- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2004

SUNRISE, Fla. — Five-time NHL scoring champion Jaromir Jagr arrived from Pittsburgh in July 2001 hoping to lead the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup that had eluded them for 27 seasons. He departed yesterday in a money-driven trade with the New York Rangers with the Caps even further away from a title.

“This is a deal that we knew we had to make back in the summer,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “Jaromir’s a tremendously gifted player, but we couldn’t afford him. Jaromir could have scored 300 points a year, and we [still] couldn’t afford him. When you have one player making a lot of money [$11[ThSp]million], it’s hard to fill holes in other areas. Ultimately, we didn’t have the resources to build a team to support him.”

The deal, which had been rumored off and on since the Caps ended last season with a disappointing first-round loss to Tampa Bay and the Rangers missed the playoffs for a sixth straight spring, was finalized yesterday afternoon.

The NHL gave its seal of approval to Washington picking up between $16 million and $20million of the remaining $49million of Jagr’s contract, which runs through 2008. In exchange for the 12-time All-Star right wing, the Caps received right wing Anson Carter, who began his career in Washington in 1996 and since has been a solid player for Boston, Edmonton and the Rangers.

“It didn’t work the way everybody expected it’s going to work,” Jagr said of a Washington tenure during which he scored 201 points in 189 games but didn’t lead the Caps into the second round of the playoffs.

“Sometimes in life, it’s not easy,” he said. “A lot of things maybe should have been done differently, but it didn’t happen. It’s too late to look back. I want to look forward. I apologize to all the people who are disappointed. It happened. Life is not perfect. I just did the best I could.”

In anticipation of the trade, Jagr took his teammates to dinner Thursday night near the team’s hotel. When he got the official word yesterday in a conference call with agent J.P. Barry and Rangers general manager/coach Glen Sather, Jagr went to the Office Depot Center to pick up his gear for the flight to Ottawa, where New York plays tonight.

At the rink, Jagr grabbed Caps massage therapist Curt Millar with a grin and said, “I know I’m not on the team anymore, but can I get one final massage?” Jagr then embraced equipment manager Doug Shearer and briefly talked to reporters before hugging defenseman Brendan Witt, an early arrival for last night’s game against the Florida Panthers, on his way out the door.

Jagr, never good at disguising his emotions, was glad to be going to the contending Rangers — not to mention the more active nightlife of New York — but he’s also nervous.

“I’ve been here 21/2 years, and I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t like changes,” he said. “Make a change during the year, it’s not easy. It’s something new. I have to go through it. I’m kind of nervous because I want to do good. You just never know how the team’s going to turn around, but I’m going to give my best.”

The trade follows the Caps’ decision last summer to let defenseman Ken Klee depart as a free agent and to trade captain Steve Konowalchuk to Colorado in October. Both were cost-cutting moves by owner Ted Leonsis and his partners, who are expected to lose as much as $30 million this year with the team headed to a third spring in six without revenue-producing playoff games.

“We welcome Anson’s return and thank Jaromir for all he did for our team and the excitement he provided for our fans,” Leonsis said in a statement released by the team.

“He is a fantastic player, and we loved seeing him in a Capitals uniform,” the statement continued. “This trade is a good one in that it moves the largest player contract in the NHL to a team that can absorb it and it provides us with options as we seek to improve our team. With our current payroll, our ability to improve was hindered as well as our flexibility to plan for the future as we move towards a possible new NHL business model.”

Carter, a 29-year-old who makes $2.8 million a year, is more than two years younger and $8.2million cheaper than Jagr. But Carter has averaged 22 goals during his six full seasons compared to Jagr’s average of 39 during his 13 full seasons. Carter has 10 goals and seven assists this year, while Jagr has 16 goals and 29 assists. And Jagr, surprisingly, has a better defensive rating, minus-4, compared to Carter’s minus-12.

“Anson’s a great all-around player,” said Caps right wing Mike Grier, his teammate for two seasons in Edmonton. “He won’t put up the numbers that Jags did, but he’ll score between 20 and 30 goals, work hard, play the body. He’s a good addition.”

Despite Jagr’s reduced production with the Caps, Sather was delighted to land him for the Rangers.

“It took a long time to get him, but I’m glad we have,” he said. “We felt we needed a shot in the arm right now. We feel he’ll help us get into the playoffs and go far once we get there. And we didn’t want to wait until it was too late.”


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