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Jaromir Jagr opens up on legacy with Penguins

Panthers forward says 'it would be nice' if Pittsburgh decides to retire his No. 68

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH --- Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr said Tuesday it would be nice if the Pittsburgh Penguins, his first NHL team, retired his No. 68 someday.

Before facing the Penguins for the 55th time in his career Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena (7 p.m. ET; ROOT, FS-F, NHL.TV), Jagr was asked, as he usually is when in town, about his career with Pittsburgh, and what he thinks of Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Tuesday was no different, but Jagr was more introspective than in past visits.

When asked if it were important for him to have some permanent connection to the Penguins after he retires, possibly involving a ceremony retiring his No. 68, Jagr said he would be open to it.

"I don't know when I'm going to quit, or what's going to happen after I retire," he said. "So I cannot see the future. So, I don't know what's going to happen. But it would be nice."

Without being asked another question, Jagr diverted into his history with the Penguins.

Jagr, selected by the Penguins with the fifth pick in the 1990 NHL Draft, spent his first 11 seasons in Pittsburgh before signing with the Washington Capitals in 2001. Since then, Jagr has been routinely jeered while playing in Pittsburgh.

Video: 1992 Cup Final, Gm1: Jaromir Jagr won't be denied

In past years, Jagr shrugged off the animosity. On Tuesday, he looked back on what made Pittsburgh special to him as an 18-year-old kid from Kladno, Czechoslovakia.

"[Pittsburgh is] where I started," he said. "I was just a little kid when I was 18 years old and I came to Pittsburgh. All the fans and all the people in the organization, they treated me like I was their kid. They knew how tough it was for me. I didn't speak any English, so all the people in the city wanted to make it easy on me.

"I was probably the first, or one of the first, European guys to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins. So it was kind of different. I felt like everybody tried to help me. So I have all these great memories."

Those memories were made in the Penguins' former home, the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. After the Panthers held their morning skate, the Penguins presented Jagr with a plaque made out of material from the Civic Arena roof. The plaque included Jagr's name, his No. 68 and the Penguins 50th Anniversary logo.

Jagr, who consistently has praised Penguins co-owner and former teammate Mario Lemieux, won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992.

"We had such a fantastic team," Jagr said. "It was fun to play, fun to learn from Mario or other great players we had on the team. I said in an interview, they were asking me about the [two Cup titles]. The team we had, we only won two. I said if Mario had not have gotten back problems, it would have been three, four more. That team was just too good."

Jagr's session with the media began with a question regarding Crosby, who could return from his third concussion in six years on Tuesday. Jagr was asked where Crosby ranks among those he has played against.

"It's tough to say," Jagr said. "When [Crosby] came in the League, when he was 18, I think he scored 100 points (102 in 2005-06)," Jagr said. "Not many guys can do that in their first year. I think Mario did it or [Wayne] Gretzky, but not many guys. So, you know he's a special, special guy. Last year, early in the season, it looks like he's going to have a bad season and after they changed the coach, I think it helped him a lot and you could see it during the World Cup [of Hockey 2016].

"He was totally dominating and his line was unstoppable. So, it's too bad it happened to him, the concussion. At the World Cup, he was just dominating."

Jagr feels these Penguins and their fans relate to players like Crosby and Malkin, and that he has partially been forgotten. While that's likely not true, Jagr discussed it with a smile.

"The last time I played for Pittsburgh was 2000, so it's 16 years," he said. "That's a long time ago. Those fans that were coming to the arena when I was playing for Pittsburgh, they're not coming anymore. They're probably dead or not interested anymore. They probably have new fans. It's a different team, so I would say the fans, probably half of the fans right now, they don't even know I played here."

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