- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

The Jaromir Jagr Beanie Baby went on sale last night at MCI Center for the Washington Capitals' second home game of the season, against the Montreal Canadiens. It will probably be a hot-selling item.
Maybe someday it will be as big as the Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux Beanie Babies. Certainly Jagr wants it to be, and wants it bad.
We're not really talking about Beanie Babies here. They're just a symbol, like a bobblehead doll or some other QVC measure of appeal, of the legacy of an athlete. Some Beanie Babies come and go, but the great ones will be there years from now, displayed on a bedroom shelf, because people will still remember Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Their legacy is a lock.
Jagr? If he wants to be on the same shelf, he will have to carve out his own legacy here in Washington.
The Caps have given Jagr the opportunity to do so, having announced Thursday that they signed him to a seven-year deal worth $77 million, with a club option for an eighth season at another $11 million.
It is a great opportunity for Jagr because let's face it when it comes to legacies in hockey for the Caps, we're not talking about a wing at the Hockey Hall of Fame. There have been some beloved and talented players who have worn the Caps uniform, but no one with the potential superstar credentials that Jagr could have over the term of his contract.
That was not going to happen in Pittsburgh for Jagr, no matter how many NHL scoring titles he would win playing for the Penguins and he had won five, including the last four.
He played in Pittsburgh under Lemieux's shadow, even when Mario had retired, and after he bought the franchise and then returned to the ice to play, it was clear that if Jagr wanted to be receive the same respect as a player as Lemieux one of the all-time greats of the game he would have to do so elsewhere.
Thanks to Caps owner Ted Leonsis and general manager George McPhee, he will have that chance to do so here as a result of the trade with the Penguins on July 11 and now with the new deal that will keep Jagr in Washington for possibly eight more years. They could be the best years of his career.
"One of the things people forget is that he is still a young man," Leonsis said of the 29-year-old Jagr. "We think he will get better. I don't think Jaromir Jagr has topped out."
That's an exciting concept, because it's difficult to conceive of Jagr exhibiting any more skill than he already has. It's clear that he plays a different game than nearly everyone else on the ice. He uses his stick as if it were another limb, something he was born with. So when Jagr got the puck from Joe Reekie and took off down the ice early in the second period last night, putting him one-on-one with Montreal goalie Jose Theodore, it was no contest. Goal!
It was a great way to celebrate the new Jagr era in Washington, which, for all intents and purposes, began Thursday with the new contract. That's why it was important for Jagr to play last night in the first game after he signed the contract, particularly in front of the home crowd, even though there was some question if he would be able to. Jagr is still nursing a strained right knee that forced him to miss three games, but he wasn't going to miss a chance to play last night. This is Jagr time.
"When he left Pittsburgh, he said he had something to prove," McPhee said before last night's game. "That's still the sense that we get from him. He is a very, very determined young man, and he wants to be the best."
We got a glimpse last night of the offensive pressure Jagr's presence creates. After a lackluster first period, with the Canadiens leading 1-0 on a goal by Patrice Brisebois, the Caps erupted for four goals in the second period three of them coming on the power play against a Montreal team that had played very well coming into MCI with a 4-1-1 record, including going 2-0 on the road.
Peter Bondra scored on a power play. Then Jagr, the goals coming within 50 seconds. Then Trevor Linden five minutes later and Bondra again five minutes after that, with both of them coming on power plays. MCI was rocking, and the Caps were on the way to a 4-1 win, raising their record to 4-3.
"This was our second time playing at home, and I thought the fans were very excited," Jagr said. "They like the style we are playing right now."
There were other places that Jagr could have wound up New York being one of them but Washington may turn out to be the best place he could have landed.
First, the Caps have one of the best locker rooms in the league. It's a team full of veterans who know how to have fun and know how to take care of business. Jagr has fit in very well and has talked about how players stay here for a long time and how attractive that is to him.
Secondly, while the expectations are certainly high, and the attention on the Caps is certainly greater than it has ever been this early in the season, some of the media pressure has been taken off Jagr by the presence of, ironically, the basketball version of Lemieux Michael Jordan, and his return to the court for the Wizards.
Jordan's legacy is intact, no matter what he does in his comeback with the Wizards. His Beanie Baby status is secure. Jagr's legacy is still in the construction stage. But if you purchased a Jagr Beanie Baby last night, I'd hang onto it. They'll be a place for it on the shelf for a long, long time.


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