CHICAGO -- It is a measure of Jaromir Jagr's place in the game, and his complex personality, that much from Tom Renney’s time coaching the Czech star in New York has stayed with the veteran coach through the years.
It is likewise a measure of the two cerebral men that much of what has stayed with Renney is not so much the hockey, but the man himself.
Renney recalled that he and Jagr would have long chats, very little of which would revolve around the game but would include all manner of other topics.
“We'd spend maybe six or seven minutes talking about hockey and then 50 minutes on other stuff. That’s a special relationship to say the least,” Renney told ESPN.com this week. “There’s a real mutual respect there.”
Renney, now an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings, has paid close attention to Jagr’s march toward his first Stanley Cup since his second year in the league, with Pittsburgh in 1992. In fact, Renney feels that as much as he might have helped Jagr's career coming out of the 2005-06 lockout, Jagr was a catalyst for Renney’s coaching career.
“He really helped me get traction again as a coach,” Renney said.
“It obviously helps when you’re best player is all-in. I think he kind of felt I had his back and he mine."
It is that way in Boston now, just as it was in Jagr's previous stops in Philadelphia and Dallas. Renney praised the work of Bruins coach Claude Julien and his staff in integrating Jagr into their system and their close-knit dressing room after acquiring him at the trade deadline.
Renney asked how a player could not give his all when he’s been shown the respect Jagr’s been given by Julien and his staff, but that's easier said than done.
Like any other artist (and he is just that), Jagr does not behave like a run-of-the mill player, and thus cannot be treated like one.
He played for the Rangers from late in the 2003-04 season to the end of the 2008 season. In 2005-06, the first year after the last lockout, Jagr had 54 goals and 123 points playing for Renney, who was the Ranger coach when Jagr arrived and who lasted until late in the 2009 season. Jagr was nominated for the Hart Trophy as league MVP in that season and was voted MVP by his fellow players.
"Jaromir has a little different take on the game,” Renney said.
That has led some to malign Jagr at times and suggest he was uncoachable, especially earlier in his career. But if that was ever the case, Jagr is no longer that kind of player.
“He likes to do things a certain way,” Renney added.
Playing on a line with Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand this postseason, Jagr has played an important role for the Bruins, although he is far from the dominant player he used to be.
But like Mark Recchi for the Bruins' Cup-winning team in 2011, there is something about the presence of the 41-year-old Jagr that transcends the points he produces or the goals he has scored (which is a good thing, given that Jagr has yet to score in this year's playoffs).
That’s not to say he hasn’t been close.
Jagr rang one off the crossbar in overtime of Game 2 in Chicago, after which he stared longingly at the rafters of the United Center. He made a terrific play to win a puck battle behind the Chicago net in Game 4 and feed Bergeron for a goal.
Jagr has spoken lovingly of his time with Boston and became quite emotional talking about coach Claude Julien’s decision to have him on the ice in the waning moments of Game 3 with the Bruins nursing a 2-0 lead. Both he and Julien joked after that it was more about trying to get Jagr his first goal of the playoffs, but Jagr quipped that he doesn’t mind the monkey at all.
“I love the monkey, man,” he said.
He has offered thoughtful assessment of his own play and the play of opponents.
"[Jagr] doesn't varnish anything. He’s a very, very proud man,” Renney said.
Still, there remains an element of the enigmatic to Jagr. There are his midnight skates at TD Garden in Boston, often with a weighted vest. We asked the Bruins’ communications staff when we might next expect to see Jagr in a media setting and the honest answer was that they didn't know.
He wasn't expected to talk after Game 4, but he did, and then he was not present for media sessions the next two days.
At this stage of his career, though, it’s easy to cut Jagr some slack. Even if his star has dimmed slightly, his presence and profile still remain larger than life.
“I played with him for a long time. Started my career playing for Pittsburgh and then playing in New York with him, so I know him very well,” Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival said Friday. “In the hockey world back home, he’s definitely the biggest figure that has ever been and probably ever will be.
“He has a lot of fans there. He’s high profile here and even more in the Czech Republic,” Rozsival added.
Andrew Ference played with Jagr early in his career in Pittsburgh and said he thinks Jagr listens to the coaching staff a lot more now. At the time, Jagr had a reputation as a player who really looked after himself, but Ference said he sees that much more readily now.
“When I was in Pitt, you kind of heard of those stories but never really saw it. Now you see it. You see all the extra work,” Ference said.
“Now you almost pull the reins on him a bit to say to back off a little. He puts in so many hours just trying to improve himself on everything, on every little thing,” he said.
One conversation Renney recalled happened just as Jagr was about to embark on a three-year, self-imposed exile to the Kontinental Hockey League, with Renney telling Jagr he could come back to the NHL anytime he wanted and play another five years.
Turns out Renney was absolutely right.