Weekend roundup: Making sense of the Jaromir Jagr/Russia/Oilers situation

March, 22, 2009

The KHL created quite the furor when it put out a news release Friday quoting Jaromir Jagr about his playing future.

Although the point of the release was to quote Jagr as saying he was committed to staying with his Russian team, Avangard Omsk, that got lost in the shuffle when Jagr also was quoted as saying he nearly became an Edmonton Oiler. According to Jagr, had Omsk missed the KHL playoffs, a deal was in place to possibly let him join the Oilers.

"Yes, such an opportunity really existed," Jagr told Czech newspaper Denik Sport in quotes carried in the KHL news release. "The teams had discussed how that could be fulfilled. But it did not depend on me. Should Omsk ask me to join Edmonton, I'd do that. But that was not something I desired myself. After we made the playoffs, the whole thing ceased to be an issue."

Now, as you may remember, we blogged about the whole Jagr-Edmonton rumor last month. It turns out it was more than just a rumor. But the Oilers still would not confirm it this weekend.

"Any potential acquisition that's not completed, I'm not going to comment on, just like I wouldn't comment on any trade that didn't happen," Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told ESPN.com on Saturday. "The player you're asking about is under contract."

But although the Oilers refused to confirm anything regarding Jagr, here's what we believe to be true. Omsk, like many KHL teams in dire financial straits thanks to the battered ruble and falling oil prices, approached the Oilers about Jagr. The veteran star would have had to sign a new deal with Edmonton, clear NHL waivers and join the team before the March 4 trade deadline. All very difficult hurdles in making any of this a reality.

But here's where it gets interesting. The Oilers could have tried to use a loophole in the system: Had they officially signed Jagr to an NHL contract on March 4, therefore making him eligible to play in the playoffs, he would have gone on waivers during the 24-hour period leading up to March 5 at noon ET. Any other club that would have claimed him then could not have used him in the playoffs because any player added to a team's roster after the March 4 trade deadline cannot be eligible for the postseason.

Follow us here? Tricky, indeed. The Washington Capitals pulled this off 11 years ago with Brian Bellows, bringing him over from Europe and adding him to the roster for their Cup finals run.

However, in this case, we believe the NHL would have considered this to be a circumvention of the new collective bargaining agreement and likely would not have allowed it.

The reality is, it never even reached that point because the Oilers couldn't get around the fact that Jagr was still under contract in Russia. The Oilers can't sign the guy if he's still under contract with Omsk, and that's where it all started and ended. In the end, a non-starter. Why would Jagr agree to rip up his deal with Omsk, who is paying him $7 million a year, to play for the $2 million or so the Oilers had left under the cap? Makes no sense if you're Jagr.

Which also is why we take his further comments in Friday's KHL news release about his commitment to Omsk with a grain of salt.

"Will I voluntarily terminate my contract with Avangard and go to America? That definitely won't happen," Jagr was quoted as saying. "Only if the two hockey clubs reach an agreement. But I won't do it by myself."

We think this is Jagr's way of saying to Omsk, "Pay up if you want me to go away." Stay tuned during the offseason, as this thing may not be over.

Malkin hearing
Evgeni Malkin had a phone hearing with NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell on Saturday for his late-game hit to the head of Wayne Simmonds on Friday night. The league decided not to suspend Malkin, but a source close to the NHL's leading scorer said he was fined.

Canadiens/Olympic stadium
We're told the Montreal Canadiens have asked the NHL about staging a game Nov. 28 at Olympic Stadium (the former home of the Expos). It would be part of the lead-up to the team's official 100-year anniversary game Dec. 4 at the Bell Centre. But it needs competition committee approval, and at this point, it's not clear whether there's enough support. The committee, composed of players and NHL team managers, will meet in June.

The Montreal game should not be confused with the Winter Classic, which still is scheduled to occur Jan. 1 for the third straight season. Boston and New York are the likely candidates at this point.

Avalanche/revenue sharing?
Hard to believe, but the Avs could indeed qualify for revenue sharing this season. Adrian Dater of The Denver Post first reported on this topic earlier this week. The league's 10 lowest-revenue-producing teams qualify, and although it's too early to tell, Colorado might be among those teams for the first time in its history.

The Avs rank 25th in the NHL in home attendance. Although that figure might be viewed as a red flag for the league given Colorado's prominence and string of sellouts earlier this decade, you have to keep in mind that some markets have had increased home attendance this season, such as St. Louis, Boston and Chicago. But what does the Denver situation tell us about its fans? Yes, we know the economy has made it more difficult to afford such luxuries as a hockey ticket, no question. But still, all those empty seats? They inherited a Cup-contending team from Quebec City 14 years ago, enjoyed those fruits for a long time, and when the first bump in the road arrived, fans stopped going to games? Give me a break.

Khabibulin and the Blackhawks
Nikolai Khabibulin likes it in Chicago and would be willing to stay. He'll be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Both sides have agreed to wait until after the season to address it. The Hawks also have interest, but it depends on how things go during the stretch run and playoffs.

Injury updates

• Wild forward Marian Gaborik (hip) is expected back Sunday.

• Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp (knee) could be back as early as Sunday.

• Blues defenseman Keith Tkachuk (wrist) could be back as early as Tuesday. He will have had five days to heal by then.

• Jason Arnott (concussion) had a setback this week. His earliest possible return is Thursday, but that's not for certain. It depends on how he feels the next few days. He has not skated yet.

• Radek Bonk (shoulder) is expected back Tuesday. That's big for Nashville.

• Ryane Clowe (lower-body injury) had a minor procedure done and will be out seven to 10 days.

• Francois Beauchemin (knee) could be ready for first-round playoff duty if the Ducks make it.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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