February 10 2009 12:26PM
According to a report published by the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples, the Edmonton Oilers are close to signing KHL forward Jaromir Jagr. This information, from an anonymous source, was passed on to Staples by Peter Adler, a hockey journalist with close ties to Russia. The anonymous source declined to offer any information as to the specifics of the contract or when it might be finalized.
Jagr has spent this season with HC Avangard Omsk (Omsk Vanguard), leading the team in scoring with 25 goals and 51 points through 48 games. The next nearest goal-scorer has 13, and the next nearest point-scorer has only 40. Omsk is in the middle of the pack in the KHL, only one game over .500, but Jagr looks to have been sensational. I don’t need to discuss his NHL career; suffice to say he would be a major boost to the Oilers’ forward corps.
Avangard signed Jagr to a multi-year contract in the offseason, but they haven’t exactly had a tranquil year. Alexei Cherepanov’s death resulted in heavy punishments to the Club director and the medical staff, and both the general manager (Anatoly Bardin) and president (Konstantin Potapov) are still under investigation. On top of that, starting goaltender John Grahame was bought out of his contract, and the head coach was fired by the team mid-game, than told he wasn’t fired, and then fired for good a few weeks later. Fleming was supposedly personally recruited to Omsk by Jaromir Jagr. Given the turbulent season Omsk has had to date, it would be unsurprising if Jagr were eager to return to the NHL.
That said, I have some very real doubts about the likelihood of this happening. Wade Dubielewicz, for example, was bought out of his KHL contract and subsequently signed by the New York Islanders. Unfortunately for the Islanders, under article 13.23 of the CBA, any player returning from another league after the start of the season must clear waivers. Here’s the article in its entirety:
In the event a professional or former professional Player plays in a league outside North America after the start of the NHL Regular Season, other than on Loan from his Club, he may thereafter play in the NHL during that Playing Season (including Playoffs) only if he has first either cleared or been obtained via Waivers. For the balance of the Playing Season, any such Player who has been obtained via Waivers may be Traded or Loaned only after again clearing Waivers or through Waiver claim.
Since Jagr was not playing in Russia on loan from the Oilers, he would seem to fall into this category of players. The only circumstance where I could see Jagr clearing waivers would be on a contract that was so repulsive that other teams would be unwilling to claim him.
The Oilers have some cap space, especially with the unpleasant news today that Lubomir Visnovsky will be out for the remainder of the season. Still, playoff rivals Columbus, Nashville and Los Angeles all have more room, so a loaded one year contract would likely not be enough to sneak Jagr past them.
Beyond a loaded, multi-year contract of rather frightening proportions, I simply don’t see how the Oilers could possibly sneak Jaromir Jagr through the waiver wire.
Staples is now reporting that Kevin Lowe has issued a denial (sort of), quoting Lowe as saying, "Jaromir is under contract in the KHL". Given the lack of a transfer agreement, Jagr's KHL contract is essentially meaningless to NHL teams, but the fact that he would need to clear waivers is not.
Pierre LeBrun of ESPN, easily one of the most knowledgeable and connected guys out there, has chimed in on his blog. Jagr's NHL agent, Pat Brisson stated that he hadn't heard from Jagr in five months, and that he had no knowledge of any developments between Jagr and the Oilers. Steve Tambellini declined to comment on the situation, and an anonymous source told LeBrun that while the Oilers had recently approached Jagr, Jagr was still committed to Avangard Omsk.
LeBrun further notes that Kevin Lowe is currently in Europe.
Steve Tambellini's comments on the Jagr rumour:
"Are we always trying to improve our team? Yes. Am I gonna comment on things that are speculative? No, I'm not gonna do that. There's going to be an issue a day I think on things like this."
As I explained above, I really doubt that this happens, because the waiver situation makes it virtually impossible. That said, could the hockey people in this organization possibly be making more ambiguous comments?
Sportsnet pretty much puts this one to rest. In addition to an anonymous (but apparently high-ranking) Oilers' official calling the report "bogus", Sportsnet talked to Jaroslav Zidek, Jagr's European agent, who said that he was unaware of any advances made by the Oilers.
Given that Lowe is in Europe and given the comments made by Pierre LeBrun above, I'd guess that there was some contact between Lowe and Jagr, possibly with regard to next season. That said, the odds of Jagr finishing this season with the Oilers are so miniscule as to be non-existent at this point.