- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Washington Capitals asked politely whether anybody would care to pick up the Czech. All they heard was silence.

The NHL’s amateur draft ended yesterday with no deal for Jaromir Jagr despite talks with the New York Rangers because the financial hurdles were too large to overcome, at least for now. In fact, no big names were traded as teams prepared for the end of the league’s labor agreement.

“Every team here is trying to cut costs and trim payroll,” one general manager said in the middle of what might have been the quickest six rounds in drafting history — 190 hopefuls claimed in three hours.

“Look at Dallas,” he said, naming one of the top teams in the league last season. “With one, maybe two exceptions, every player on that roster is available, and it wouldn’t take much to pry one loose. Nobody wants to get caught with a full house when it’s time to fold ‘em” in 2004.

The reference was to the projected prolonged labor impasse that is expected to begin at the start of the 2004-05 season. The collective bargaining agreement will have expired, and the league is demanding some kind of salary cap, something the players vow will never happen.

Nobody is precisely sure what will happen — who will get paid and who won’t, the status of contracts, etc. And nobody wants to take the chance of having too many expensive properties on hand in case the news is bad.

Hence, Jagr remains a Cap, two years into a seven-year deal worth $11 million a season with an option year or a $1 million buyout if the option is not exercised.

The Rangers, with a budget that seemingly has no ceiling (a league record $80 million-plus last season), would be the perfect match. But New York general manager Glen Sather appears bent on seeing how low he can make the Caps go in their effort to deal the Czech star. Sather — and everybody else — knows the Caps are in a bind until they can get out from under the painful economic reality of the Jagr contract and the GM is being as difficult as possible.

According to Rangers sources, Washington would be asked to pick up a large piece of Jagr’s salary the first year and would have to make a concerted effort to have the right wing chop at least the option year off the contract. Reportedly, Jagr rejected that request.

In addition, Washington would be required to accept Eric Lindros in the trade, assuming the final year of a contract that could pay as much as $9.3 million if he stays healthy, as he did last season for the first time.

One league source suggested yesterday the Rangers might be preparing another scenario should Jagr refuse to renegotiate any part of his contract. If the Caps are that determined to get rid of his salary, the source said, then they would be offered Lindros and the oft-injured Pavel Bure (salary $10 million, two years to go), assuming nearly $30 million in payroll over two seasons to unload a payout potentially as high as $66 million. Bure played just 39 games last season with 19 goals and 30 points. It would be a take-it-or-leave-it deal, a style of bargaining for which Sather is famous.

That the sides have talked — and talked recently — is well documented. What appears to be taking place now is a cooling off period in which the sides reassess their positions.

Sather went after Jagr three years ago when Pittsburgh was in the process of selling him but overestimated his strength, and the Penguins came to the Caps. Sources say Jagr was disappointed by that move.

Notes — Washington made two minor deals yesterday to obtain players they wanted in the draft, moving up 14 spots in the fourth round and adding a pick in the last round. The club made four more picks in the second phase of the draft, giving it six for the two days.

Taken yesterday were: Andreas Valdix, 17, a 5-foot-11, 167-pound forward playing for Malmo in the Swedish elite league; Josh Robertson, 17, a 5-11, 186-pound center who plays for Proctor Academy outside Boston; Andrew Joudrey, 17, a 5-11, 190-pound center who plays for Notre Dame Academy in the Saskatchewan high school league; and Mark Olafson, 17, a 6-1, 209-pound right wing playing for Kelowna, British Columbia, in the Western Hockey League.

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