Jagr to make debut for Rangers tonight

Updated: January 24, 2004, 7:29 PM ET
Associated Press

OTTAWA -- Jaromir Jagr pulled a white New York Rangers jersey with his signature No. 68 over his head, and captain Mark Messier beamed.

Mark Messier, right, is overjoyed that Jaromir Jagr, left, is his new teammate.
"Oh, yeah, looks good," Messier said as he flashed a big smile. "Very good."

"I hope it's the last sweater," Jagr said as photographers and cameramen maneuvered to capture the photo opportunity that punctuated Saturday's news conference at the Corel Centre, where the Rangers' latest star acqusition was introduced.

Flanked by alternate captains Eric Lindros and Brian Leetch, Messier and Jagr appeared equally excited that the five-time NHL scoring leader was finally with New York.

Jagr's long-rumored trade from Washington was completed Friday in a deal that sent Anson Carter to the Capitals.

"I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like changes," Jagr said. "I'm happy where I stay. But, the way I see it, in Washington they decided to trade me. I'm glad I'm somewhere they want me, and I'm going to have a chance to prove to the world that I'm still a good player."

The league MVP with Pittsburgh in 1999, Jagr failed to live up to expectations with the Capitals. Washington acquired Jagr after he won his fourth consecutive scoring title with the Penguins in 2001.

Jagr had 201 points in 190 games with Washington, including 16 goals and 29 assists in 46 games this season.

"There have been expectations on him for 11 years," said forward Matthew Barnaby, one of several Rangers who previously played with Jagr. "He's always been expected to do a lot of good things. "Even though everyone thinks he's been having a bad season by his standards, it's a very good season by everyone else's standards. He averages a point a game, and in a time when scoring's down, he's done very well."

With Pavel Bure sidelined due to a career-threatening knee injury, Rangers fans hope the addition of Jagr to an already star-studded lineup will end a franchise-record six-year playoff drought.

"We're excited," said Glen Sather, the Rangers president, general manager and coach. "We just hope he excites everyone else and gets us in the playoffs."

Aware of the heightened expectations, Messier tried to lighten Jagr's burden before the Czech star made his debut with the Rangers against Ottawa on Saturday night.

"Coming to play on the biggest stage in the world doesn't come without pressure," Messier said. "Obviously, he's picked up a lot of the pressure that the team's endured over the last five or six years, but speaking from experience, no one player can do it alone."

Jagr will be teamed with fellow Czechs Petr Nedved and Jan Hlavac against the Senators, Sather said.

In two seasons with Pittsburgh from 1995-97, Nedved was paired with Jagr frequently.

"It seems like back then we had some chemistry going, so hopefully, we can establish the same thing and have the same chemistry and play well," Nedved said.

The Rangers, losers of three straight and winless in five, enter Saturday's game in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the New York Islanders in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot.

"The expectations are always high in New York, and for good reason, because we have a lot of great players here," Nedved said. "There are probably going to be even more expectations and more pressure now that Jaromir's here, so we've just got to get down to business and start winning some hockey games."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press