There's a significant difference between hearing 43-year-old Claude Lemieux is getting some sort of old boys' network charity contract to play in the AHL, and the realization that one of hockey's greatest pests (and clutch players, no question) is back in the NHL.
The San Jose Sharks have recalled Claude from Worcester, after he posted 11 points in 23 games. As a hockey fan, you're almost happy this didn't happen before the Sharks' epic victory over the Detroit Red Wings; that game stands on its own incredible merits, and didn't need the absolute hype-fest that will accompany Lemieux's first game against the Wings.
Mercury News beat writer David Pollack reports that Torrey Mitchell, out since training camp after a nasty incident in which he broke his left leg, suffered a setback in his AHL rehab when he felt pain in that leg. So with Mitchell not ready for prime time, Pollack writes that it's a perfect time for the Sharks to see what they actually have with Lemieux:
While younger players have performed credibly when brought up to San Jose this season, none has grabbed the spot on the roster and held onto it with consistently strong play. The front office thinking might be, well, let's see if Lemieux can be the guy to do just that.
If he is, great. And if he isn't, well, it's still only January and the Sharks would still have plenty of time to explore Plan B or Plan C between now and the March 4 trade deadline.
In that context, January makes complete sense. You don't want to wait until crunch time just to find out you've got some ineffective Claude-Lemieux-In-Name-Only (or CLINO) clogging your roster heading into the postseason. This is -- to coin an awful, putrid sportswriter phrase -- the "Claude-ition," in the sense that the former Conn Smythe winner could cement his participation on the Sharks' playoff roster with an impressive showing.
No matter what you think of the guy -- and Kris Draper is doing his best not to think about him -- Claude Lemieux can be a significant addition. Perhaps not on the ice any longer, as his days of rocketing down the wing to unleash a nasty game-winning wrister past an opposing goalie are probably numbered.
But a locker room with Jeremy Roenick and Claude Lemieux has to be both a boon to a cup contender along with being a hockey writer's wet dream.
I interviewed current New Jersey Devils radio voice Sherry Ross for a book project a few years back, and her words about Lemieux stuck with me:
"This was a guy who really did not care how he was quoted in the newspaper. In terms of Devils history, he was absolutely, positively unique. When they were down against the Flyers that year, he was the guy that they all just went to. You would talk to every veteran on the team, and even they would turn to him in their darkest hour - not to put too Churchillian a point on it. He was such a gifted clutch player. And for the Devils, that like those white bread image guys, he was the black sheep."
Bottom line: The Sharks are a team full of players that have never excelled under pressure or tasted victory like Lemieux has. It's time to see if the black sheep can become the shepherd.