PITTSBURGH – Maybe it was Jaromir Jagr’s last game with the New York Rangers. It almost certainly wasn’t Jagr’s last hockey game.
Jagr, a five-time NHL scoring champion, is facing an uncertain future following the Rangers’ season-ending 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series.
While the 36-year-old Jagr’s contract carries into next season only if he wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP, almost an impossibility now that the Rangers have been eliminated, he plans to keep playing hockey.
“(My) last game? I don’t think I’m going to retire from hockey,” Jagr said after getting 15 points in the Rangers’ 10 playoff games, but no shots or points in Game 5. “I know I’m going to play somewhere (next season) – I still feel I’ve got many years left if I decide to work at it.”
While he didn’t say so during a post-game interview, Jagr apparently wants to stay with the Rangers. There has been speculation he might return to Russia to play, as he did during the 2004-05 lockout, but he has never suggested he willingly wants to end an NHL career that began with Pittsburgh in 1990.
The only question is how long Jagr will continue to put in the nearly year-around conditioning work that is important in a league where an increasing number of top players are far younger than him. Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, for example, are in their early 20s.
“It’s (keeping a) work ethic and how you want to work,” Jagr said. “Talent is great, but you have to work at it.”
While Jagr’s regular season was up and down – his 71 points in 82 games were the fewest he’s had since getting 70 in 48 games with Pittsburgh during the labour dispute-shortened 1994-95 season – he appeared to redeem himself with Rangers fans with his strong post-season. He had a combined three goals and two assists in Games 3 and 4 of the Penguins series.
“I’m just going to take time and see what happens. I’m not going to make any decision 30 minutes after we lost a hockey game,” Jagr said. “It’s going to be a long time.”
Several Rangers players said they want their captain back.
“He is obviously one of the best players in this game and if he wants to stay, it’s great for us,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said.
Coach Tom Renney said coaching two of the NHL’s career scoring leaders in Jagr and Brendan Shanahan has been an education for him, and he wasn’t referring to Jagr’s mercurial personality.
“He (Jagr) is a great guy,” Renney said. “You can’t help it as a coach to be more enlightened by people like that. … It’s a pleasure (to coach him).”