Jaromir Jagr's shining moment last spring occurred not on the
ice, where he scored only twice in 16 playoff games for the
Penguins, but on an off day. With the Penguins and Devils tied at
one game apiece in the Eastern Conference finals, and with rumors
intensifying that Jagr would be dealt after the season, he stood
outside the Pittsburgh dressing room with only a towel around his
waist and playfully harassed acquaintances as they passed by.
"Doood, where's your cahr?" asked the Czech-born Jagr, who
retains an accent. "And you! Doood, where's your cahr?" Jagr
threw his head back every so often, laughing.
That Jagr's mood was so light moments after fielding questions
about his potential departure from Pittsburgh was no surprise. In
11 seasons with the Penguins, Jagr had emerged as the NHL's most
exciting talent and one of its most unpredictable players. He
became disenchanted last season believing that rookie coach Ivan
Hlinka's left-wing lock hurt the team. Then, after player-owner
Mario Lemieux began talking about shedding Jagr's $9.5 million
salary, an unhappy Jagr exulted at the thought of getting out of
Now he's out, and glad. "I knew that if I wanted to be the player
I was, I had to move on," says the 29-year-old Jagr, a right wing
who played through a shoulder injury in the postseason. "People
started questioning everything, and I was hurt. There were some
bad things said about me, but I think good things come from
something bad. I am very happy to be with Washington now."
The Capitals, who landed Jagr for the bargain price of three
prospects, are equally delighted, having acquired the offensive
force they need to challenge for the Stanley Cup. After all,
despite last season's problems, Jagr still scored 52 goals and
had a league-high 121 points, earning his fourth consecutive
scoring title. His dynamic presence should alleviate the pressure
on wing Peter Bondra, who rebounded after two subpar seasons with
45 goals last year. The Caps already have a Cup-caliber goalie in
6'3", 231-pound Olaf Kolzig (he led Washington to the '98 finals)
and a well-rounded core of defensemen.
A major obstacle in the Caps' attempts to get back to the finals
has been the Jagr-led Penguins, who eliminated them in both of
the past two seasons. For Washington, and especially for Jagr,
nothing would be sweeter than payback.
Peter Bondra needs 16 goals to pass Mike Gartner as the
Capitals' alltime goal scorer. In 10 seasons Gartner scored 397
times for Washington; Bondra enters his 12th year with 382.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 10 Jagr a big upgrade; short at center if
Oates is dealt
DEFENSE 11 Physical unit; Gonchar must cut down on
GOALTENDING 7 Kolzig among NHL's elite; Billington a
SPECIAL TEAMS 3 Expect Simon to score garbage goals from
MANAGEMENT 10 Getting Jagr cheaply a nice score for G.M.