Thom Loverro: Bad memories bring hopes back to earth

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The Washington Capitals in December will retire the No. 11 of Hall of Famer Mike Gartner and hang it from the Verizon Center rafters.

On Saturday night, the Capitals play their home opener at the Verizon Center, and they will hold no such ceremony to retire No. 68.

But you had better believe that the number of Jaromir Jagr still hangs over this franchise - particularly in a season such as this with high expectations.

The legacy of Jagr - the $77 million disappointment who came to Washington in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins the summer of 2001 to so much fanfare - is simply this:

Never forget.

Never forget how excited fans were when Jagr arrived.

Never forget the pride of supposedly having one of the best players in the league in a Capitals uniform.

Never forget the talk of competing for a Stanley Cup.

Never forget the disaster it all turned out to be - the Caps missed the playoffs in 2002 and were knocked out by Tampa Bay in 2003.

No one is suggesting the current version of the Capitals is anything like that personality-cursed Caps team of the Jagr era. The young, enthusiastic Alexander Ovechkin Capitals appear to be just the opposite.

But those who lived through the high expectations of the Jagr years get a little nervous when these young Capitals are anointed the hot team to beat in the NHL.

While the Capitals practiced on the Verizon Center ice one morning this week, general manager George McPhee sat in the stands and, responding to a question about the expectations for this team, recalled the high hopes when Jagr arrived.

A few minutes later, owner Ted Leonsis brought up Jagr as well.

“We sold a lot of tickets and there was a lot of media hype, and we didn’t make the playoffs,” Leonsis said. “I’ve reminded people of that. Nothing is handed to them. You are not destined to win.”

Ovechkin is no Jagr, and we mean that in a good way. He works hard and plays hard. He is admired and beloved by his teammates. He is by all accounts well grounded. He is not plagued by the demons away from the ice that made Jagr such a negative influence.

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