Sometime last week, one of those sketchy, oft-translated bits of rumour originating in some foreign paper trickled into the sphere of Canadiens fans. A Czech news service reported Jaromir Jagr is contemplating a return to the NHL, and that Montreal might be one of his preferred destinations.
The inevitable discussion and dissection of the rumour has ranged from skepticism about its validity, to dismissal of Jagr's ability to play in the NHL again, to a drooling, covetous chorus of "yes, please!" Having seen Jagr play in the Olympics last year and in this year's World Championships alongside Tomas Plekanec, a lot of fans think the idea of signing the 39-yer-old Jagr wouldn't be a bad idea.
Now, CJAD has asked Plekanec himself about his current linemate's intentions. In summary, Pleks says Jagr's still got all the tools to play in the NHL. His offensive skill, his shot and his ability to protect the puck are all still in evidence, and Plekanec thinks the smaller NHL ice would actually help Jagr be even better. He does not, however, claim to know whether his boyhood hero is really planning an NHL comeback.
The idea, a Habs fan must confess, is tempting. While it's been three years since Jagr skated at the NHL level, he did manage to put up 71 points in his last season with a very offensively-challenged Rangers team. (Ironically, the last good season Scott Gomez had as well.) Jagr's been playing at nearly a point-per-game level in the KHL, which is also a notoriously low-scoring league. And his play with Plekanec at the international tournaments in the last two years is more than a little bit magical. The two have some very nice chemistry that could help a low-scoring Habs roster. Adding to the temptation is the realization that there really aren't a lot of potentially affordable wingers with size who are able to put up a considerable number of points.
On the downside, Jagr is almost 40, and while guys like Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne look as good as ever at that age, they've never taken three years away from the NHL game and tried to come back. There's no guarantee Jagr can make the transition again, or that his speed will be good enough on a team that depends on the quickness of its attack. If it is adequate, there's still a question about how long a guy his age can keep up the pace. Would he be able to sustain it throughout an 82-game season? There's also a concern about how well a guy who's most interested in scoring would get along within the often-stifling confines of The System. Then there's the money issue. Jagr's always been about the money, which is what brought him to Russia in the first place. Nothing in his history says he'd be willing to play for the 2-3 million the Canadiens could afford on a one-year contract.
If he is, though...oh, that's tempting. Watching him at the World Championships on Plekanec's wing, it's very tempting. You just know Pleks would work even harder than usual if he's playing with the guy whose poster was on his boyhood bedroom wall. And you'd have to think that if Jagr bothers to come back for one last hurrah in the NHL, it'd be more about making a last run at the Cup and having fun than about adding a couple of extra million to his bottom line.
If Jagr were willing to come to Montreal, he woudn't be required to be the team's superstar or its emotional leader. The only job he'd have is to would be to put up points, which he's shown every indication he's still able to do. As long as he's willing to buy into the team-first concept, he'd be a great addition to the Canadiens attack. That's a big "if" though, for a guy who's always been the star.
Knowing how rumours usually work, all of this is likely moot...or will be when Jagr re-signs in Omsk next week. Still, in the news-barren stretch between playoff elimination and training camp, it's a rumour worth contemplating.