Today's 7-4 victory by the Czech Republic over Russia at the World Championships meant two things. First, that the Czech's earned bronze, their fourth medal in seven years and 12th as a country. And second, the race to sign Jaromir Jagr has officially begun.
Jagr's third season in the KHL with Avangard Omsk ended last month as did his contract with the team. Because of the nostalgia -- most prominent during the Vancouver Olympics --surrounding the man who sported one of the greatest mullets in sports history, the rumors of his return to the NHL spring up every season.
There was the rumor that the Montreal Canadiens were interested. Then there was the game of telephone that was played last week when a Tribune-Review story about the Pittsburgh Penguins wanting to get in touch with Jagr to invite him to a golf tournament this summer somehow spawned rumors the team wanted to sign him.
Does Montreal, Pittsburgh or the New York Rangers need a 39-year old forward who hasn't played in the NHL since 2008?
Speaking after today's bronze medal game about his future, Jagr played along with the speculation.
"You never know. Maybe it will be still fun to go back to NHL. Maybe Pittsburgh. I don't know. Maybe Montreal. Maybe New York. Pittsburgh, I played there for a long time. Mario (Lemieux) is the owner. It's better to play with great centres like (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, this game is a little bit easier and I'm not young anymore."
Jagr has for a long time enjoyed toying with the media. In 2009, he told The Hockey News' Ken Campbell that he would seriously think about playing for the NHL minimum if Penguins owner Mario Lemieux was interested in bringing him back to Pittsburgh.
This is a guy who's had money issues in the past and was making $7 million a season in his first two years in the KHL. As much as Jagr's idolized Lemieux since they played together in Pittsburgh, are we to really believe he'd bypass the greater contract offers he'd received from other KHL teams to play for peanuts in the NHL?
This is just part of the great mind game from Jagr using the NHL rumors to earn some extra coin in his next KHL contract.
Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette threw water on the Jagr-to-NHL rumors today:
"A couple of people with knowledge of Jagr's status said Saturday he has had talks with teams in the Russian league -- including SKA St. Petersburg -- about a contract for 2011-12, and that, at age 39, he has not seriously considered an NHL comeback.
SKA St. Petersburg recently hired well known Czech coach Milos Riha."
If we were betting men, we'd say you'd likely see Jagr sporting a Penguins jersey again the night they finally retire his No. 68 to the CONSOL Energy Center rafters.
As Dmitry wrote last week, Avangard has a contract offer on the table for Jagr for next season. Despite him saying today he feels like Avangard don't want him back, there would be other teams lining up for Jagr's services in the KHL should he decide to move on.
(UPDATE: Slava Malamud of Russia's Sport Express reports that Jagr's camp is deep in negotiations with SKA St. Petersburg and Avangard's signing of Alex Frolov last week pretty much puts them out of the picture for No. 68.)
Jagr's said he wants at least one more year before returning to assume full-time managing HC Kladno of the Czech Republic, taking over from his father.