- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

The wheels started turning in Peter Bondra's head even before the wild rumor he first heard on July 11 was confirmed, that his Washington Capitals had traded for Jaromir Jagr.
"I knew about it a couple hours before you did but I still couldn't believe it," Bondra said yesterday after he and about a dozen teammates worked out, getting ready for the start of training camp on Sept. 11.
"I watched the news and finally I said, 'Wow, that's unbelievable.' You stop to think about it wow, the Washington Capitals are able to actually have such a player like Jagr. It's amazing. He's the best player in the world. [Owner] Ted Leonsis said he was going to do it and he did. He brought the top player in the world to our team and he even gave Olie [Kolzig] a new contract."
The levels that could be reached in possessing three of the top players in the world Jagr, Bondra, each of whom has scored 50 goals twice, and Kolzig, a former Vezina Trophy winner plus one of the top checking lines in the league and a solid, deep supporting cast, have not escaped anybody. Jagr was still at his home in the Czech Republic but he was the primary topic of conversation yesterday in Odenton, Md., before and after the workout.
"One of my neighbors told me about it and I didn't believe him," defenseman Ken Klee said, echoing the statement of others. Players just returning from summers elsewhere scavenged for any tidbit of information they could get concerning the trade and Jagr's reaction when he arrived.
Bondra returned to his native Slovakia the day after the deal was announced and was mobbed when he got off his plane.
"They were waiting for me at the airport," he said of reporters. "They didn't ask questions about me, they wanted to know about Jagr and how I was reacting. It was major news over there and I told them I was so excited for our team and Jagr, for the organization, for everybody.
"And when you look at the deal, we didn't give up anybody from last year's team and I think we had a really good team. And now with Jagr, [we can be] even better and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't have a shot for the Stanley Cup. We always had a chance but now our chances are better."
The reasons are immediately obvious. Few teams have the top-flight defensive depth to cover more than one highly skilled forward at a time. If the Caps decide to put Bondra and Jagr on different lines, any defensive depth is diluted. If the Caps load up and put both on the same line, it will be a situation Jagr is familiar with in his early years in Pittsburgh, he played on the same line with Mario Lemieux, and he still found a way to lead the league in scoring five times.
"Jagr is the type of player who can make all the players around him better," Bondra said. "He can take a 20-goal scorer and make him a 40-goal scorer. He can turn a 40-point player into an 80-point player. His presence on the ice attracts the other team's defenders because of who he is, and that opens up a lot of ice for everybody else. And he's the type of player who is going to score a goal when the team needs it most. You don't have many players like that around the league, maybe two or three, and he's one of them."
Coach Ron Wilson last season moved Bondra and defenseman Sergei Gonchar to the points on the power play and both excelled (30 goals) with their laser-like slapshots. The team's power play unit finished the season fourth overall and the thought of what it might do this season with the addition of a Jagr is staggering.
During a news conference shortly after he was traded to the Caps, Jagr touched on the subject, saying he couldn't wait to be on the unit with Bondra. Jagr said he already could envision setting up the wing Jagr has always had more assists than goals, and he becomes even more dangerous with a little extra room.
"It's tough for me to talk about that because who plays where is up to the coach, but last year we had a really good power play and I hope Jaromir can get back there and help us keep it up where it was," Bondra said. "With Jaromir maybe we can be even better with his presence and his capability to make things happen at the right time."
A spark could be seen in all of the players' eyes yesterday, with the level of anticipation associated with the arrival of training camp higher than usual.
"I think about it all day the day it happened," Bondra said, "and every day since. I'm excited, excited for the team and for myself."


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