Jagr to the Penguins a done deal?

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The hockey world was told that Jaromir Jagr would make his decision on Wednesday. As Thursday has come and gone, we still haven’t heard any official statements to shed any more light onto the dimly lit situation. However, on Thursday night we now have a strong clue as to where the five-time scoring leader will land for the 2010-11 season.

Ray Shero and the Pittsburgh Penguins: come on down, you’re the next contestant on the Price is Right! Philadelphia Flyers beat writer Anthony J. SanFilippo of the DelCo Daily Times has been pounding the phones and gives us the most insight into the Jagr melodrama to date.  According to SanFilippo, it’s a done deal with the Penguins and all that remains is the official announcement.

If only that were the whole story.

I was told Jagr has already told Lemieux that he’s going to sign with Pittsburgh and that the Penguins have a huge front page for their Web site ready to go live at Noon tomorrow with a big “welcome home” theme.

Why the delay then?

From what I was told Jagr’s agent Petr Svoboda may have been trying to lure another team into offering Jagr a bit more money so he can put a PR spin like “I turned down more money to come back to Pittsburgh.”

In a situation that has had more twists and turns than a Six Flags ride, SanFilippo’s report could be the beginning of the end for #JagrWatch. The interesting bit is that even though a deal could be done in principle, Jagr’s agent is still working opposition organizations to drive the price up.

Sure, that makes sense. But when it comes out that the only reason for talking is to increase bargaining power, doesn’t that defeat the purpose? There’s supposed to be an actual threat that the player may take another offer. If he’s already told the Pens that he intends to sign in Pittsburgh and they’re rolling out the digital welcome mat, why would opposing GMs even pick up the phone? Would they continue to negotiate in an attempt to drive up the price for the Penguins? Then again, is it even possible for Ray Shero and Co. to feel desperation at this point? Doubtful.

While some of the best teams in the league are championing for Jagr’s services, it’s still worth asking if Jagr is worth all of the trouble. His play started slipping in his last season with the New York Rangers in 2007-08. In the three years since, he’s been less than a point-per-game player with Avangard Omsk in the KHL. If/when he returns to the NHL next season, will we see the player who has steadily declined over the last five years or will we see the player who captured hockey fans’ imagination at the 2010 Olympics?

The Penguins, Red Wings, Canadiens, etc. are betting that he’s still an elite player who can make a difference on a contender. Judging by the attention the story has received, it sounds like hockey fans around North America agree. Only one more day and we’ll find out if he plans on making a triumphant return to Pittsburgh.

With the way this has played out, it may take more than one day.

Update: And so it begins. Petr Svoboda has already told Scott Burnside: “There’s a lot more teams now we’re talking to…” Are these legitimate offers or is he just trying to drive the price up for the Penguins?

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.