City Desk

The Stink From Cologne: When Jagr Wins, Do We Lose?

images-2I'm not ready to say Ted Leonsis would rather have lost the NBA draft lottery than lived through what happened in Cologne, Germany, over the weekend: Jaromir Jagr and the Czechs whupped Alex Ovechkin's defending champ Russians, 2-1, in the finals of the IIHF World Hockey Championships.

I'm not ready to say he wouldn't've, either.

Jagr was once to Leonsis and the Washington Capitals as Albert Haynesworth was last season to Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins — the highest paid and surliest player on a team headed nowhere good.

Back to me: In March, I was summoned to Leonsis' Arlington offices. He wanted to discuss something I'd written a few weeks earlier in this space. I'd called his 2004 trade of Jagr "on paper...the worst trade in NHL history."

I was early into paternity leave at the time of the summoning, but I took a break from my break for a private audience with Everybody's Favorite Owner. He gave me a bottle of water, sat me down, and spent about 90 minutes letting me know, with equal parts charm and righteousness, that I was a tool.

I believed what I typed about the Jagr deal. The way I saw things: The Caps gave the New York Rangers a past and future Lester B. Pearson Trophy awardee (given annually to the NHL's best player, and to Jagr in 1999, 2000 and 2006 ) plus millions of dollars in cash in exchange for...Anson Carter.

The way Leonsis saw things: "I traded Jagr for Alex Ovechkin."

OK, so Jagr was killing the morale of coaches, teammates, fans and the owner from the time the Caps brought him here in 2001, along with the biggest contract in NHL history — seven years, $77 million.

Leonsis even gave me a hockey-for-dummies demonstration, using magic markers on a dry erase board in his office and dropping all sorts of puckhead nuance (including: left-hand-passer + left-hand-shooter = tough one-timer), to show how Jagr's unwillingness to adjust his game had unplugged the Caps' power play, which was tops in the NHL before his arrival.

It was an awesome display.

And, as we all know, getting rid of Jagr (as well as Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar, Robert Lang, and Steve Konowalchuk) sped up the Caps' race to the bottom of the standings. The team's 59 points in 2003-2004 was second worst in the league, above only Pittsburgh. Then Leonsis, as has become his habit, won the NHL lottery for the 2004 draft, and used the top pick on Ovechkin.

On the whole, things worked out darn good for Leonsis and his squad in the years since Jagr went away. When he speaks of Ovechkin, he gets a look in his eye similar to that, say, a father on paternity leave has when talking about his baby. But while he's, at least outwardly, Mr. Positive about everything from A to Z, I'm not sure he's over his breakup with J.J.

I wouldn't have gotten the one-on-one tutoring session if he was.

But I did get that session. And I found that I was sadder than I should have been when Ovechkin and the top-seeded Capitals went out in the first round of this year's playoffs a few weeks after our summit. And sadder still when Jagr's squad took the world title from Ovechkin.

I've forgotten all about Anson Carter. And no matter what happened in Germany, Leonsis' Jagr-for-Ovechkin trade looks like a steal to me.

I'm beginning to wonder what was in that water bottle.

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  • Chris Shott

    Worse than the Habs trading Patrick Roy? I dunno. It's taken 15 years for Montreal to (almost) recover from that one.

  • Dave Vaughan

    I've been wasting my time reading hockey analysis elsewhere when I could have this kind of insight. The fact that the Capitals should never have gotten rid of Jagr, the super star of the Penguins and the Rangers has never occurred to me! But you're right, the year after getting rid of Jagr and every single other decent hockey player the NHL lockout gave the Caps a horrible record. Then, the year after that, while the Caps, pursuing a forward looking plan, rebuilt, they were really bad. Now look at them! If they had Jagr AND Ovechkin they would be so much better. Jagr did single handedly beat the the Russian Ovechkin in the World's, the single most important hockey tournament EVER! Leonsis is the tool, and you hockey knowledge is so awesome.

  • Dave McKenna

    D Vaughan: while i love Playing the Feud, I think we agree on my toolishness as a hockey guy. And, as I'm guessing you are, I'm a tool for Ted now. I just can't write. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • J

    So Leonsis is arguing that he gave up Jagr for free to make his team worse?

    That's terrible logic.

    One, Jagr should have brought more in via trade in prospects and picks then the Caps got. I get the whole rebuilding concept but giving away an asset is not a good idea.

    Second, Ovie was a big time prospect but the odds of the Caps getting him AND him developing as expected weren't great. Especially since they had to win the lottery to get the top pick.

    Ted screwed up then got lucky.

  • Joe

    one point not mentioned here is that leonsis knew there was going to be a lock out and knew that coming out of the lockout would be a salary cap. he knew that with jagr's big contract, he would be unable to fit other players under that cap.

    j, other teams knew that too, which is why he got precious few offers for jagr other than from the rags. so while you say he should have gotten better players, sure that would be nice but you need two to tango. and at that point, jagr was not an asset but a liability.

    sure he got lucky moving up in the draft that year. but he put himself in a position to get lucky by tearing the team up. if he keep jagr and the others, he doesnt get a chance at the lottery, right? he also hamstrings his team when the salary cap was implemented.

  • jagr sucks

    I dont know if you guys watched the caps back them but Jagr was the biggest waste of space and biggest A*se ever. I was soo glad when he left. His smirk was so annoying!

  • Dave Vaughan

    Huh. I forgot I wrote this. Re-reading, I seem more intense than I would imagine. Thanks for the reply. Joe made the point I haplessly referred to. The lockout can not be under estimated. McPhee and Leonsis get no credit for preparing for it like geniuses. The team they have now, even minus Ovechkin was always their plan. Young, developing together, with yearly veterans added. Jagr and countless others HAD to go as part of this plan. I was invited to a meeting with Ted along with about 20 other season ticket holders during the 2004 off-season where he and Joe Beninatti explained that plan and predicted exactly what has taken place. Ovie was just a lucky gift.

    And I've always been a Leonsis fan. When I was in the hospital with a kidney transplant he sent me a get well card. I STILL don't know how he knew I was there.

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