It would probably be misleading to say I’ve come to really know Jaromir Jagr in my time on the Rangers beat, seeing how we’re all only given a limited window into the athletes we cover. But I think I’ve been around the star wing enough to form an impression, and in many ways, it’s an impression different than what I expected.
Among the revelations:
This isn’t to say I haven’t formed other impressions as well. Jagr’s diva reputation is not unfounded seeing how he might well be the thrust behind certain personnel moves; and his body language at times reveals a player too easily frustrated.
There is a valid argument that says the Rangers can’t truly rebuild while also featuring the best player in the world, and that’s probably true. But given today’s re-signing of Martin Straka, it’s also probably a reality for the immediate future.
Anyway, I mention all this as a fairly long-winded intro to some comments Jagr made to me last week when I asked about the start of his season. The basic message: he can be better, and no one knows that more than him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The most pressure IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m getting is from myself, anyway,Ã¢â‚¬? he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“No matter how much you guys are going to criticize me, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still not going to reach the pressure IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m putting on myself. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m honest with myself, and I know when I play good and when I play bad. And when I play bad and people tell me IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m playing good, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m still not going to believe it because I know what I am. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m honest.”
To that end, here’s Jagr on his new role as captain, about whether he’s felt compelled to be more outspoken. So far, he said it hasn’t made a difference, but he knows when it will.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Whether IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to enjoy it or not is in the playoffs,Ã¢â‚¬? Jagr said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll like it. But so far I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t had to change anything.Ã¢â‚¬?
Naturally, others could disagree. And when I asked Tom Renney about Jagr as captain, the coach said the star has grown into the role as the season has worn on.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as vocal early but has become more so over time Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not to the point where heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just yapping for the sake of yapping because thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what a captain does,Ã¢â‚¬? the coach said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s significant feedback and that shows the maturation of a captain.Ã¢â‚¬?
Of course, there remains a theory among Rangers fans that Jagr has been a fairly reticent captain because of the prominent role assumed by Brendan Shanahan. It’s no secret that the two still haven’t found much of a chemistry on the ice. But the idea of any friction between the two was downplayed.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think it works because theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re friends,Ã¢â‚¬? defenseman Aaron Ward said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s simple: they care about each other. In conversations with each other, they know where the otherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s coming from. To have two players battling for a leadership role is not going to work. But you have two guys who see the benefit in listening to one another.Ã¢â‚¬?
So there you have it. Maybe none of this speaks to the more pressing issues around the team. But maybe it does.
It’s already been said to me once, and it’s certainly worth repeating: if No. 68 was scoring goals like he was last year, all this other stuff might seem pretty irrelevant. And with Jagr staying home from the All-Star Game to work his way back into shape, that might be the best hope the Rangers have.