Jaromir Jagr could suit up for his hometown team Saturday, but his appearance in the Czech League wouldn't tie him down or make it impossible for him to sign an NHL deal.
When it comes to the Jaromir Jagr watch, there’s some good news and some bad news. The good? Jagr will reportedly be back in action as early as this weekend. The bad? Unless something changes between now and Saturday, he won’t be doing so in the NHL.
Rather, if Jagr takes the ice this weekend, he’ll be doing so with his hometown HC Kladno, the team which Jagr is part-owner and has been skating with throughout the off-season. Kladno opened their season Wednesday in the Czech League’s second division, but, according to Czech outlet iSport, Vit Heral, a spokesperson for the team, indicated that if Jagr is going to suit up, his first game could come Saturday against ZUBR Prerov.
If he does play for Kladno on the weekend – and all signs seem to point to Jagr suiting up – it would mark the first time he has played in a league game with Kladno since the first half of the 2012-13 campaign, a tenure with the team that was made possible due to the lockout-shortened NHL campaign. Jagr was dominant in his half-season with Kladno, though, picking apart the Extraliga, of which Kladno was then a part, to the tune of 24 goals and 57 points in 34 games. Despite playing half the year, Jagr finished third in league scoring. His 1.68 points per game was the best mark of any player.
That Jagr has potentially decided to begin his campaign in the Czech Republic shouldn’t be an altogether surprising development, however, because the 45-year-old hinted that he could start his season in Kladno earlier this summer. It’s an option he left open with good reason, too. Not only would playing with Kladno allow Jagr to get into some game action and, thus, into game shape, but doing so would give him the freedom to leave the team if an NHL offer of significant interest should come to pass. Jagr said as much in early August when speaking with Michael Langr of NHL.com.
“I would have a chance to leave for the NHL anytime there is an opportunity," Jagr told Langr. "Let's say some team deals with injuries and needs help, then I could pack my stuff in the next day and go. If I played in Extraliga, I wouldn't have such an option unless the Czech League season would be over.”
Even if Jagr does begin his campaign with Kladno, though, it seems rather unlikely that’s where he remains for the duration of the season. Previously, Jagr’s agent said to not expect an announcement regarding his full-time future until Oct. 5, according to Latvian reporter Aivis Kalnins, and there are a few potential options for Jagr that go beyond his hometown team.
One option, and a possibility that gained some steam in recent weeks, would see Jagr suit up in the KHL this season. It was reported that Rafik Yakupov, GM of the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, was in talks with Jagr’s agents regarding a potential contract, and while Jagr didn’t fan those flames, he certainly didn’t extinguish them, either, noting that he had no knowledge of any contract talks before adding that he would consider a KHL job if he couldn’t land an NHL gig. The reasoning, Jagr said, is that the KHL would allow him the best opportunity to tune up for the Olympics.
And that brings us to Jagr’s second option, which is doing whatever necessary to prepare for the two-week Olympic tournament in Pyeongchang in February. Jagr had previously retired from the national team, but with contracted NHLers unable to participate due to the league’s decision not to send its players, Jagr has openly considered playing for the Czech Republic. With or without playing top-level hockey, Jagr would be a shoo-in for the roster, but he said he wants to be in the best shape possible when the tournament rolls around.
Without question, though, Jagr’s first choice is signing an NHL contract. He’s maintained throughout the summer that it’s his primary goal and that he’s playing with Kladno instead of taking a KHL offer, which would likely lock him in for the season, indicates he’s still trying to keep his options open. Speaking last week with Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko, Jagr said there were “three or four clubs with whom we are negotiating” and said that he wouldn’t sign a deal for next season with any team, KHL or otherwise, until he knows where he stands in the NHL. The Flames were one team said to be in talks with Jagr, but nothing has come of that report as the living legend remains without a deal.
As has been spelled out on a number of occasions, however, it’s difficult to understand why Jagr has yet to receive a contract. He posted 16 goals and 46 points for the Florida Panthers last season. Yes, he’s a 45-year-old winger whose speed is questionable at times in an era where skating is at an all-time high, but his puck control, understanding of the game and ability to help out a team’s power play has far from disappeared.
There’s a lot of history riding on Jagr’s return to the league, too. Returning to the NHL would put Jagr in position to take over top spot on the league’s all-time games played list — he needs 57 to surpass Gordie Howe — and it would also allow Jagr to climb ever closer to the 2,000-point plateau, a mark only Wayne Gretzky has reached. Jagr is second all-time with 1,914 points and would likely need to play another two campaigns in order to hit 2,000 for his career.
For now, though, it appears Jagr will start his season in his hometown while the hockey world awaits his next destination.
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