It began with a simple gesture and some kind words.
Jaromir Jagr has played with Omsk Avangard for the past few seasons, and played well. When his contract expired after the end of this year’s KHL season, the Pittsburgh Penguins made an offer to their former superstar.
That is, they made an offer for Jagr to participate in an annual summer alumni golf outing.
While playing for the Czech Republic in the World Championship’s, Jagr has been asked many times about his hockey playing future. During one of those question and answer sessions, he chose to reflect on the past, focusing on his time in Pittsburgh saying:
“I’m glad I was number five (drafted overall, otherwise) I would never have played with Mario (Lemieux). I would never have been in Pittsburgh. Those were my best years…
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…
I felt like (former general manager Craig Patrick’s) son… The fans in Pittsburgh, they all wanted to help me, and they all liked me when I was younger.”
Naturally, the invite and fond reminiscences led to growing speculation regarding Jagr’s potential return to the NHL, and specifically his return to the Penguins.
Many years ago Jaromir Jagr was a hockey god in Pittsburgh. Somewhere along the way the admiration faded. He was traded away to the rival Capitals, and later closed out his NHL playing days with yet, another rival team in New York.
Jagr, somewhat ironically played his final NHL game in front of grudge-fueled Pittsburgh fans, as a member of the New York Rangers in a losing playoff effort. He went out on a losing note, but not until he had established himself as the most dominant player in that series.
Could he come back to the NHL?
Everyone loves the potential of this story.
It would be an opportunity for redemption. The fallen star, who shouldered too much of the blame for the decline of the franchise a decade ago. Pegged for unflattering labels by the media. The target of booing and jeering by fans as a member of the opposing team, makes a triumphant return, ending his playing days the same way he started… with a Stanley Cup Championship; and just where he belongs, in a Pittsburgh Penguins sweater.
Local and nation media outlets jumped all over the sensational topic. Hockey fans everywhere began to consider and debate the story’s probability.
Sidney Crosby’s post-concussion symptoms aside, the Pittsburgh Penguins two areas of greatest need are at right wing and salary cap space.
Jaromir Jagr is a right wing. If he were to play in Pittsburgh next season he would have to do it for a paltry sum.
That notion has led many to dismiss the possibility of Jagr’s return, as it was the allure of bigger and tax-free paydays in the KHL that led him there in the first place.
However, a look back to when Jagr was a pending KHL free agent just two years ago, reveals that money might not be that great an obstacle.
“Jaromir Jagr said he has no designs on returning to the NHL in the short term, but if he ever did return he would be happy to go back to the Pittsburgh Penguins to play for his former idol, Mario Lemieux.
“I was thinking about it and if Mario would call me and say, ‘I’d like you to play for our team,’ I would think about it a lot,” Jagr said in a telephone interview from Moscow where the Kontinental League will hold its inaugural All-Star Game outdoors at Red Square Saturday. “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…besides my parents.”
Just one more simple gesture required to make this fairy tale come true?
Nearly every Penguins fan in the world hopes that Mario makes that call.