SAN JOSE, Calif. - Claude Lemieux is back in the NHL after a 5 1/2-year absence, joining the San Jose Sharks at age 43 in hopes of one more run at the Stanley Cup.
The NHL-leading Sharks recalled the four-time Cup winner Monday from their minor league affiliate in Worcester, Mass. Lemieux practised in San Jose, and he's likely to play Tuesday night against Vancouver in the Sharks' final game before the all-star break.
Lemieux once was hockey's archetypal agitating forward, beloved by his teammates and despised by everybody else during his parts of 20 seasons with five NHL clubs. He also was among the best playoff performers of his generation, with 80 post-season goals that are still ninth-most in league history.
Lemieux, who will wear No. 32 in teal, won titles with Montreal (1986), New Jersey (1995, 2000) and Colorado (1996), earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP for the Devils in 1995.
He hasn't played in the NHL since his career petered out after 32 games with the Dallas Stars in 2003, but he joined the Worcester Sharks in late November in hopes of a comeback. San Jose then signed him to a two-way contract in late December, and he apparently looked good enough to persuade general manager Doug Wilson to put him on the roster.
Guy Carbonneau, a former teammate with Montreal who is now coach of the Canadiens, said he was stunned to see Lemieux back in the NHL.
"You see Chris Chelios, who is 46 now, but when you consider the fact that Claude stopped playing for three or four years, it shows the character he has," said Carbonneau. "I'm happy for him.
"I didn't think at first that it would be possible but now we see that nothing is impossible."
Lemieux had three goals and eight assists in 23 games with Worcester, racking up 24 penalty minutes and a plus-2 rating.
The Sharks also sent young forwards Brad Staubitz and Tom Cavanagh back to Worcester before the all-star break.
Although the Sharks led the overall NHL standings with 71 points entering Monday's games, their fourth line hasn't been impressive or productive since Jeremy Roenick was sidelined last month with a shoulder injury. If Lemieux sticks and Roenick returns soon, the Sharks could match Roenick and Lemieux with enforcer Jody Shelley on a line that would be among the NHL's most entertaining, if no longer its most talented.
The Sharks also placed defenceman Brad Lukowich on injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 6. Lukowich has been out for five games after sports hernia surgery.