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Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Russian team Avangard Omsk courting Jagr


PRAGUE -- Czech winger Jaromir Jagr is weighing his options for next season after the NHL's new labor agreement limited his earning potential with the New York Rangers.

A strong critic of the deal -- under which no player can earn more than 20 percent of the $39 million salary cap set for each of the NHL's 30 teams -- Jagr is considering playing in Russia instead.

"The situation changes by the hour," Jagr's personal trainer Marian Jelinek was quoted as saying in the daily Blesk.

Jagr, 33, was due to be the NHL's highest paid player this season at $11 million. But under the arrangement, Jagr can earn no more than $7.8 million.

The Rangers could buy out his contract and make him a free agent, in which case Jagr is likely to make less than the maximum allowed given most teams are struggling to deal with a new economic landscape.

On the other hand, Jagr could move to Russian team Avangard Omsk, where he played part of last year with the NHL in a lockout.

The club is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who also owns English soccer club Chelsea.

Avangard lavished millions -- all tax free -- on Jagr to play half a season and is pursuing him again.

"It's complicated. I want to hear the opinions of both clubs. It should be solved within three weeks," Jagr told the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, adding money was not the main factor in making a decision.

"My heart is pulling me toward Omsk but reason is making me lean toward [New York] ... I really liked it in both places."

Jagr's talent and contribution were celebrated when he guided the Pittsburgh Penguins to two Stanley Cups victories alongside Mario Lemieux.

Jagr also won numerous scoring titles and notched 439 goals with the Pens before he was traded to Washington in July 2001.

He led the Capitals in scoring for two seasons but was roundly criticized for failing to help his team reach the finals.

After the Capitals traded Jagr to the Rangers in January 2004, he managed nearly a point a game. But critics once more heaped blame on him when New York failed to make the postseason.

Jagr's hockey magic came back to life with Avangard.

He regained his scoring touch in Russia with 16 goals and 22 assists in 32 regular-season games, helping Omsk to surpass expectations and reach the playoff semifinals.

By the time the world championship kicked off in Austria, he was in full stride and led the Czech Republic to a gold medal.

After 14 arduous seasons in the NHL, the shorter schedule, less physical and more offensive style of play in Europe could lure Jagr back.