With all due respect to Peter Forsberg, Jaromir Jagr is probably the best player in the world that's not currently playing in the NHL. His performance in the Olympic tournament in Vancouver has shown us that he's still capable of being a one-man wrecking crew, already recording two goals and an assist in the Czech Republic's first two games (both wins).
His contract with Avangard Omsk of the KHL is set to expire after this season and, naturally, his future has been a topic of discussion in recent days. It's impossible to know what is going on in the mind of Jagr (always has been), but it sounds as if he's considering a return to the NHL for the first time since the 2007-08 season when he tallied 71 points in 82 games with the New York Rangers.
On Friday, he talked about his future, and how playing in Russia on the larger ice surface may have made him a better overall player. From Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
"I think after those two years I spent in Russia I'm going to be a better player than I was before I left," Jagr said. "I know that. I found that out the year during the lockout. I was playing the whole year in Russia and I came back and I had probably the best year I had in New York ... "Guys, it's not easy to play there," Jagr said. "You practice a lot harder than in the NHL. On the big ice you have to skate. I play a lot on the big ice. Sometimes I will play on two lines. I think if I decided to come back, I'm think I'm going to be a better player than before I left."Whether or not that's true remains to be seen, but we do know this: his first goal in the tournament was the direct result of his defensive play in the neutral zone to force a Marian Hossa turnover.
The possibility of his return to the NHL already has fans talking, especially in Pittsburgh where Jagr spent the majority of his career and had his best seasons before being traded to Washington in July, 2001. Pensburgh took an extended look at the possibility of a Jagr-Pittsburgh reunion and what it might take to make it happen. The salary cap, of course, would be one of the biggest obstacles as the Penguins already have $41 million committed to 13 players for next season, and still have to worry about new contracts for defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang.
Like I said earlier this week, if he does decide to return -- and, again, nobody knows for sure what Jagr has planned or how many times he'll change his mind over the next five months -- there's going to be no shortage of teams interested in signing him. At 38 he may not have the speed he once had, but he still has the hands, the shot, the size and the ability to control the puck without being knocked off of it. Who might be interested? As with any big-name free agent, his most recent team, the New York Rangers, will get the obligatory mention, and perhaps the Edmonton Oilers who reportedly had an interest last season that sparked a number of Jagr-to-Edmonton rumors (that were later confirmed by Jagr himself).