Jagr would take KHL job to tune up for Olympics, but still wants NHL deal

Jaromir Jagr is still looking for NHL work, but his agents are reportedly in talks with a KHL club should he not land a contract in North America. The KHL, Jagr said, would allow him to tune up for the Olympics.

If push comes to shove, Jaromir Jagr could be headed back to the KHL.

Over the past few months, almost from the moment the Florida Panthers announced they wouldn’t be bringing Jagr back into the fold, the 45-year-old has been searching for his next NHL destination. However, with little more than two weeks remaining before the start of the 2017-18 season, the living legend somehow remains without a home, this despite the fact that he managed 16 goals and 46 points last season. And as the season draws nearer without any sign of an imminent deal, Jagr could be staring down another stint in the KHL.

On Tuesday, Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko reported that Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk GM Rafik Yakupov (father of Colorado Avalanche winger Nail Yakupov) has said that the team is in talks with Jagr’s camp and has the money necessary to bring the surefire Hall of Famer aboard should he be interested in joining the team. Eronko followed up Tuesday’s report with an interview with Jagr, in which the future Hall of Famer said he would consider KHL options if he can’t land an NHL job.

“The KHL is definitely interesting to me,” Jagr told Eronko, per Sport-Express. “Because if I do not play in the NHL, I want to go to the Olympics. And to get into the composition on Pyeongchang, I need to play in the strongest league of those in which I can perform. And this is…the KHL.”

Jagr did, however, pump the brakes on talk that negotiations are underway with Neftekhimik. He noted to Eronko that he himself has not spoken with the team — or any other club, for that matter — but added that he can’t speak for his agents and acknowledged that the two sides could very well be talking about the possibility of a contract.

If Jagr were to head to the KHL, it would mark his second stint in the league and third in Russia’s largest hockey circuit. His first foray into Russia came in 2004-05, the campaign the NHL lost to the lockout, when he scored 16 goals and 38 points in 32 games for Avangard Omsk. Then, after three more years with the New York Rangers, Jagr abruptly left the NHL to join Omsk once again. Over the next three campaigns, Jagr would captain a mediocre Avangard side while notching 66 goals and 145 points in 155 games.

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Following his time in Omsk, Jagr returned to the NHL, and has since spent time with the Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and, most recently, the Panthers. Since his return, Jagr has remained one of the most productive right wingers in the NHL. His 119 goals are the 15th-most among right wingers over the past six seasons, while he ranks sixth with an impressive 315 points in 438 games. The only players at his position with more points are Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Corey Perry and Jakub Voracek.

Considering his company on the stat sheets, it’s fairly surprising Jagr hasn’t been able to lock down a spot in the NHL. It’s equally as surprising because, from a pure business perspective, the Jagr merchandise pretty much sells itself. That said, the hangup for Jagr and teams who may have interest in him is that he is looking for more than just the chance to continue his career. Rather, he wants to continue to have some tangible impact on the roster. In August, Jagr said the ideal situation might see him in a second- or third-line role, and he made it clear he doesn’t want to sign a deal for the league minimum because that would allow a team unhappy with his play to simply cut ties with him at the drop of a hat.

One can see, then, why Jagr hasn’t entertained making a team through a professional tryout in training camp, and he said to Eronko that he found it funny that he would even be asked to come to camp on a PTO given GMs should know what he can offer on account of his 25 years in the league. But willing to accept a PTO or not, Jagr made it clear again that the ideal situation would see him back in the NHL this season and said that door isn’t shut just yet.

“There are three or four clubs with whom we are negotiating,” Jagr told Eronko. “And until there is clarity with the NHL teams, I will not look to Europe.”

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