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Why Rangers and Penguins Didn't Ask Jaromir Jagr To Defect from KHL

Martin AverySenior Writer IFebruary 25, 2009

Jágr wears No. 68 in honor of the Prague rebellion against the Soviet Union in 1968.

In January of this year he told an AP reporter he would go to Pittsburgh and play for the Penguins for the NHL's minimum salary if Mario Lemieux asked him to.

The AP story appeared in the New York Post and was picked up by countless other publications. Jágr was quoted as saying, "I owe Mario so much because he taught me how to play hockey. If he would want me to, I would come back for the minimum and try to help him. But he doesn't need me. He has good players there."

The Pittsburgh Penguins (29-26-6) have two of the best players in the world but they just fired their coach because of the way their team has been playing. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are one-two in scoring, leading the NHL in points, but the Penguins are in a panic about making the playoffs.

Last season they came within a couple games of winning the Stanley Cup and everyone was predicting a Penguin dynasty, but they have suffered from the jinx that comes with finishing second in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Do the Pittsburgh Penguins need help? Yes. Their two superstars need support. In particular, Crosby needs a winger.

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He said he had no regrets about leaving the NHL to play in Russia, despite watching a teammate die on the bench, having his coach quit in the middle of a game, and playing in a league whose financial situation is said to be faltering.

Jágr recently took center stage for the KHL All-Star Game on an outdoor rink in Red Square. He was the captain of Team Jágr, the team of foreign all-stars, which played against Team Yashin, an all-Russian lineup led by the former NHL player Alexei Yashin.

In another interview from Russia, Jágr said he still keeps an eye on the NHL and the Rangers, and has remained in touch with Tom Renney.

He said his former coach hasn't asked him to come back to help the struggling club.
Renney, the Rangers' coach, was fired, too.

Why didn't Renney and the Rangers ask him to return?

The Edmonton Oilers reportedly asked Jágr to return to the NHL and play for them, although the Oilers and Jágr deny the reports.

Two months ago, the rumour mill had Jaromír Jágr returning to play in the NHL for the New Jersey Devils, according to The Globe And Mail, and last month he was going to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

There's been talk of Jágr trying to squeeze out of his Russian deal, according to Ray Slover of Sporting News. He thinks Jágr should join Mats Sundin on the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The NHL and the KHL have an agreement about not approaching each other's players. The agreement has been broken by the KHL, according to the NHL. They say the Russian league poached Russian-born Alexander Radulov and other players.

The Rangers are fighting the KHL for compensation for Alexei Cherepanov, who died during a game with Jágr's team. The New York Rangers drafted Cherepanov with their first selection, 17th overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

The NHL is dragging its heals about committing to the 2014 Olympic Games, to be held in Russia, because they are not happy with their relationship with the KHL.

Jágr still wears the No. 68 in honor of the Prague Spring rebellion that occurred in Czechoslovakia in 1968, also the year in which his grandfather died while in prison.

Jágr has stated that his main idol growing up was US President Ronald Reagan, whose "peace through strength" policy contributed to the fall of European Communism. Jágr kept a picture of President Reagan in his academic notebook, which, if discovered, would have led to certain punishment.

The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its totalitarian domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. The Soviet Union and members of its Warsaw Pact allies invaded the country to halt its liberal reforms.

Alexander Dubček was elected in Czechoslovakia and he wanted to grant rights to the citizens, take control of the economy away from the USSR, and begin  democratization. Among the freedoms he wanted granted were the loosening of restrictions on the media, speech, and travel.
   
In that era, the only way for a hockey player from the USSR to play in the NHL was by defecting. When Evgeni Malkin left Russia, he had to resort to some of the cloak and dagger techniques of that era.

Malkin left while still under contract by quitting and giving two weeks and then giving his team the slip while they were training in Scandinavia.
   
The Russian and US courts agreed with Malkin, so a precedent has been set, even though it wasn't the KHL he was escaping from.

Jágr is still in the top 10 among players in NHL career goals, assists, and points, and is regarded as one of the game's all-time great players.

Rangers GM Glen Sather has admitted that the Rangers never engaged Jágr in detailed negotiations for a new contract. Pittsburgh, Edmonton, and the Rangers are believed to have had the most interest in Jágr. All offered one-year deals. Jágr agreed to a two-year deal with Avangard Omsk of the KHL which reportedly pays him the equivalent US$10 million annually.

Jágr's agent, Pat Brisson, wouldn't comment on contract terms. However, the deal is believed to be for two years plus an option for a third, and will pay Jágr about $7 million tax-free—the equivalent of about $11 million a season in the NHL.

Jágr has also expressed desires to finish out his career at his father's club, HC Kladno.

Jágr was named Avangard's captain on Jan. 30, 2009.

He returned to the club he joined during the NHL's 2004-05 lockout.

Sources told ESPN.com that Jágr has a "no-out" clause, locking him into staying in Russia for the length of the deal—at least two years, with a third possible year, at Jágr's discretion.

Jágr said he enjoyed his experience in Omsk during the lockout. It's close to the Czech Republic.

Jágr had long been reported to be considering lucrative offers from Russia. Apparently, Sather grew impatient waiting for serious negotiations with Jágr's side and went in another direction, signing former Vancouver Canucks captain Markus Naslund.

If Jágr had reached 84 points or won a major NHL award this season, his expiring contract would have been automatically extended for one year. Jágr finished with 71 points. He had a five-goal, 10-assist outburst in 10 postseason games.

He just missed being league MVP two years ago when he was the runner-up after breaking the Rangers' records for goals (54) and points (123) in a season.

Jágr began his NHL career in 1990 and played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, and the Rangers. In 1,273 NHL games, he had 1,599 points on 646 goals and 953 assists.

The Rangers reached the playoffs each of the three seasons Jágr was on the team. Jágr was team captain for his final two years with the Rangers.

After the Rangers' season ended, Jágr indicated he planned to eventually return to the Czech Republic to play for his hometown club in Kladno.

Jágr noted that this might not be the last time he plays in North America, pointing toward the Winter Olympics in two years.

"Maybe," he told the Canadian Press, "I will see you in Vancouver in 2010."

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