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