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Jagr tries to set the record straight

| Saturday, April 26, 2008

His recollection of history is not factually accurate, but Jaromir Jagr went out of his way Friday to make a few points about his ugly divorce from the Penguins.

Jagr, a former Penguins captain now vilified by Pittsburghers for filling that role with the New York Rangers, said his request for a trade after the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs was designed to help then-general manger Craig Patrick keep together a core of talented forwards -- Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka and Robert Lang.

"The team went through the tough time with the bankruptcy (in 1999)," Jagr said. "It didn't have a lot of money. I thought it would be easier for the team to trade one guy than let go of three guys. If they would have kept me here, they wouldn't have signed Alex, Marty or Robert. I just wanted to make it easier for the team.

"Plus, there was no reason to keep me when Mario (Lemieux) came back."

Jagr, second in career rankings only to Lemieux in most major Penguins' offensive categories, was traded to the Washington Capitals on July 11, 2001. This is his third season with the Rangers, and Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series last night marked his first playoff game against the Penguins, who drafted him fifth overall in 1990.

Jagr claimed a fondness yesterday for Pittsburgh, where he still owns a home in the South Hills -- albeit an ant-infested property rented by fellow Czech and Penguins right wing Petr Sykora.

"I love it here. Why would I have wanted to be traded?" Jagr said. "But I think they did good to trade me. It was the right move at the right time. They could sign all the guys, and they had Mario."

Jagr praised Lemieux, his boyhood idol, but said he was not sure if they would speak during the series. He denied any tension between him and Lemieux during the 2000-01 season -- Lemieux's celebrated return from a three-plus year retirement.

Jagr's accomplishments with the Penguins rival only those of Lemieux. He was a two-time Stanley Cup champion and won a Hart Trophy, the Lester B. Pearson Award twice and the Art Ross Trophy five times during his 11-year-tenure.

"When you are younger, you don't appreciate that much," Jagr said of his glory days with the Penguins. "You think everything is about yourself. But people learn, and everybody learns. But when you have the memories and you look around ... you can tell how many great players we had on this team. It was so great."

Whether it was great enough to merit his No. 68 ultimately joining Lemieux's No. 66 in honorary retirement by the Penguins, well.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Jagr said. "If something happens, it's going to take time. It's not going to be tomorrow."

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