arena last year and the Winter Classic alumni game this season, but aren’t sure if he ever received word of their interest from KHL team Avangard Omsk.
His positive comments about the city were an encouraging sign that time has healed old wounds.
“It’s great to hear because Pittsburgh treats its athletes well,” said Shero. “A guy like him that the city really responded to. There’s so much Jagr stuff still in Pittsburgh—paraphernalia, jerseys, it’s nice to see that he still thinks fondly of Pittsburgh.
“The feeling is mutual.”
Pittsburgh’s interest in reconnecting with Jagr is purely about ensuring his long-term legacy with the team rather trying to bring him back to North America as a player. Shero last watched him live during the Vancouver Olympics.
Jagr is ninth on the NHL’s all-time list with 1,599 and picked up two goals and three assists in the first six Czech games at this world championship. He points to the continued success of 40-year-old Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne as evidence he can still play in the NHL.
“My advantage is I don’t think my game was about speed,” said Jagr. “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.”