Jaromir Jagr

Date of Last Contract: January 26, 1998

Signed Through: 2002-2003 Season



Jagr, Penguins Hook Up for $48 million

The Sporting News
January 27, 1998

PITTSBURGH -- Jaromir Jagr always wanted to play like Mario Lemieux. Now, he'll be paid like him.

Jagr, the Pittsburgh Penguins' brightest star now that Lemieux has retired, agreed Tuesday to a four-year contract extension worth $38 million that will pay him $10.4 million in the 2002-03 season.

The total value of what now becomes a six-year contract is $48 million -- the richest ever given an NHL player. Jagr will make $5.1 million this season and $4.75 million next under his old contract before his salary climbs to $9.5 million in the 1999-2000 season.

The NHL scoring leader would become the first player to make $10 million a year in salary in 2002-03, although another player probably will have long since eclipsed that figure by then.

Currently, the NHL's top single-season salaries belong to Philadelphia's Eric Lindros and Anaheim's Paul Kariya, who will make $8.5 million next season.

Colorado's Joe Sakic is in the first season of a $21 million, three-year contract that included a $15 million signing bonus and $2 million in salary this season. Philadelphia's Chris Gratton has a $16.5 million, five-year deal that consisted largely of $9 million signing bonus.

"You never know where the dollars are going to go," said Jagr, who was joined at a short news conference by his mother and girlfriend. "But I want to play here and I want to stay here. I want to finish my career here."

Jagr's deal eclipses the $42 million, seven-year deal reached by Lemieux in October 1992. However, that contract was reworked several times before Lemieux retired last spring, and the Penguins still owe him money.

One reason why the Penguins didn't want to rework the remaining two years of Jagr's contract was the deferred money owed Lemieux, who made $11 million last year and reportedly is making $8 million this season.

"I talked to him (Lemieux) and I asked him what to sign for," Jagr said. "He said (to sign for) exactly what I signed for right now."

The two sides were close to agreeing to a $53 million, seven-year contract last month before Jagr, after seeing how much Kariya and Lindros will make, decided he wanted a shorter contract.

Still, Jagr said he wasn't particularly interested in getting into any year-to-year one-upmanship.

"It's a great tribute to Jaromir, because who's kidding who in this day and age of players leapfrogging over each other and all wanting to say, 'My contract is bigger, or your contract is bigger'" Penguins co-owner Howard Baldwin said.

"He wanted to make a long-term commitment and we wanted to make a long-term commitment to him," Baldwin said. "We're very proud of Jaromir for taking that position."

Jagr, the only European to win an NHL scoring championship, has been a star almost since the day he joined the Penguins' lineup in late 1990 as an 18-year-old from Czechoslovakia who could barely speak a word of English.

He won Stanley Cup championships with Pittsburgh in his first two NHL seasons in 1991 and 1992, leading a comeback over the favored New York Rangers in the 1992 playoffs after Lemieux broke a wrist. He took advantage of Lemieux's one-season layoff in 1994-95 to win the scoring title that Lemieux returned to win the next two seasons.

With his flowing, unkempt hair and unrivaled one-on-one scoring moves, Jagr is popular among the younger fans the NHL has long cultivated. He was the leading vote-getter for the World team that lost to a North American team 8-7 in the NHL All-Star game on January 18.

Penguins co-owner Roger Marino said Jagr's popularity and marketability make him one of the league's -- and Pittsburgh's -- most valuable assets.

"The first time I saw him, I thought, 'Why isn't this guy marketed like (Wayne) Gretzky?'" Marino said. "The kids love him. He has style and he's also a great player. We have to try to take advantage of that."

Despite giving Jagr the biggest contract ever for a Pittsburgh athlete, the Penguins -- who have played to only three sellout crowds in 24 home games -- will lower ticket prices by as much as $6.50 apiece next season.

Jagr was asked if the NHL, whose TV contracts are worth only a fraction of those of the NFL and NBA, is taking a dangerous course by relying on steep ticket prices to fund big contracts like his.

"The price of tickets are going down and they signed me for more money," he said. "Maybe if they had given me more money, the prices would have gone down even more."

Copyright 1998 Associated Press.