By Michael Farber, SI.com
Omsk, to my knowledge, never has been described as the city that never sleeps.
For a long time - at least until the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was breaking up, Omsk was the city where foreigners couldn't sleep. Omsk was closed. The city in southwest Siberia was a members-only kind of place because of the military industrial infrastructure there, a no-go zone, like the area around New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for much of Game 4 in the Rangers-Penguins series.
Even today Omsk is not exactly a tourist mecca like New York, where hotels are plentiful as long as you have a spare $305. In Omsk there is, well, basically, only the Omsk Tourist Hotel where, 30 seconds after entering the Spartan rooms, a female voice will call and ask in proper, if accented, English: Sex? Massage? Don't ask how I know.
Anyway, the differences between the grand hockey metropolises are mentioned in this space only because these seem to be the only logical destinations for Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers star right wing, who spent a happy season during the 2004-05 NHL lockout in the Siberian Shangri-La and has vowed to return at some point to Avangard Omsk of the Super League.
Of course he has been happy in New York playing for Rangers coach Tom Renney, as well, but this Czech international man of mystery has been vague about his plans for next season. Maybe Broadway. Maybe the Russian Borscht Belt.
"You never know what's going to happen next year, Lundqvist said. "But whatever happens, people around here will remember him as the great player he is."
This could be the swan song for Jagr with the Rangers. His seven-year contract, signed originally with the Washington Capitals, is expiring, and he is free to follow his heart -- or some oligarch's wallet.
He failed to meet all the standards during 2007-08 that would have triggered an automatic renewal of his NHL contract -- except one. If Jagr wins the Conn Smythe Trophy, he would have yet another season in New York. After a goal and assist in the Rangers' 3-0 victory over the previously unbeaten Penguins, this possibility has gone from preposterous to merely wildly improbable. Pittsburgh still leads the second-round series three games to one with a swell chance Sunday at home to close out the banged-up Rangers, who, like a light bulb that burns brightest just before it expires, cobbled together a magnificent, combative effort to prolong matters.
But consider this: Jagr surpassed Philadelphia's Daniel Briere for the playoff scoring lead with 15 points, which included two goals (one an empty netter) and an assist Thursday. He has been a force, a marauder who has been willing to play in high-density areas. Instead of being a conduit, a perimeter player, Jagr has thrown his considerable weight around, boring in on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Certainly he has been willing to pay a price. Jagr scored the first New York goal midway through the second period in Game 4, cleverly using Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar as a screen and whipping the puck through Fleury. As the Rangers captain cut to the middle in celebration, defenseman Brooks Orpik clobbered him with a cheap shot that went unpenalized. Jagr lay on the Madison Square Garden ice for perhaps a minute, and then slowly clambered to his skates. The Garden erupted into cheers, 18,200 chanting his name.
"I couldn't celebrate (the goal)," Jagr said. "When I got hit, I was thinking Jerry Maguire. You remember that? (Rod Tidwell, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., getting Kayoed.) And I wanted to (get up) and start dancing, but I just couldn't do it. I was just thinking that it would be a funny thing to do."
Do they have Dancing as a Star in Siberia?