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68 Days Until The Season Begins

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Photo credit:James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
8 months ago
Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ll be counting down the days until the Edmonton Oilers begin their 2023-24 season with a daily trip down memory lane.
With 68 days until the regular season begins, let’s look at one of most famous 68’s who didn’t (but almost did!) play for the Edmonton Oilers: Jaromir Jagr.

An Edmonton Journal article from July 5, 2008 details how Jaromir Jagr turned down an offer from the Edmonton Oilers.

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The year was 2008 and Jaromir Jagr had just finished up a 71 point season with the New York Rangers and was slated to hit free agency. GM Glen Sather opted to not re-sign Jagr, who spurred offers from multiple NHL teams in favour of signing with Avangard Omsk of the newly formed KHL.
But what’s not often talked about is that there were two instances in the following season that could’ve landed Jagr in Edmonton.
The first was when the Oilers offered Jagr a contract on July 2nd, 2008 — a deal that was worth more than the $7-million per year he got in the KHL.
“Because I promised [Omsk], if I don’t sign with New York, I’ll go to Russia. I wanted to keep my promise,” Jagr recently said on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast. “But then, on July 2, Edmonton called. I didn’t want to break the promise. I believe in karma, so if you promise something and you break it, it’s just not good.
“I would’ve made more money in the NHL with the offer I got in Edmonton. I could’ve made a lot more.”
An arrival in Edmonton nearly happened seven months later, too, amid Jagr’s first season in the KHL. Jagr had a plan in place to join the Oilers late in the season if Avangard Omsk had missed the playoffs, which took place that year in late-February.
Here’s the story, as told by former Edmonton Oilers defenceman Jason Strudwick, who played 71 games for the Oilers that year:
My wife got a call from Jaromir Jagr’s then-girlfriend at the time, asking what it was like in Edmonton. I remember we were at home and my wife is like, ‘hey, it’s Jaromir Jagr’s girlfriend’ and she wants to know what it’s like [in Edmonton].
So Jags gets on the phone and we’re talking and basically, the long short of it was, there was a plan for him to come to Edmonton if his team [Avangard Omsk] didn’t make the playoffs.
As it turns out, I think they won the last game of the year in overtime and they did get into the playoffs, so he didn’t come. They just got in by the skin of their teeth. If they hadn’t made that, my understanding from Jags is that he was on his way to Edmonton to play for us.

An Edmonton Journal article from February 12, 2009 details rumours of Jaromir Jagr joining the Oilers.

Strudwick was right: it did come down to the last game of the year. The Severstal Cherepovets had been one point behind Omsk heading into the final games of the year. Omsk dropped their game, but the Cherepovets did the same giving Jagr’s club a playoff berth.
At the time, the Oilers had been in the thick of the playoff hunt and sat with a 30-26-5 record the day the KHL regular season ended. The team was being propped up by a strong season on the blueline by Sheldon Souray, as Dwayne Roloson continued to fight in net for the Oilers. Up front, players like Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner were all chipping in offence, but Dustin Penner’s game was lacking, and so were others.
Jagr’s club made the playoffs and the Oilers were forced to pivot. Then GM Steve Tambellini shipped Cole back to Carolina in a three-team deal to bring back Patrick O’Sullivan, and sent off a second-rounder to the Buffalo Sabres for Ales Kotalik. Neither of them panned out for the Oilers, who skidding to a 7-9-4 record in March and April eventually missing the playoffs by six points.
Jagr would spend three years in the KHL before returning to the NHL in 2011, and spent another six years playing for a variety of teams.
It’s hard not to think back about what Jagr would’ve meant to the Oilers. Simply put, it’s a move that could’ve changed the trajectory of the entire franchise for years to come.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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