Jagr turns down Oilers, NHL


EDMONTON - At least the Edmonton Oilers went down swinging.


EDMONTON - At least the Edmonton Oilers went down swinging.

They didn't get sniper Marian Hossa, who ended up signing with the Detroit Red Wings; heavyweight Georges Laraque elected to play in front of his family in Montreal; and, now, Jaromir Jagr has said thanks but no thanks.

After 17 seasons in the National Hockey League, Jagr is going to ply his trade in Russia with Avangard Omsk -- the team he had played for during the lockout in 2004-05.

What Jagr did do was make a point of thanking the NHL teams that pitched their offers, in particular the Edmonton Oilers. He called it "the biggest offer; a great offer."

That should be worth something when it comes to future negotiations the Oilers are involved in. After all, he's going to Russia, not Phoenix. Or Anaheim. Or any of the league's warm weather spots.

Hossa didn't pick lifestyle either; he picked hockey.

"Who wants to live in Detroit?" said Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe. "What this week has done has put us back on the map. As someone said to me the other day, 'I'm sure there was a time in the '80s when everyone wanted to play in Edmonton.'

"Detroit is like that now -- and we want to get there. We want to get to a place where there are no challenges."

News of the superstar's departure came Friday, one day after the New York Rangers signed former Vancouver Canucks captain Markus Naslund.

General manager Glen Sather said at the time that the Rangers could no longer wait for Jagr to make a decision, that it was time to part ways with their captain.

The Oilers weren't sitting idly by.

After Hossa, the big fish they had been trying to reel in, turned down a multi-year contract believed to be worth almost $9-million a season to take a one-year, $7.45-million deal for the chance to win the Stanley Cup with the defending champs, Jagr got their full attention.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were also interested in the 36-year-old Czech, who will reportedly collect $7 million a season over three years with Omsk. Tax-free dollars at that.

"It wasn't a ridiculous amount of money. We just talked to him about the hockey fit," Lowe continued. "He hasn't played in Canada, and he is one of the game's great players."

Jagr scored 71 points last season but played his best hockey in the stretch run and post-season. He leaves the NHL with 646 goals and 953 assists in 1,273 games.

Elsewhere around the league, the free-agent frenzy had subsided substantially by Friday.

The Oilers, too, have backed off the gas pedal. A call was put into Teemu Selanne's agent but there are reports the Finnish winger may call it a career.

Because the Oilers moved defenceman Matt Greene and forward Raffi Torres to get stronger elsewhere, they are short of punch. That's where Laraque came in, but now that that page has been turned, Lowe said it is not a void he feels he has to fill right now.

"If the right player is there, we'll fill it," he said, "but we might very well go to camp with what we have and then we'll see what happens after that.

"I just don't recall it being much of a question the last 20-30 games (in 2007-08). A lot of the talk was generated by the media who saw a link between the injuries and the lack of an enforcer. Do you think Ethan Moreau breaking his foot had anything to do with us not having a tough guy? Or with Matt Greene breaking his ankle? With Sheldon Souray separating his shoulder?

"That's not to say I don't think a team needs to be tough. I just know we did OK late last season.

"There's a few things we're thinking about (but) I don't know if we are going to do much more," Lowe continued. "If we stand pat, then we'll be OK with that."