- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

So the Washington Capitals pull off a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins to get Jaromir Jagr, the greatest offensive player in the NHL. "I hope this knocks the chip off people's shoulder in Washington," Caps owner Ted Leonsis said.

What, they couldn't get Mario Lemieux, too?

Acquiring Jagr will go a long way to knocking that chip off. He is the sort of player whose impact changes his team, the teams he plays against, and the box office where he plays. He has won five NHL scoring titles over his 11-year career, including four straight, but even if you didn't know anything about hockey or Jaromir Jagr, if you saw him play you could tell he was playing a different game than the rest of the players skating out there. He uses a hockey stick like he was born with it, like an extra limb.

He is the sort of player that the Washington Capitals have never had before.

"This guy is a once-in-a-generation player," Leonsis said. "It should be fun."

We need fun. We haven't seen fun around here for so long I had to use the spellcheck to write it.

Leonsis, president of America Online's interactive properties group, compared the Jagr signing to the merger of Time and AOL and to bringing in Michael Jordan to run the Washington Wizards. Now my idea of fun isn't a corporate merger. Then again, if I owned a bundle of AOL stock, it probably would have translated into a whole lot of fun.

"Obviously, something big and new and important is happening in Washington, D.C.," Leonsis said. "Ladies and gentlemen, wake up and smell the coffee."

Coffee? Ted, we moved on to stuff much stronger than coffee. Heck, that happened when Hot Plate Williams was playing for the Bullets and when the Caps blew a 3-1 lead to the Penguins in the 1992 playoffs.

Coffee? What a novel concept.

Ted, we want to get off the hard stuff, believe me. We want to lose that chip which is actually more like a California redwood tree than a chip and enjoy sports in this town without fear of failure.

We want to replace that chip with rose-colored glasses.

But, Ted, it ain't easy. We remember the excitement of Chris Webber coming to this town, and look what happened there. And we don't have to go back that far either. Does the name Deion Sanders mean anything to you?

Then there is MJ himself. That hasn't exactly been as much fun as advertised, not after a team that Jordan declared would make the playoffs before the season wound up winning just 19 games.

We may not have seen fun for a while, but we know what it's not, and so far the "Jordan Experience" hasn't been fun.

But maybe something is happening here. Maybe, like biblical signs, there are events taking place that could signal a change in fortunes.

Maybe things are about to go right.

After the Wizards brought Jordan in to run the team, I thought, that figures this is the only franchise that could get the greatest player in the history of the NBA and he's not going to play for them.

Well, that looks like it's about to change. I refuse to believe that Doug Collins would have taken the Wizards coaching job if Jordan wasn't coming back to play, and I don't care whether or not you believe Jordan will be great, nearly great or simply good if he plays this season, that will be fun, and could be the first sign.

Now the Caps, who two weeks ago looked hapless waving their checkbook around the NHL with no big name free agent players willing to take their money, pull off the biggest trade in the history of the franchise by getting Jagr, a bona fide superstar.

I'm even willing to consider Marty Schottenheimer taking the Redskins job as a sign. Think about it. Here you had this coaching candidate with impressive credentials ripping owner Dan Snyder on ESPN, then turning around and signing a contract to coach for him. Granted, we don't recognize any of the players anymore, but you've got to feel better about Marty coaching the team than Nervous Norv.

Jordan comes not to play and then plans a comeback. Schottenheimer says he could never work for Snyder, then agrees to coach the Redskins, a team that nearly had Pepper Rodgers coaching them. The Caps can't sign a big name free agent, then make a trade for the biggest name in hockey other than his former boss in Pittsburgh.

Can the Washington Expos be far behind?

Today is the Caps' day, though, and Leonsis, his ownership group of Raul Fernandez and president Dick Patrick, and general manager George McPhee all deserve their time in the sun for pulling off a deal that will have all eyes of the hockey world on Washington this coming season.

The Caps needed to do something, after another disappointing first-round exit from the playoffs this year. What is different from the old Abe Pollin Caps is that they did do something. They admitted they had a problem no scoring and did something about it, making this huge deal without losing any of the veterans that made this Caps team a good, albeit a low-scoring, one.

"All the owners agreed we needed a center who could score, and we went for that," Leonsis said. "Free agency established us as a buyer. Pittsburgh called George, and we started to talk . . . Put this guy on a team with Peter Bondra and that answers the question, 'Can we score?' "

There are other questions, like whether or not the Caps will be able to sign Jagr, who has two years ($20.7 million) left on his contract, to an extension. But the questions here in Washington are now big-time questions, involving big-time players. That could mean big times are ahead or a big fall.

If it's the latter, arsenic may be the drink of choice. If it's the former, we're brushing our teeth with champagne, baby.

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