- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

Unless George McPhee makes a doozy of a draft pick, the only way the Capitals are going to get a player like Jaromir Jagr is if they trade for him. Let's be honest here. Would Adam Oates have come to Washington as a free agent? Would Rod Langway? No way, baby. A team like Washington, a franchise that has Never Won Diddley, never gets something for nothing. That ain't how the NHL works.

McPhee's recent frustrations make that clear. The Flyers signed Jeremy Roenick. The Stars signed Pierre Turgeon (not to mention Donald Audette). The Maple Leafs signed Alexander Mogilny. And the Caps signed … nobody. Moral: It doesn't matter how many millions Ted Leonsis has to throw around. He's going to have trouble bagging a top-flight free agent until his team does better than a four-game sweep in the Stanley Cup finals, until Washington is seen as a place where Your Dreams Can Come True.

So McPhee did what he had to do yesterday. He

dealt for the proverbial best player available: Jagr, the five-time scoring champ from Pittsburgh. And he paid a steep price for him. He basically handed the Penguins his '99 draft, the draft that was supposed to be central to the Capitals' rebuilding plans center Kris Beech, the seventh overall pick; center Michal Sivek, the 29th pick, and defenseman Ross Lupaschuk, the 34th pick. Of the Caps' five selections in the first two rounds of that draft, only one is still with the organization: defenseman Nolan Yonkman, who reached a contract agreement with the team only last month.

The future, in other words, is most definitely now for the Capitals. (Especially when you consider they traded away Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis late last season.)

All I can say is: It's about time.

For years, Caps fans have been chanting, "Get more scoring! Get more scoring! Get more scoring!" And for years the club has asked them to be satisfied with Peter Bondra, Peter Bondra and only Peter Bondra. Well, now the Caps have, with Jagr and Bonzai, firepower like they've never had before. No one in the NHL has scored more goals over the past seven seasons than those two; heck, they just finished third and fourth in the league in that department (Jagr with 52, Bondra with 45). What other team can match that?

Ever since Leonsis bought the Capitals in the spring of '99, he has promised to make them a team worthy of its Web site. Yesterday he delivered on that promise. Think about it: How often do you get a chance to pick up a Hall of Fame player who's still in his prime? This isn't the Redskins signing 33-year-old Deion Sanders or 37-year-old Bruce Smith. This isn't the Wizards trading for 33-year-old Mitch Richmond. Jagr is 29 (he won't turn 30 until February) and just won the Art Ross Trophy. He's one of the most feared players in hockey not to mention a big favorite of the TV networks. The Caps will definitely be more visible with him on the roster.

He's also a player who's ready for a change, who after 11 seasons had lost his enthusiasm for Pittsburgh and the Penguins. A new set of teammates and a more international city like Washington might be just what he needs to get the fire back. (And let's not forget: He'll get to golf now with Capitals minority owner Michael Jordan. Beats playing a $2 Nassau with Rick Rhoden anytime.)

Bondra should love having Jagr around. Yeah, he'll have to share the billing on the marquee, but now teams won't be able to gang up on him the way they have in the past. In fact, with opponents likely to send their first checking line after Jaromir, Bonzai will probably have more skating room than he's had since he was on double-runners. If I were Peter, I'd pick Jagr up at the airport myself.

Sure, there's some risk involved for the Caps. What if Jagr isn't all that interested in winning any more Stanley Cups? What if two are enough and the dollar is more important to him now? What if Beech and Sivek turn into the kind of players Jason Allison and Anson Carter did after they were traded to Boston in the Oates deal? Will McPhee regret parting with them? What if Jagr doesn't mesh with Trevor Linden (or with Adam Oates, should he stick around) the way he did with Mario Lemieux and others in Pittsburgh?

All of these are legitimate concerns. But you can overanalyze these things, you really can. The Capitals, a largely star-less team for much of their existence, had an opportunity to acquire one of the great talents in the game. They took advantage of it. Hard to fault them for that. And now, with New Jersey losing Mogilny and Buffalo packing off Dominik Hasek to Detroit, they're looking like a club that can go deep into the playoffs.

Provided, of course, they don't get tripped up by the Penguins again. Remember, though: That Jagr guy plays for Washington now.

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