There is a buzz around the ‘Burgh once again about former Penguins’ superstar Jaromir Jagr eying a return to the NHL and possibly coming back to where it all started. Everyone I have talked to so far is excited about the possibility of Jagr returning after playing the past three years with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. I offer this advice to the Jagr optimists: Be careful what you wish for. Am I 100% against Jagr returning? No, not at all. But, I am more against it than I am for it. I know the Penguins have been searching for a scoring right winger for years now, but this isn’t the 1990′s anymore. How much can the 39-year-old legs of Jagr contribute realistically?
Sure, he put on a good show at the World Championships not too long ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to buy the Jagr stock. He’s averaged just over 50 games in the past three seasons and has played in a less physical game and bigger rink than those here in North America. If general manager Ray Shero decides to bring Jagr back, it has to be for more than sentimental value – he needs to believe that Jagr can truly help out this team. I’m sure that’s what he thought last season when he brought over Alex Kovalev, and we saw the result of that. Yes, I understand that Kovalev was supposed to have Sidney Crosby alongside him, and we’ll never know what the two of them would have done together. Jagr will have Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but it still isn’t enough of a reason to buy into him.
The Penguins re-signed Craig Adams so far this offseason, but have many more decisions to make with their own players. Players like Max Talbot, Pascal Dupuis, Mike Rupp, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Connor, Dustin Jeffrey, Arron Asham, Mike Comrie and the aforementioned Kovalev. If I were to put on my general manager shoes right now and take a guess, I would say Dupuis, Rupp, Connor and Jeffrey are the only players to stay. Connor and Jeffrey will sign for $500,000 each. Dupuis’s contract will be about $1.4 million and Rupp will be about $900,000 to stay in Pittsburgh. The Penguins cap is $64 million, up from $59.4 million last year and with the current team on the roster, they have $56.4 million taken up. That gives $7.6 million worth of cap space. Signing the players I mentioned above, that would bring the cap-space to $4.2 million. There’s a possibility of maybe a package deal for Eric Tangradi, Kennedy’s rights and the Penguins first-round pick to move up in the draft. That would free up Trangradi’s $845,000 salary and would leave $3.3 million available. As much as Jagr wants to play, is he worth spending on?
Remember also, that Joey Vitale and Simon Despres have a good shot at making the team this season as well which bunches up playing time and the cap more. Let’s believe all of the above is true for a second and see how the lines may look: Crosby, James Neal, Dupuis, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke, Mark Letestu, Chris Connor, Adams, Rupp, Vitale. The front-four are spoken for defensively, but four players are battling for the last two spots in Matt Niskanen, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Despres. The possibility of freeing up Niskanen’s $1.5 million contract MAY provide more room to sign Jagr, but not a guarantee. With Nick Johnson and Brett Sterling also waiting in the wings, where do you put Jagr?
Jagr left here on a bad note and we have forgiven him and want him back, I understand that. What if Alex Morozov, Sergei Zubov, Darius Kasparaitis or Joey Mullen decided they wanted to make a return to the NHL, do we sign them to because of what they did and meant to us in the past? With over $3 million left to spend on free-agents, why not make a run at Brook Laich who is 12 years younger than Jagr or Nikolai Zherdev who is only 26 with asking prices around $2.1 million? Who says the Penguins have to make a run for a free-agent at all? Remember, this is a team that was the favorite to win the Eastern Conference before Crosby was injured among many experts. I trust Shero and if he makes the call to bring back Jagr, then I’m ok with it and trust his judgment. However, approach with caution and realize that it may not be all that you think it will.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com