2007-03-09 / Sports

Don't Blame Jagr For The Ranger Season Woes

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

Brendan Shanahan (middle) says to lay off Jaromir Jagr. Photo By Peter BorrielloBrendan Shanahan (middle) says to lay off Jaromir Jagr. Photo By Peter Borriello Uneasy is the head that lay the crown.

Or in this case, uneasy is the sweater that wears the 'C'.

But isn't that always the case with Jaromir Jagr? He was criticized in Pittsburgh and in Washington for being sullen and losing interest when the season started to go south. And now, in New York, the history seems to be repeating itself.

Is it fair, though?

In Jagr's case, probably not. It's true, the Ranger captain is getting less and less enthusiastic about the season and it can be heard in his voice, but how can anyone be happy with the way the Blueshirt year is winding up?

Jagr is an emotional player, who seethes after every loss. When the Rangers win, No. 68 is happy and jovial. He cracks jokes with the press and will sit and talk with everyone. On the other hand, when the Rangers lose, he takes the defeat to heart and it's worn on his sleeve. He seems to hate losing as much as anyone and no one can blame him if he wants to shy away from discussing it.

But the thing is, he doesn't. Outside of the last few games, Jagr has been always front and center when it comes to speaking to the local media. He is respectful and will answer what is asked of him.

Doesn't New York embrace their emotional players? Why the does Jagr not seem to get the love other city athletes receive? It could be because he is Czech and English is not his first language. Even though he has played in the United States for over 16 years, he speaks with a heavy accent and is obviously more comfortable conversing in his native Czech.

Which is why he shied away from taking the captaincy last season. In his first full year in New York, Jagr wanted to feel out the city and become comfortable with being the team's spokesman. With an entirely different team, Jagr felt he had to earn his 'C', which he did with flying colors. He was the unquestioned leader of the team and a 54 goal for a 123 point season was good enough to place him second in the Hart Trophy voting.

Those numbers, though, were not duplicated this year. Remember though, that was the best year any Ranger had in 80 seasons. Mark Messier never put up those numbers, neither did Phil Esposito, Rod Gilbert or Wayne Gretzky. But Jagr did and in typical New York fashion, he was expected to do it again.

Those expectations were too much. His 22 goals and 54 assists are respectable, considering he played every game this year, no matter how beaten up he was and when he is out on the ice, there's a target on his back.

Teams have been double teaming him all season, with Jagr always facing the opposition's top checking line. With that, he is still fourth in the league for assists, even though he is cheap-shotted night-in and night-out with his surgically repaired shoulder is not 100 percent.

And it's that hinge that may be stopping him from participating in shootouts. Last year, when he was healthy, Jagr was only 2-for-8. Now, after going 0-for-3 this year, he doesn't want to do them. Who can blame him if he psychologically feels he can't help the team?

And if he sits out the shootout, who cares? Jagr is the best Ranger on the ice every night and he deserves New York's respect. Winning usually does that, but hockey is the ultimate team sport and the Ranger woes are not due to Jagr, no matter how much of an easy target he has been.

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