- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

The Washington Capitals have spent 27 years skating around the fringes of National Hockey League respectability. Yesterday, the Caps took a giant step toward the league's top echelon when they acquired right wing Jaromir Jagr in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Jagr, 29, is a seven-time all-star who is considered to be the league's best player. The Caps have never had a player lead the NHL in scoring; Jagr has won the scoring title the past four seasons and in five of the 11 years he has been in the league.
Jagr also won the Hart Trophy in 1999, given annually by the NHL to the league's most valuable player. He twice won the Pearson Award as the players' choice as the league's most valuable player.
The Caps gave up three young prospects — Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk — undisclosed future considerations and probably a cash settlement for Jagr. Jagr comes to Washington with two years left on a contract that will pay him a total of $20.7 million, effectively adding 25 percent to the Caps' payroll. Washington also gets veteran defenseman Frantisek Kucera, who returned to the United States last year after spending three years in Europe.
The deal came less than 24 hours after the club said it was not involved in trade discussions for the 6-foot-2, 234-pound native of the Czech Republic.
Caps general manager George McPhee and his Pittsburgh counterpart, former Capital Craig Patrick, said the trade was first broached about a week ago "in a lighthearted manner." The deal was forgotten, then came together in a matter of hours late Tuesday.
"He's the top offensive player in the league," McPhee said. "We wanted to add offense to our club, and this is obviously a huge step in that direction. We've basically added the thoroughbred to our plough horses."
The trade is a tremendous boost for the Caps' NHL stock. Some of the weaker franchises in the Eastern Conference, notably the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, have been bulking up through free agency and trades while the Caps remained on the sidelines.
"This is a great player, but great teams win Stanley Cups," said majority owner Ted Leonsis, obviously pleased and seemingly not all that concerned about being a lot poorer. "This is a great day for the city because this puts us on the national scene because we now have a really great hockey team."
Leonsis bought the team two years ago when it had a fan base of about 2,300 season ticket holders. Leonsis said yesterday that he now has lived up to his part of the bargain with fans: bringing a legitimate star to town.
The trade gives the Caps their first true celebrity, a major draw for ticket buyers and a much more significant presence on national TV. After the deal was announced yesterday afternoon, team officials said about 150 season tickets were sold.
The trade is sure to go down as the most significant in Caps' history, a distinction previously reserved for the deal that brought Rod Langway to Washington from the Montreal Canadiens in 1982.
Jagr became available because the Penguins found themselves in a situation in which they could not pay both the star right wing and their 17 other unsigned players. The club hopes to use the money it saves from trading Jagr to keep the rest of the roster satisfied. The Penguins made about $2 million last season only by going to the conference finals.
Jagr has been a source of misery for the Caps since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1990 and is one of the key reasons the Penguins have brushed Washington aside in six of the teams' last seven playoff series. Jagr won two Stanley Cups (and an Olympic gold medal in 1998) while the Caps were retiring meekly to the golf course every spring.

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