Hockey

Jagr rescinds trade demand

A slumping Jaromir Jagr twice asked the Pittsburgh Penguins to trade him recently, then rescinded his request after learning team owner Mario Lemieux was coming out of retirement.

Jagr, discouraged by his inability to score as he did in winning the last three NHL scoring championships, initially asked Lemieux to trade him about two weeks ago.

Lemieux said he wouldn't, then gave Jagr the same answer several days later when Jagr asked again.

Lemieux then told Jagr he was planning to end his 3 1/2-year retirement and return to the Penguins this season.

Lemieux also told Jagr he wouldn't take away Jagr's captaincy because "he's our leader."

"I love to play with Jagr," Lemieux said. "We've played before, and the chemistry is there.

"I think we play alike. I talked to him about my comeback a couple of weeks ago ... obviously, he was very excited.

"And I think he has been playing better since then. He's gone through some emotional times the past couple of weeks, but he's starting to get a lot better."

Lemieux told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Jagr's trade request was made out of frustration and that he never considered trading Jagr.

"No. Never," Lemieux said. "There's only one Jagr in the world and you don't trade the best player in the world."

Not that Lemieux is coming back, Jagr said he no longer wants to be traded.

"If it ever happens, it's going to happen, but right now, I don't want to go anywhere," Jagr said. "There's a lot of good players on this team, plus Mario is coming back.

"It's going to be pretty exciting."

Jagr's contract runs through 2003 and Lemieux has talked of wanting to sign him to an even longer deal.

Jagr, the only player besides Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky to win an NHL scoring championship in the last 20 years, has 15 goals and 16 assists through 30 games and isn't among the top 15 scorers.

He had only one goal in 12 games before scoring a goal in a 7-4 loss to Toronto on Wednesday night.

Jagr said the longer the slump goes on, the tougher it has been on him mentally.

He also said the pressures of being the captain and the team leader have contributed to the slump, as have the daily questions he gets about it.

Several newspapers reported last week that a dejected Jagr had asked to be traded.

"Of course, I'm not playing the way I want to play," Jagr said. "A lot of those things have got to do with the media.

"They always make a big deal about it. I'm not playing the way I want to play.

"I'm not scoring the way I want to help the team.

"It doesn't matter how we play. They're just asking, `Did you score? You didn't score today, what happened? Are you out of the slump? Are you still in the slump?' Those kind of questions.

"I wish they would just let it go."

Lemieux, who is expected to rejoin Jagr on Pittsburgh's top line, said one reason he is coming back is that he is convinced the Penguins are close to winning the Stanley Cup.

"We need the right mix of older and younger players," Lemieux said. "I think we have that right now in Pittsburgh.

"We are one of the most talented teams in the NHL and I think we can be a great team for many years to come. I'd like to be a part of that."

By Alan Robinson

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