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Jaromir Jagr  

Florida Panthers Right Wing

Jaromir Jágr wears the number 68 in honor of the Prague Spring rebellion that occurred in the Czech Republic in 1968, also the year in which his grandfather died while in prison.

Known for his powerful legs and large frame, Jágr currently plays with the New York Rangers. He still resides in the Czech Republic during the off-season. His father, also named Jaromír Jágr, is prosperous and owns a chain of hotels. The younger Jágr showed his athletic aptitude early; he began skating at age three and was always one of the best players as he worked his way up through the Czech hockey leagues. At the age of 16, he was playing at the highest level of competition in Czechoslovakia.

Jágr was the first Czechoslovakian player to be drafted by the NHL without first having to defect to the west. He was taken by the Pittsburgh Penguins with #5 pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft and played with them for the next ten years. He was a supporting player with the powerhouse Penguins that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.

Early in his career with the Penguins, Jágr - then sporting long hair - was often promoted as a teen idol, whom teenaged girls found adorable, and teenage boys admired for his athletic talent. Jágr possessed a sense of humor about the marketing buzz around him. Before he had a grasp of the English language, he could be heard reading the daily weather forecast on Pittsburgh radio station WDVE in his broken, thickly accented English. He and team mate (and fellow countryman) Jiri Hrdina were promoted as the "Czechmates", a play on the term "checkmate" from chess. Some Penguins fans realized that the letters in his first name could be scrambled to form the anagram "Mario Jr", a reference to elder team mate Mario Lemieux.

It was in the later years that he truly broke out and became the most dominant right wing in the league. He developed into an amazingly strong forward, blessed with powerful legs and a scoring touch rivaled by few players in the last quarter-century other than Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. From 1994-95 to 2000-01 on a decent Penguins team, Jágr won five NHL scoring titles including four in a row from 1997-98 to 2000-01, and in the 1995-96 season scored 149 points. In 1998 he led the Czech Republic's team to a gold medal at the Nagano Olympics.

With the return of Mario Lemieux from retirement, the Penguins had two superstars, but friction developed between the two. Also the struggling, small-market Penguins could no longer hope to meet Jágr's massive salary demands. Thus in 2001 they traded him to the Washington Capitals for three young prospects.

Later that year the Capitals signed Jágr to the largest contract ever in NHL history - $77 million over 7 years at an average salary of $11 million per year, with an option for an eighth year. Jágr, however, failed to perform up to expectations. In the 2001-2002 season, Washington failed to make the playoffs and Jágr appeared to be playing at a level far below that which had been expected. In 2002-2003 Washington managed to finish 6th overall in the Eastern Conference, but lost to the upstart Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. (Tampa Bay would win the Stanley Cup in the next 2003-04 NHL Season.) While in Washington, Jágr did not experience as much popularity as fellow forward Peter Bondra.

Disgruntled, the Washington ownership spent much of 2003 trying to trade Jágr, but a year before a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was to be signed, few teams were willing to risk $11 million on Jágr. Eventually he was traded to the New York Rangers for Anson Carter and an agreement that Washington would pay appox. four million dollars per year of Jágr's salary. Jágr also agreed to defer (with interest) one million dollar per year for the remainer of his contract to allow the trade to go ahead.

However, due to the new collective bargaining agreement signed before the start of the 2005-06 season, Jagr's salary was subsequently reduced to $7.8 million, the maximum allowed under the terms of the new salary cap.

During the NHL labor dispute in 2004-05, he played for Kladno in the Czech Republic, and afterwards for the Avangard ice-hockey team at Omsk in Russia.

Jágr has been the subject of several notorious off-ice incidents. He appeared in drag at the 1999 opening of his sports bar in the Czech Republic. Although he has repeatedly denied that he has a gambling problem, he has admitted that he settled debts totaling US$950,000 with two internet gambling sites between 1998 and 2002. In 2003, the IRS filed a US$3.27 million lien against him for unpaid taxes for the 2001 tax year. Only a few months before, Jágr had settled a US$350,000 claim for taxes dating to 1999.

He has earned a reputation as a "coach killer" by some sports media pundits in Pittsburgh and Washington. The firings of Kevin Constantine and Ivan Hlinka in Pittsburgh and Ron Wilson and Bruce Cassidy in Washington were widely blamed on their inability to get along with Jágr. His now infamous quote to one Pittsburgh reporter that he felt like he was "dying alive" in a Penguin uniform has been well publicized in the cities where he has subsequently played.

In New York, however, he has had a very smooth relationship with coach Tom Renney and as an alternate captain (along with Darius Kasparaitis and Steve Rucchin), has provided leadership for the Rangers in their resurgence in 2005-2006.

Jaromír Jagr returned to the Jagr of old at this year's World Hockey Championship in Austria. He led the Czech Republic to Gold and was elected a tournament all-star in the process. He also become a member of hockey's prestigious Triple Gold Club, players who have won a Stanley Cup, a World Hockey Championship and an Olympic gold medal.

He is currently on fire in his return to the NHL, becoming only the fourth player in NHL history to score ten or more goals to start off a season, in less than 10 games. His return to dominance is the main reason why the Rangers are one of the best teams in the NHL so far this season.

Jagr scored his 1400th point on a power play goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 2, 2006. He is leading the statistics among the NHL players who started their career in Europe.

On March 18, 2006 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jagr became only the 6th Rangers player in team history to break the 100-point barrier, and became the only Ranger right winger to score 100 points in a season.

On March 24, 2006 against the Florida Panthers Jagr became the first player in the 2005-2006 NHL-season to score 50 goals. Jagr has broken the 50-goal plateau two other times.

On March 27th, 2006 against Buffalo, Jagr had a goal and an assist, which tied both the Rangers single season goal record of 52 (Adam Graves, 1993-94) and the Rangers single season points record of 109 (Jean Ratelle, 1972-73). Two nights later, on March 29, 2006, Jagr passed Ratelle when he was the primary assist on Petr Prucha's 1st-period goal against the New York Islanders' Rick DiPietro.

On April 8th, 2006 against Boston, Jagr scored his league-leading 53rd goal of the season, breaking the Rangers' single-season goals record of 52 set by Adam Graves in 1993-94.

After leading the league in points and goals for most of the 2005-06 NHL season and having already helped his team clinch a playoff spot, Jagr was passed by the San Jose Sharks dynamic duo of Joe Thornton (125 points) and Jonathan Cheechoo (56 goals), losing both the Art Ross and Maurice Richard trophies on the final week of the season. Jagr finished with 123 points, 54 goals, and 24 power-play goals, second in the league in all three categories. He finished third in the league in both assists with 69, and +/- at 34. Despite being inched out by Thornton for the Art Ross Trophy, Jagr is still a favorite to win his second career Hart Trophy as league MVP.

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