- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The old saying that anything's for sale if the price is right apparently includes scoring sensation Jaromir Jagr, obtained last July 11 in a blockbuster deal by the Washington Capitals.
Sources in three league cities last night said the Caps were listening to offers concerning the right wing but that may be all the Caps were doing listening.
Repeated efforts to reach Washington general manager George McPhee last night to confirm the substance of those reports were not successful. Earlier in the day he had said "there's not much out there," referring to the availability of players he wanted to fill team needs.
If such a deal were done, Washington's chances of making the playoffs would be all but eliminated. It might also signal a shift back to what majority owner Ted Leonsis had said was his plan to build the team into a Stanley Cup contender through the draft.
After several days of picayune deals, the NHL personnel market started to heat up last night with the possibility there could be major deals right up to today's 3 p.m. trading deadline. Florida's Pavel Bure, who has scored 50 or more goals five times, was traded to the New York Rangers yesterday, a deal which seemed to unlock the barn doors.
"We're trying to find a way to improve the team," said McPhee yesterday, before the Jagr discussions became known, "but there's not much going on in the buyers' market. There's not much out there."
The Caps and several other teams are caught in a predicament. All are sitting on the fence, close to or just inside the top eight teams in each conference, close enough that they can't take a chance on unloading pricey players but not sure enough about what will happen to splurge millions more on what might be a wild-goose chase.
Before last night's games the Caps were in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, trailing Montreal, the Rangers and Buffalo in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot, and far behind Carolina for the Southeast Division title.
Washington still has 13 games to play but eight of them are on the road where the Caps have a dismal 9-19-5 record this season, outscored 109-76. Adding to the bad news is the Caps' penalty-killing away from MCI Center just 77.9 percent, worst in the entire league. And Washington has lost three straight.
"I think you can be as many as six or seven points out with 10 games to go and still do it," McPhee said. "You need some luck but it's been done before and it's been done recently."
There was speculation yesterday that if the right deal were presented to Washington for Jagr, one where the Caps would get younger players in return with significantly smaller salary structures (Jagr will make $11million this season out of a team budget of about $54million), it might get done.
If such a deal were worked out, other players almost certainly immediately would be made available to reverse the growing salary trend. If Jagr were gone, there would be no reason to hold on to the right wing's center, Adam Oates, 39 years old but fourth in the league in scoring as of yesterday. Chris Simon, Dmitri Khristich, Joe Sacco, Sylvain Cote, Ken Klee and others might also go on the market.
The sudden interest in Jagr is not surprising. He struggled early in the season after injuring a knee and did not regain the form that earned him the reputation as the best player in the world until a few weeks before the Olympic break. Since league play resumed Feb.26, Jagr and Oates have combined for 10 goals and 25 points in 10 games.
Jagr has won five NHL scoring titles, including the last four in a row. He was thought to be out of the race this season due to injury but has moved into the top 10 with his sudden burst. He was 16 points off the pace before last night but for a man of Jagr's talent, 16 points was not a significant obstacle to overcome.
The right wing had two years to go on his contract when he arrived from Pittsburgh but the Caps signed him to a five-year extension on Oct.18 which will pay him $11million a season for seven years with an option at the same salary for an eighth season.


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