2006-03-31 / Sports

New York Hockey Report: Jagr Gets to Hart of the Matter

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

New York Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, right, sweeps around Philadelphia Flyers' Eric Desjardins just before shooting and scoring a goal. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)New York Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, right, sweeps around Philadelphia Flyers' Eric Desjardins just before shooting and scoring a goal. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) NEW YORK - At the time, it looked like the aged old story for the New York Rangers.

When they acquired him, Jaromir Jagr was supposed to be washed up, a shell of his former self, who took the money and was happy just playing out his contract.

What a difference a lockout makes. After changing the organization's philosophy to build a team around Jagr and with the NHL putting in rules to promote more offense, the Rangers' star forward has been revitalized and is now breaking long time club records in scoring.

"You have to understand, two years ago when the trade happened, it was a pretty big risk," Jagr said after the Rangers overtime win against Buffalo on Monday. "No one knew what was going to happen with the lockout. Jim Dolan took a big risk and Glen Sather took a big risk. Tommy [Renney] and the coaches tried to build the team around me. So it's satisfaction for everyone."

Indeed. As of Thursday, Jagr tied Adam Graves 12 year-old goals record with 52 and shattered Jean Ratelle's 109 point, which was recorded in 1971-72. With 61 assists, the 34 year-old has an outside shot to catch Brian Leetch's record of 80, which was set in 1991-92.

Even if he comes up short, it's a tremendous season by any standard.

"No one should be surprised by this," coach Tom Renney said. "The guy has a lot of hockey left in him. The trick was getting him into an environment that he likes and can flourish."

That's exactly what the Rangers did. Instead of just trying to get stars, general manager Glen Sather signed players who had a relationship with the Czech scorer. Michael Nylander played with Jagr in Washington and Martin Straka was on the Penguins. And having countrymen Martin Rucinsky, Petr Prucha and Petr Sykora on the team helped put Jagr at ease.

Those moves didn't just motivate Jagr to score, but also allowed him to become the clubhouse leader and voice for the club, which was something he said he was uncomfortable with at the beginning of the season.

But a close locker room does that to a player, who is the favorite for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the league MVP. And though the numbers are nice, he knows at his age, the most important thing now is winning.

"He's a wonderful player and a great teammate," Renney said. "He cares tremendously on how we are doing. I don't know why things didn't click in the past, but they are certainly here to the benefit to all of us."

If Jagr got his way, it wouldn't have happened this way. In 2001, Jagr desperately wanted to be traded to the Rangers, only to be shipped to Washington. two and a half years later he got his wish and now considers it a blessing in disguise.

"Things happen for a reason," he said. "Maybe if I came here a little bit earlier, I wouldn't be here right now. I would have been traded with everyone else. I believe in God and never question God. It is the way it is."

And now, he feels the best is yet to come.

"My father told me when I was 18 years old, that I would be the strongest at 37," Jagr said and then joked, "I have a few years left, tell Glenie [Sather]."

And maybe in his last few years, he will set more Ranger records.

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