- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — High in the 300 section of Gaylord Entertainment Center as the second round of the NHL’s amateur draft plodded on yesterday afternoon, two fans wearing Atlanta Thrashers sweaters began chanting a phrase that at least changed the focus of attention for a few minutes.

“We want Jagr! We want Jagr!” they cried out during lulls in the hours-long exercise in tedium. It must be good to know that Jaromir Jagr is wanted somewhere, but the Washington Capitals were hoping to hear more formal expressions of desire, such as a bona fide trade offer.

“This story’s been around a long time,” said New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather. “No, I don’t have a deal done.”

And neither does anyone else, it would appear, after talks between the Rangers and the Caps over the big right wing appeared to end. Sources from both sides indicated last night that there doesn’t appear to be much use in continuing discussions over the right wing, but both said to stay in touch.

The off-the-record comments came after a day of rumors concerning a possible trade between the two teams and what might be holding it up. The Caps are trying to reduce their payroll ($50.4million) by cutting loose some high-priced players, but so is every other team in the league with the distinct possibility of a very long lockout at the scheduled start of the 2004-05 season.

No other player is as expensive as Jagr — five years to go at $11million per, plus an option year and a $1million payout if the option is not exercised. That is the problem the Caps face in trying to move him.

Yesterday the Caps, with the probability of picking up most of Jagr’s sal ary for a season, reportedly asked if the right wing to consider reworking his deal by trimming a year or so off its length.

Nothing doing, Jagr’s camp reportedly messaged back.

It was not a problem just for the Caps. Phone lines burned among virtually every team, with every caller asking the same question: Are there any of our veterans you want in return for some of your draft picks? There were almost no takers, as salary concerns have taken the place of perhaps an easier but more costly path to the playoffs.

“Given the fact that a lot of teams are trying to move players and contracts and the fact this was a strong draft, nobody seemed to want to give up a pick, they were thinking about the future,” said Caps GM George McPhee. He acknowledged contacting virtually every team in the league in an effort to move fatter contracts but had no more success than those calling him.

Meanwhile, the Caps used their first-round draft pick (18th overall) to take right wing Eric Fehr, a 6-foot-3, 187-pounder who doesn’t turn 18 until September. The native of Winkler, Manitoba, plays for Brandon in the Western Hockey League, where he was described as an excellent two-way player who had 26 goals and 55 points in 70 games this season.

With their 83rd pick, midway through the third round, the Caps selected another right wing, Stephen Werner, a native of Chevy Chase who attends the University of Massachusetts. The 18-year-old is 6-1, 197 pounds and had 13 goals and 34 points in 34 games for the Minutemen.

“We picked him because he was the best player available at the time we were picking,” McPhee said. “He’s earned this selection. He’s got great speed, good hands and is an opportunist.”

Werner is familiar with the Washington players and some of them with him. He had skated with the Caps during their pre-training camp drills at Piney Orchard for the past two seasons, also giving the staff a working familiarity with him.

“When I heard my name called, I just couldn’t believe it,” Werner said. “I grew up playing for the Little Caps [a local youth hockey club], idolizing the Caps players, and it is a dream come true.”

Fehr was rated the 15th best North American forward by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau at the end of the season, but others were not so kind. Three services rated him much later in the first round, and a fourth placed him deep into the second. The service said he needed to fill out his frame out from 187 pounds to advance to the next level, a suggestion Fehr did not argue with.

Notes — Former Caps center Andrei Nikolishin was traded from Chicago to Colorado. … Danny Richmond, the son of Caps scout Steve Richmond and a defenseman at the University of Michigan, was drafted by Carolina.

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