Claude Lemieux earned more than $22 million over the course of his NHL career, so we’re going to go out on a limb and assume that pulling down the NHL minimum isn’t going to make or break his financial portfolio.
Whether or not he wins a Stanley Cup this season isn’t about to make or break his legacy either. But one of the greatest clutch playoff performers of his generation is back, recalled to the San Jose Sharks Monday morning after sitting out of the game for four full years.
If Lemieux were simply looking for NHL work, he could have maybe tried a team that was a little less stacked with talent. But for the 43-year-old, it’s all part of the challenge. He and fellow fossil Chris Chelios could compare washboard stomachs and facial scars and it’s even money as to which one would come out on top.
Not that it hasn’t been difficult, but through his first 23 games with the Worcester Sharks of the American League, Lemieux had yet to miss a single practice or a game and had a respectable three goals and 11 points.
“I feel really light on my feet,” Lemieux told The Hockey News earlier this month, “but the schedule in the American League is one that’s difficult to measure your game because you’re off for five or six days and then you play three in three or six in eight. By the sixth game, you’re not going to feel like you have your legs. Whether you’re 43 or you’re 23, you feel like crap.”
Things have come full circle for Lemieux here. In 1985-86, he played almost his whole rookie season in the AHL before being called up for the Montreal Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup that spring. Now nobody is suggesting Lemieux will even come close to duplicating his accomplishments from that spring (10 goals, 16 points in 20 games), but the Sharks do have a couple of playoff skeletons in their closet that need to be exorcised. That’s the reason they brought in the likes of Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich this season and have Stanley Cup experience behind the bench in Todd McLellan.
The Sharks are chock-full of young players – and are waiting on Torrey Mitchell and Jeremy Roenick to return from injuries – but none has three Cups on his resume.
“If they’re looking for a centerman who can make plays, I’m not going to get the call,” Lemieux said. “But if they need a winger with experience who can battle, I think they’d be looking at a guy like me.”
So what started as a favor to Lemieux by Sharks GM Doug Wilson came a step closer to reality when Lemieux signed a two-way deal with the Sharks for a pro-rated salary of $500,000 in the NHL and $100,000 in the minors.
It all started when Wilson gave Lemieux a chance to play with the China Sharks, before signing him to a 25-game tryout contract with Worcester. After a handful of games, Wilson signed him to the two-way deal that would allow the Sharks to call him up anytime.
Former NHL defenseman Carl Brewer sat out for five years before returning to play, so it has been done before. Lemieux is also trying to become the first player to win the Cup with four different teams.
“I told them I would do whatever it took,” Lemieux said. “But you can’t just say it – you have to do it.”