By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, May 12, 2011
The Penguins should do more than invite Jaromir Jagr to their alumni golf tournament this summer.
They should offer him a one-year contract.
Go ahead, laugh at the prospect of procuring a 39-year-old winger who couldn`t even score 20 goals in Russia this season. Bombard me with snide comments …
Is he going to borrow Kovalev`s walker?
Didn`t he quit on this franchise once already?
How long before he loses interest, dying alive on the second power play with Matt Niskanen?
Which of his 11 personalities would he bring?
Question back atcha: Have you perused the Penguins depth chart lately? Not exactly rife with top two-line wingers. James Neal is the closest thing to a prototypical fit, and his first stint in a Penguins sweater made Nils Ekman`s look productive (Ekman had six goals in 34 games; Neal two in 27).
Call him James Nils.
Chris Kunitz is fine on the left side, even if he has only 10 goals in 78 career playoff games. Tyler Kennedy`s the top option at right wing and maybe not a bad one, followed by Nick Johnson, I guess. Arron Asham was the Penguins` leading playoff goal scorer among wingers.
Wait, now you`re crying.
The Penguins` game of winger roulette isn`t likely to end anytime soon. General manager Ray Shero plays it all the time, because he has allocated his big money to center, goaltending and defense. You can`t have everything in a salary-cap world, so Shero spins the wheel each year.
You`re telling me Jagr would be a stretch when Shero already has taken fliers on Bill Guerin, Alex Kovalev, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Petr Sykora, Ekman, Gary Roberts, Ruslan Fedotenko and Miroslav Satan? They`ve signed everybody but Gordie Howe. Some of those guys worked out. Others flamed out. None carried huge risk. Jagr wouldn`t, either.
Besides, the Penguins don't exactly have millions to throw around. Who's a better option?
The Penguins grew so desperate last summer that they devised a grand plan to take one of the best centers in the world — Evgeni Malkin, a natural playmaker who led the NHL in assists two years earlier — and make him a winger on a line centered by Jordan Staal.
The plan never materialized because of Staal`s injury. Here`s hoping it never does. I`d rather see Malkin play center with Jagr on his right. Offer Jagr something like $1.5 million (less than what Fedotenko got last season) and see what he has left.
Last time we saw Jagr in the NHL — in the playoffs three years ago — he was easily the Rangers` top threat. He was a point-per-game player in the Kontinental Hockey League this season (19 goals, 51 points in 49 games), looked good at the Olympics last year and is having a terrific world championships in Slovakia. Through seven games, he has five goals and eight points, including a hat trick against the U.S. on Wednesday, as Shero looked on.
"He's still got it," U.S. captain Mark Stuart said.
Jagr would love the way the Penguins play these days. He`s still a monster protecting the puck on the walls down low. His game never was built on speed. He`s still in great shape, too. He's a much better option than Kovalev. Not even comparable.
Unlike Kovalev, Jagr has avoided major injury, though age is an obvious concern. Jagr turns 40 next season. It takes a special kind of player to stay productive at the age, but it`s hardly unheard of. Teemu Selanne, 40, had 31 goals for Anaheim this season. Nicklas Lidstrom, 41, remains an elite defenseman. Mark Recchi, 43, and Dwayne Roloson, 41, are facing each other in the Eastern Conference final.
Ron Francis turned 39 the year he helped Carolina reach the Cup Final.
Guerin, at 38, helped the Penguins win one.
Here`s something else: I believe Jagr, deep down, would love to achieve closure with the Penguins. Yes, he was chronically immature and pouty for much of his final few years here. He asked out. That`s ancient history. I`m betting he`d crave one more shot to make things right, particularly with Mario Lemieux.
Ask people who were around Jagr during his Rangers tenure, and they`ll tell you he`d finally grown up. He then made some nice money in Russia, reportedly around $5 million per year. Now it`s time to salvage his legacy.
Can`t hurt to ask.
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