So, Claude Lemieux...NHL all-time superpest and Conn Smythe winner...wants to make a comeback. He says after five years away from the game, he misses playing and he thinks he's got the determination needed to polish some pretty rusty skills and give it another shot.
It won't be easy. He's forty-three years old and his last two years of playing hockey saw him skate in just seven games for Zug in the Swiss-A league in 2003, and before that, he split sixty-eight games between Dallas and Phoenix...racking up only 20 points...in 2002-03. It's going to take a hell of a lot of work to get into game shape at his age, and after that long away from the ice. And even if he manages to get the body in shape, there's no guarantee the old skills are still there. Not everyone is Chris Chelios, and even he's had to change the way he plays the game in order to stick around a little longer. I'm not sure Lemieux's all-out, abrasive style even can be reshaped without making the player redundant. He was valuable during his playing career because there was only one of him. If he's got to give that up, he might as well stay in retirement.
In the meantime, he says he's been working out for ten weeks now, and he's skating with the Phoenix Coyotes to help him get up to speed. He must see something encouraging in his progress if he's sticking with it. And he's not asking for an NHL spot. He says all he wants is a tryout with some team's AHL affiliate...a chance to prove himself and work his way back to the big league.
It'll be interesting to see him try this. (Idle fan speculation about gambling debts or some other cash shortage fueling the whole thing notwithstanding.) If there's any player who was able to push himself beyond the ordinary, it was Claude Lemieux. At least he could when he was in his prime, especially in the playoffs. What's really going to be interesting, though, is whether some team buys into this attempt and gives the old man a shot.
I'm almost tempted, if he can pass the same physical tests all the younger guys pass, to hope Bob Gainey extends Lemieux an invitation to the Bulldogs' camp next week. If Lemieux tried out and failed to compete with the prospects, well, no harm done. At worst, Gainey would look good for giving an old colleague a chance. But if he can cut it, Lemieux would be a strong veteran influence with the 'Dogs...kind of like his former teammate Mike Keane is with Vancouver's farm team. And when roster restrictions are lifted after the trade deadline, there would be nothing stopping the Canadiens from calling him up to help out during the Cup drive one more time.
In this very special year for the Habs, the groundwork for fairy tales has already been laid. How cool would it be to see the Habs going for their twenty-fifth Cup on their hundredth birthday...with one of the heroes of '86 back to share the glory? Could you imagine Lemieux dipping into the fountain of youth once more to score a massive game-tying or winning goal? I know that's not likely...far from it. It's probably more likely Lemieux' old bones won't be able to meet the challenge.
But remembering the rookie who challenged Patrick Roy for the Conn Smythe back in 1986 with his ten goals in twenty games, and the guy whose passion helped push two other teams to Cup wins as well...my heart says give him a shot. After all, the Canadiens have little or nothing to lose. And a fairy tale has to have a beginning, right?