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Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr says he's got lots of hockey left

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

MONTREAL - The numbers suggest that five-time NHL scoring champion Jaromir Jagr is a player in decline, but the New York Rangers star winger says he isn't done yet.

The goals and points aren't coming for the 35-year-old with the regularity they did through most of his first 16 seasons in the NHL, when the gifted Czech winger was one of the league's brightest stars and most dangerous scoring threats.

The New York Rangers captain went into a game Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens without a goal and with only three assists in his previous 11 games. Jagr looked like he could be coming around after getting four assists in the game, but the Rangers blew a 5-0 lead and lost 6-5 in a shootout.

"I still believe in myself," Jagr said. "When you're not scoring, you want to do a little extra and maybe later it will help me.

"Maybe there's bad before something good. I don't know. I don't question it. I just work harder than I did before on my shooting and just believe that it's going to come sooner or later."

Jagr's struggles have led some to suggest he may be ripe for a trade before the league deadline Feb. 26.

He has a year left on his contract, but it only kicks in if he gets at least 84 points and the Rangers win at least one round of playoffs. With 49 points in his first 61 games, the points total may be out of reach, in which case, he would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Jagr, the NHL's highest-scoring European player who is approaching 1,600 career points, said he's more concerned with finding his game than with trade rumours.

"If that happens, it happens, but it's still not going to stop me from working hard in practices because I just want to prove to myself that I can still do it," he said.

Jagr was traded to the Rangers by Washington, where he struggled on a weak team, during the 2003-04 season and then spent the lockout year with Omsk in Russia.

He returned to the Rangers to post 123 points in 2005-06, but dropped to 96 points last season. He looks to be struggling more this year after centre Michael Nylander left the Rangers as a free agent in the summer.

He didn't mesh with newly arrived centre Scott Gomez - "he's a great player, but I'm just too slow for him," Jagr joked - and lately has had 21-year-old Brandon Dubinsky and pesky Sean Avery as his linemates.

Coach Tom Renney said that while Jagr's scoring may be down, he remains a key player.

"If effort and responsible play and attitude added up to points, he'd be leading the league," said Renney. "He's done things that haven't been incumbent with his play in past years because the league has changed.

"Goal-scoring is down. It's a much more defence-oriented league. Teams go hard to the net. It's a more physical game on most nights and he's been able to weather that and contribute. For my money, he's been terrific."

Renney said Dubinsky's ability to protect the puck, which is one of Jagr's strengths, should lead to good chemistry because they can share the work in the attacking zone, rather than having Jagr try to do it all on his own.

Maybe that will work, but Jagr feels he only needs to keep working to get himself out of his slump.

He stayed on the ice well after his teammates had left New York's game-day skate at the Bell Centre. He's been known to practice with the team in the morning, then return to the rink a few hours later to work on aspects of his game by himself.

"I want to be the best I can be," he said. "I don't want to retire like that - I love the game too much.

"It's not an easy situation where you're used to scoring so much and all of a sudden the confidence is not there. I don't feel bad about it, but you can't just say: 'I want my confidence back.' First there has to be results. When you work hard, sooner or later it's going to show up. I know it will. It always did for me."

Retirement is not on his radar screen, even though with his production falling, he may no longer command the huge salaries he has become accustomed to.

And he said age won't modify his game.

"When you're younger, you don't question yourself much - you're just waiting for the good times," he said. "When you're older, you start questioning yourself - do I still have it or not?

"As long as you stay healthy and analyze what you're doing, you can play longer."

There has been much speculation on Jagr's future, including an eventual return to Omsk.

Last summer, he told reporters that if he ever leaves the Rangers, he'd like to play in Canada for either Toronto or Montreal.

"I said a lot of things in my life," he told the crowd of mainly Montreal reporters in the Rangers dressing room with a big smile. "In 17 years, I never played in Canada.

"I always wondered how it was. Canadians love hockey. They always did, they always will. In our country (the Czech Republic), they love hockey, but in Canada, every little kid plays. It's just a huge sport here."

Finally, he said: "When I was younger I wondered how it would be if I played in Canada. But you never know, eh?"


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