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Jaromir Jagr says Rangers are his No. 1 option for next season

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Jaromir Jagr entered his season-ending exit interview not knowing if it would be his last act with the New York Rangers.

Two days after the Rangers were eliminated with an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs, Jagr stood in front of his stall Tuesday and did his best to explain what the future holds.

Nearly a half-hour later, there were still no concrete answers from the free-agent-to-be.

"I don't have 30 teams to choose from," the New York captain said. "First, I am going to talk to the Rangers. That's the number one option for me.

"They gave me a chance to show everybody I still can play hockey. Everybody doubted me when I was playing in Washington for whatever reason."

The NHL doesn't provide the only option for the 36-year-old Jagr. He could return to Omsk of the Russian League, the club with which he had 16 goals in 32 games during the 2004-05 lockout.

Eventually, he intends to return to the Czech Republic to play for his hometown club in Kladno.

"I don't think I would sign longer than two years, just because of my dad," Jagr said. "He asked me to come home in two years. He's helping to build a new arena there and he wants me to be there."

Until then, where Jagr will play is still anyone's guess.

"I don't know," he said. "I have to talk to coaches. I have to talk to Glen (Rangers general manager Glen Sather). I think I will take time to think about it, talk to my parents, especially my dad. He's a big reason why I play hockey, probably the biggest reason why I play hockey.

"It's always good to hear from other people who are close to me and care about me, tell me what I should do, how they feel about to play or not to play. I never liked changes. I never did in my life. It's tough to make changes."

If he would've reached 84 points this season, this would be an issue. Hitting the mark or winning a major NHL award automatically would've had added another year to his expiring contract. He just missed out on being league MVP two years ago when he was the runner-up after breaking Rangers records for goals (54) and points (123) in a season.

Jagr finished with 71 points, yet his inspired play over the final weeks of the regular season and his five-goal, 10-assist outburst in 10 post-season games drove home the point that he still has plenty of game left.

"You can't help but endorse Jaromir being here," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "He was certainly our number one forward at the end of the season."

The Rangers got Jagr at a discounted price after acquiring him in January 2004 from the Washington Capitals, who continued to pay a large part of the contract they gave him six years ago.

"I've never been a free agent in my life. Maybe I would like to find out what's my price," Jagr said. "All I hear from all the media is, 'He's done.' Maybe the hockey world has a different opinion. I don't know. Maybe the GM has got different opinions.

"I don't know if I want to find out. Maybe I would find out something I don't want to know. It could work both ways."

Fellow forward Brendan Shanahan also faces a tough decision. His revolves around whether he wants to return to the NHL for a 21st season, when he will be 40.

"The first thing you have to decide is can you, are you physically able to?" he said. "That part to me has been answered. As disappointing as it has been for all of us ... it's a decision that I am going to make. It's not something that I have already decided."

A knee injury in January proved to be debilitating for Shanahan, who scored only eight goals following his collision with Edmonton's Dustin Penner. He played through the pain, a decision he said Tuesday was a mistake since it kept the injury from getting better and created other physical problems.

"I took probably a three-week injury and turned it into a three-month thing," Shanahan said. "I don't know how much it affected or if it continued to affect me, but it certainly wasn't smart at the time."

Shanahan scored the first goal of the playoffs for the Rangers in the opener against New Jersey, but didn't record another.

A diminished role at a lower price will likely be necessary if Shanahan is to return to the Rangers.

"I've never been a player to complain," he said. "I have always done what the coaches have asked me to do. I've always tried to set that example, long before I came to New York. But I do feel the eyes of our younger players on me, so I feel a great responsibility in being a professional."

Sean Avery's future is also undecided. He returned to the Rangers practice facility Tuesday, two days after being released from the hospital. The prime agitator was knocked out of the Penguins series by a lacerated spleen sustained in Game 3.

"I've got to get my tan back. I was in the hospital for a week. They don't have tanning beds there," Avery said. "I feel better every day. It's not going to take long. They said it's only going to take a couple of weeks. They said I can't get hit by a car or run into any moving objects. I can handle that."

Avery, set to begin a summer internship next week with Vogue, is seeking a multiyear deal.

"New York is a place that I love to play," he said. "I'm not the guy who signs players. I wish I could be on both ends, but I don't think the league would allow that."

Notes: G Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden), C Brandon Dubinsky (United States), and D Fedor Tyutin (Russia), are headed to Canada to play for their countries in the ongoing world hockey championships.



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