- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2004

If Ted Leonsis made a list of 100 things he wanted to do in his life, trading Jaromir Jagr to the New York Rangers and paying between $16 million and $20million for the final four years of his contract wouldn’t be on that list.

Then again, watching Michael Jordan get fired wouldn’t be on it, either.

Maybe Leonsis should come up with a new list, one that starts with getting Abe Pollin to retire.

Poor Leonsis. He deserves better. He is the anti-Dan Snyder, a personable, decent guy who seems to have the best interests of fans at heart.

But since he bought the Capitals from Pollin in 1999, it has been a study of bad things happening to a good person. He did not know that, when the Caps reached the Stanley Cup finals the year before his purchase, the franchise had reached its peak.

He also wasn’t getting a deal when the purchase included a share of the Wizards and MCI Center. At the time, it seemed as if Pollin was close to retirement, and under the terms of the deal, Leonsis and his investors, Lincoln Holdings, would soon wind up owning the whole store — Caps, Wizards, MCI.

It hasn’t worked out that way. The Caps have failed to get past the first round of the playoffs since Leonsis bought the team, and this year they are on the verge of having the worst record in the NHL — with poor attendance complementing their play.

Pollin seems determined to hang on to the Wizards until they win another NBA championship, which means he could become Mel Brooks’ 2,000-year-old man. And not only doesn’t Pollin appears to be shuffling off to Florida anytime soon, he scuttled Leonsis’ coup of bringing Jordan to the franchise by unceremoniously firing His Airhead after one year in the front office and two years on the court. Everyone could feel Leonsis’ pain. Could it get any worse?

Yes, it could.

Bruce Cassidy, the young coach Leonsis approved to run the Caps, was a flop, fired one-third of the way into this season. The other coup Leonsis apparently engineered — bringing Jagr to the Caps in a trade with the Penguins in 2001 and signing him to a seven-year, $77million contract — also failed.

Jagr, who will be 32 next month, has suffered through scoring slumps, injuries and a prima donna perception since coming to Washington. Though he had 16 goals and 30 assists entering last night’s game against Florida — and was named to the All-Star roster for the ninth time — he fell far short of the expectations that come with his kind of contract.

It’s hard to fault Leonsis for making that trade. There was a lot of pressure from Caps fans at the time for the team to take the next step and bring in a scorer to push the Caps beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Hindsight now shows Jagr’s talent was maximized in Pittsburgh by playing alongside Mario Lemieux. He still put up big numbers on his own, however, during Lemieux’s brief retirement, scoring 121 points in 2000-01, the third-highest total of his career, before he was dealt to Washington. He was seen as a savior — which, in this town, is another word for failure (see Jordan, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, Steve Spurrier).

Though the Jagr failure will now be out of sight with the trade to the Rangers for forward Anson Carter, it won’t be out of mind. On WTEM’s “The Sports Reporters” yesterday afternoon, Leonsis said the Caps will be paying between $4million and $4.5million of Jagr’s salary for each of the remaining four years of his contract — providing there is hockey. If there is a lockout next year, nobody is paying anybody.

“This was the best thing to do,” Leonsis said. “This allows us to look at a way to rebuild the team. … The league is going to be very different, and we need to be prepared for it.”

Add lockout to a revised Leonsis list of things he wants to do before his time is up.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide