SUN Hockey Pool

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ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:56 PM ET

While young guns grab most of the headlines in the NHL, Jaromir Jagr is standing tall for the old guard.

After mailing it in for three seasons in Washington - his point totals dropped from 120s in Pittsburgh to the mid-70s in DC, and there were two coaching changes during his stay - he already has 69 points through 46 games and is poised to win his first scoring title since his four-year run ended in

Jagr, 34 next month, is re-establishing himself as a dominant force and team leader in New York.

I asked him if he feels reborn in the Big Apple. He said "unleashed'' is a more accurate description.

"You just have to come to a team that appreciates you,'' he said. "A team that wants you and will let you play.''

If you're wondering if that was a shot at Washington, it was. Jagr likes to freewheel and didn't feel he got the chance under Ron Wilson and Bruce Cassidy.

"If they don't let me play here in New York, I'm the same player I was in Washington,'' he said. "That's the way it is. I don't want to make any excuses, but look at Petr Sykora. You think he was reborn in two days? (two goals, two assists in his first three games after fizzling in Anaheim).

"That's just the way it is. One team likes you, the other team doesn't. If you're on a team that doesn't like you, they don't play you, they don't use you. You can't do anything.''

WILD ON ... MINNESOTA

Watch for the Wild to make a splash before the trade deadline. Not only do they have a pair of starting netminders in Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson, both of whom are unrestricted free agents this summer, they have seven other UFAs (Willie Mitchell, Filip Kuba, Marc Chouinard, Andrei Zyuzin, Randy Robitaille, Alexandre Daigle and Daniel Tjarnqvist). They're also $14 million below the salary cap. All of it equals a lot of room to wheel and deal if they so choose.

LACOUTURE A SORE LOSER

Former Oiler Dan LaCouture is making a lot of friends in Boston ... and enemies around the league. He got in a scrap that turned the tide in a recent win and made his presence felt in L.A. "We're getting beat pretty bad, so I asked that George Parros (to fight) and he said no,'' LaCouture told the Boston Herald. "So, at the end of the game, that's when I ran (Joe) Corvo behind the net. If you're not going to stand up and fight when you're beating us bad, I'm going to take a run at your guy.''

PAIR OF WHISTLE-BLOWERS

How do referees Chris Lee and Brad Watson give Jason Smith 17 minutes for fighting Jay McKee? Instigating? McKee instigated the fight when he stuck the knee out on Ales Hemsky. Show some discretion, refs. The instigator rule is to prevent meatheads from jumping people who want to play hockey, not teammates defending teammates from dirty hits. And how does Matt Greene get an extra two minutes when Andrew Peters spears him in the gut and says, "Let's go?''

A DEERE JOHN LITTER

What are the odds. Thanks to a John Deere promotion, 18,000 hats were given out in Carolina the night Eric Staal scored his hat trick. Took them 10 minutes to clear the ice. "I was thinking on the bench that there were a lot of green hats out there and it would be neat to get a hat trick,'' said Staal. "After all, they got 'em all for free, anyway.''

NASHVILLE CENTRALLY LOCATED

Not only is the divisionally weighted scheduling system boring, it's unfair. The bottom three teams in the Central (which represent 24 games each for Nashville and Detroit) are 42 points under .500. The bottom three teams in the Northwest are 17 points over .500. So while the Preds are contending for first overall, they've lost seven straight games against teams with winning records.

D'OH! NED FLOUNDERS

Sometimes the best deals are the ones you never make. Where might the Oilers be had they invested heavily in Petr Nedved, a healthy scratch twice this week in Phoenix? ... Who says a goalie can't turn his season around. David Aebischer's seat in Denver was almost as hot as Ty Conklin's in Edmonton, but he rebounded with seven straight wins, allowing 0,2,2,1,1,3 and 3 goals in the string.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

By trading for Janne Niinimaa, Dallas now has six Finns on its roster, tying them with Detroit (six Swedes) for most players from any one European country. The Rangers, with seven Czechs, lead the league ... Jay Bouwmeester has the distinction of being the league leader in shots taken by a player who doesn't have a goal. He's at 112 and counting.

ROY, DID HE JUST SAY?

Dan Cleary knows all about the Battle of Alberta from his Oiler days, but the Wing has a thing or two to learn about the Detroit-Colorado rivalry. "We had our team meal one time in Calgary,'' he told the Detroit Free Press. " I mentioned Patrick Roy. They suspended me out of the meal. I swear. We had a discussion about something and I just mentioned Patrick Roy. So, yeah, the rivalry is still there.''

GOAL OF THE CENTURY

After his incredible highlight reel goal, Alex Ovechkin did two national talk shows (ESPN and TSN), appeared on two Washington TV stations and fielded media requests from all across the country. "It's nuts,'' Capitals spokesman Nete Ewell told the Washington Post. "It's taken on a life of its own.'' You have to love Ovechkin's sense of timing, scoring it with Wayne Gretzky on the other bench.

NOT FOR LUONGO

Robert Luongo retracted his quotes about not wanting to sign a long-term contract in Florida unless they get their act together, but he's a competitive guy and he means it. So he'll be watching Olli Jokinen's upcoming negotiations with great interest. Jokinen, a UFA this summer, is set to begin talks and would like a deal done before the Olympics. If those talks go south, Luongo's going to get antsy.

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BIG GAMES THIS WEEK

MONDAY, JAN. 23

FLAMES AT OILERS: Edmonton needs to close the gap on the division leaders before it gets too big.

TUESDAY, JAN. 24

PREDS AT WINGS: Two of the best records in the West square off for supremacy in their division.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 25

CAPS AT PENS: Ovechkin and Crosby meet again, with the Russian ahead in the rookie of the year race.

TODAY

SABRES AT FLAMES: Can Kiprusoff and Calgary stop speedy, red-hot Buffalo from sweeping Alberta?


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