- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Washington Capitals center Robert Lang is not surprised to be playing this weekend as an Eastern Conference All-Star. But the Czech star conceded yesterday he is surprised to still be a member of the cost-cutting Caps.

Asked if he expects to be moved before the March9 trading deadline, Lang replied, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I thought I wouldn’t be there now. [Caps management] has got to be looking at myself, [goalie] Olie [Kolzig] or anybody else who makes a lot of money.”

These are uncertain times for Lang. After 11 mostly productive seasons, he has blossomed with the last-place Caps, ascending to No.2 on the NHL scoring list with 64 points and earning an All-Star nod many of his peers believe is long overdue.

But with friend and fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr now a New York Ranger as the result of a financially motivated swap for Anson Carter, and trade rumors circling around wing Peter Bondra, Kolzig and Lang, the 33-year-old center is looking for a sign of commitment from owner Ted Leonsis.

“Do I want to stay in Washington? It depends on if they are trying to get better or are just making a sellout,” Lang said. “If it’s going to be a total rebuilding, there’s no need for a guy that’s 33 years old to stick around. I’d probably rather go somewhere where I’d have a chance [to win a Stanley Cup].”

Lang could get his wish in the next several weeks. Leonsis and general manager George McPhee are not officially putting any player on the trading block but have indicated that if a player approaches them with a desire to play for a winner right now they likely would try to accommodate him.

“Obviously, a full turnaround isn’t going to happen this season, but we think Robert is going to fit into any [rebuilding] plan, whether it be short term or long term,” Caps president Dick Patrick said. “We’ve signed him through [2006-07]. He’s been an absolute delight for us.”

The Caps, on pace to post a fiscal loss of about $30million this season, are in the middle of a second straight season with a marked decline at the turnstiles and are a lock to miss the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Patrick is the only Caps representative in town for the All-Star events. Leonsis this week vacationed in Barbados serving the remainder of a one-week NHL suspension for engaging in a physical confrontation with a fan at MCI Center.

Adding to what Lang said will be a “bittersweet” weekend for him, Eastern Conference coach Pat Quinn intends to play him on a line with Jagr and Rangers center Mark Messier. The grouping is arguably the most potent assembled for today’s All-Star Game.

“Lang is one of my favorites in this league, big time,” said Philadelphia Flyers center Jeremy Roenick. “He’s a real treat to watch, and I’ve gotten a chance to get to know him over the last couple of years. He’s very, very skilled, and it’s good to see him finally get this recognition.”

Jagr, meanwhile, was bombarded yesterday by media inquires on his fractious and largely unsuccessful 30-month stint in Washington. He is clearly relieved to be in New York after six months of trade rumors, but refused to lay any of the blame on Leonsis. Nor was he willing to assume any blame for the marked decline in his production compared to his stellar days in Pittsburgh.

“Ted did the most he could do. He invested a lot into this. The fans just didn’t show up,” Jagr said. “He didn’t see the investments he made in the team coming back. He really had no choice [but to make the trade].”

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