was on the other side the last time the New York Rangers
and Pittsburgh Penguins
met in a playoff series. It was 1996, and Jagr's Penguins defeated the Rangers in five games as he combined with Mario Lemieux
for 19 points in the series.
So when it comes to the then and now of the Rangers-Penguins playoff history, No. 68 certainly knows a thing or two.
Which is why it should come as no surprise that before the Eastern Conference Semifinal was set to begin Friday night in Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS), Jagr was making some interesting comparisons between the Penguins of the past and the young team he's about to face.
To Jagr, as good as Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
are – and he thinks they're very good – he played with the best in Lemieux, who captained the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.
"With all due respect for Crosby and Malkin, I don't think they are Mario Lemieux
," Jagr told a group of reporters in front of his locker at the Rangers' practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. "I'm saying all the respect to them, but it's because the game has changed."
"The thing is the gap between the best players and worst players on a team is very small compared to what it was before," Jagr explained. "The gap between Mario and the rest of the guys when I was in Pittsburgh was so huge he was able to score 20 points in one playoff series. I don't think those kids are able to do it. Maybe I'm wrong. If I'm wrong I'll apologize and tell them great job, but I don't … that's the difference between the '90s and the team I played on and this team. It was more about one guy then, and he was able to win the hockey game by himself. The League has changed. You can do that once in a while, but not every game like him."
Jagr believes the change is most evident on teams that roll four lines, like the Rangers.
"Some nights you can't even tell who is first line or fourth line in this new NHL," he said. "There are better players in the League than there were in the '90s."
Still, there are few, if any, like Crosby, who has drawn comparisons to Lemieux throughout his short career. In fact, some fans and media members consider Crosby to be the current Penguins version of Lemieux.
So if that's true, does it mean Malkin is the Penguins' present version of Jagr, who became a surefire Hall-of-Fame player during his 11 seasons in Pittsburgh?
Maybe, but Jagr assessed the comparison in a different way.
"I don't think I had that many responsibilities when I was his age," Jagr said of the 21-year-old Malkin. "I became a better player when I had more responsibilities. It was later on, when Mario retired for three years. I started to have more responsibilities and I won the scoring title. He probably has better numbers than I had at that age."
Well, he is right about that. It took Jagr six years to register his first 100-point season. Malkin did it this year, only his second season in the NHL. Malkin has 191 points in his first two seasons. Jagr had 220 in his first three.
However, it is possible that one day Malkin will feel the same way about Crosby as Jagr still does about Lemieux.
"Everything I know I learned from him," Jagr said of Lemieux, who will be watching from his owner's box Friday night at Mellon Arena. "I kept my eyes open and watched the best player. That's probably the best thing that happened to me."
Jagr was traded by the Penguins to Washington on July 11, 2001. He didn't leave as a fan favorite, and every time he visits the old arena now, Pittsburgh fans let him know he's not the most welcomed guest.
Jagr expects the booing to intensify in the playoffs, but says, "That shouldn't make a difference. I'm not going to cry about it."
Instead he's just going to try to beat the new Pittsburgh Penguins
, who look a heck of a lot like the old ones who wore Nos. 66 and 68.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.