Wayne Gretzky once called him “the best player in the game,” but that was a generation ago.
At age 47, Dominik Hasek, one of the best goaltenders to ever lace ’em up and strap ‘em on, is reportedly looking at an NHL comeback attempt.
“For sure, I know what I want… even my agent, he knows… but I’m not going to make any comments,” Hasek reportedly told Czech newspaper Daily Sports in reference to his goal of playing in North America.
At the risk of being the umpteenth writer to paraphrase L.L. Cool J in these types of situations, don’t call it a comeback; Hasek has been here for years.
The free agent’s retirements from professional puck are more like sabbaticals. Following his prime decade, mostly with the Buffalo Sabres, from 1992 through 2002, Hasek retired and did not play in 2002-03, citing his desire to spend time with his family and pursue other hobbies. He returned to play 14 games with the Detroit Red Wings in 2003-04, then signed with the Ottawa Senators in 2005-06 after the lockout year.
An injury to his right adductor muscle suffered at the Winter Games that year ended his tenure with a talent-rich Ottawa team early, and the Senators opted not to re-sign Hasek despite the goaltender’s willingness to accept a pay-cut base salary of $500,000 plus bonuses.
As a 41-year-old free agent, Hasek found work back in Detroit, where his second two-year stint with the Red Wings ended with Chris Osgood taking over the starting role in the 2008 playoffs and helping the club to the Stanley Cup championship.
After the Cup, Hasek retired from the NHL again, citing lack of motivation.
But after only one year away from the game, he returned to the Czech league and HC Moeller Pardubice, the same team with which he began his epic journey in 1980-81. That date is not a typo.
Hasek, who despite now being a 47-year-old man, played professional hockey as recently as the 2010-11 season with the Kontinental Hockey League’s HC Spartak Moscow. That year the ol’ guy went 23-18-3 with a 2.45 GAA and a .917 save percentage to go with seven shutouts.
If the two-time Hart Trophy winner and six-time Vezina champ is indeed eyeing a return to the NHL, and if — suspend your belief for a second — he does land a gig, 2012-13 will be the 29th season in a pro career that spans 33 years.
But what’s left to prove?
Hasek already owns a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal and arguably the best single-game goaltending performance ever – his 70-save, four-overtime shutout over the Martin Brodeur-led New Jersey Devils in 1994.
The oldest goalie in the NHL last season was Dwayne Roloson, 42, of the Tampa Bay Lightning — one of three teams, including the Red Wings and Sabres, that Czech sports site Deniksport reported that Hasek is considering.
Sportsnet’s Ian Mendes, who followed Hasek’s play and understood his prickly relationship to the Senators team during his stint in Ottawa six years ago, doesn’t foresee an NHL club giving Hasek a shot. Unless, John Muckler, who was a big Hasek supporter in Buffalo and Ottawa, suddenly gets back in the GM game.
“He was broken down then,” Mendes says of the 2006 Dominator, who never played a postseason game for the promising club. “And he’s not a mentor.”
The question isn’t really “Is Hasek serious about getting back in the NHL?”
It’s “Would anyone in the NHL be serious about giving a 47-year-old, regardless of his resume, a look?”
You’re an NHL GM in need of a starting goaltender. Would you take a look at Dominik Hasek in 2012?