Jagr's Shadow Lingers in D.C.

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2007

Jaromir Jagr has been gone for nearly four years, but the Czech right wing still casts an enormous shadow over the Washington Capitals.

Because of the conditions of the trade that sent Jagr from Washington to the New York Rangers in January 2004, the Capitals still must pay a large portion of Jagr's contract at least through the end of this season. While the financial details that facilitated Jagr's exit from Washington won't be on the forefront of players' minds tonight at Madison Square Garden, the irony is impossible to escape when the Capitals (3-0-0) and the Rangers (1-2-0) face each other.

"Do I like paying a player who doesn't play for us? No," Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis said through a team spokesman. "But I agreed to the terms of the deal when we made the transaction. In hindsight, we would make the same deal again. I am very satisfied with how we have built and developed our team."

Although the $3.46 million payment to Jagr doesn't count against the Capitals' salary cap, it does impact the team's budget. Leonsis expects to spend $42 million on player salaries this season, yet more than 8 percent of that goes to Jagr.

Because of the arrangement, the Rangers pay only $4.9 million of Jagr's $8.36 million salary, and only that amount counts against the salary cap, not his full cost. That gave General Manager Glen Sather additional room under the $50.3 million cap when he added free agent centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez this summer.

Asked whether the Rangers enjoy a competitive advantage because of the deal, which was made before the salary cap system was implemented, Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, wrote in an e-mail: "It's no different than a long-term contract that turns out well for one party or the other. . . . The fact that others perceive that value is 'artificially low' now, doesn't mean it was 'low' then."

Shortly after acquiring Jagr from the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2001, the Capitals signed him to a $77 million extension through the 2007-08 season, with an option for 2008-09. But after only 2 1/2 seasons, the Capitals couldn't wait to rid themselves of Jagr, who had underperformed on the ice and had alienated teammates off it.

Upon joining the Rangers, Jagr returned to his old form, amassing 123 points in 2005-06 and 96 last season. But here's the real kicker for the Capitals: They might have to pay Jagr next year, too, according to sources with knowledge of his contract details.

The Rangers' captain can trigger an option year if any of the following scenarios occur:

¿ If the Rangers win a playoff round this season and Jagr scores 40 goals during the regular season.

¿ If they win a playoff round and he scores 84 points during the regular season.

¿ If he wins the Hart (MVP), Art Ross (scoring title) or Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) trophies.

All three performance incentives would appear to be attainable for the 35-year-old, who has averaged almost 39 goals and 96 points in his 16 NHL seasons.

Some might argue that the current state of the Capitals -- they're considered by some league insiders to be an up-and-coming team that could become a force sooner rather than later -- began with Jagr's exit and the subsequent salary dump. Washington finished near the bottom of the standings in 2004, winning the draft lottery and the right to select Alex Ovechkin, the centerpiece of the Capitals' revival.

"I wasn't here during the whole Jagr thing," Capitals captain Chris Clark said, "but shutting him down is something we always want to do. We are paying much of his salary."

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