- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

The New York Rangers are No. 1 in the chase to land Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Jaromir Jagr. They are also No. 2, No. 3 and so on, and that's the problem.

In an apparent effort to hype the market, the Washington Capitals have been mentioned as one of the teams trying to acquire the man who has won the NHL scoring race four straight years. The Caps denied that yesterday.

"I don't know where this is coming from but I've had lots of people calling me," Caps general manager George McPhee said last night. "I think they're using us to get the Rangers to bid up. We are not involved."

Jagr, 29, is on the market because the Penguins cannot afford to pay him the $20.7 million due over the next two seasons and also pay nearly 20 other players whose contracts have expired. The relationship between Jagr and team owner and star center Mario Lemieux has also soured, making Jagr even more expendable.

But the market for a commodity as valuable as Jagr has been cool, for more than one reason. First, there is his salary; second, it would require signing him to a contract extension of at least two more years to make it worthwhile, otherwise he could walk away as an unrestricted free agent after two seasons.

Then a suitor has to meet Pittsburgh's demands a cadre of young (i.e., cheap) potential stars, a No. 1 draft pick plus a cash payment approaching $5 million for their star. Few teams in the league can afford to make that kind of commitment, which leaves the Rangers bidding against themselves.

Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick has said he would keep Jagr rather than make a poor deal. But Sunday is the deadline for players to file for salary arbitration and a host of Penguin players are eligible. If Jagr is going to be moved and if Pittsburgh is going to have a cash infusion, this is the week it must happen.

Meanwhile, Jagr's agent, Mike Barnett, who is thought to be responsible for dropping the Caps' name into the mix, has permission to deal with any team that will talk to him about Jagr. So far, there has been little interest.

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