No Big Deal The trade for Jaromir Jagr won't get the Rangers into the playoffs

February 02, 2004

Embattled Rangers coach and general manager Glen Sather hasn't
been very talkative with the media of late, and he was nearly
speechless after New York was pummeled 9-1 by the Senators last
Saturday night in Ottawa. Just the day before, he had pulled the
trigger on a blockbuster trade that sent disappointing wing Anson
Carter to the Capitals for five-time NHL scoring champion Jaromir
Jagr, who makes $11 million per season--a salary Washington could
no longer afford. But in his Rangers debut Jagr had no points and
only one shot, and his new teammates were listless and
disorganized. "It looked like everyone was standing around
waiting for Jagr to do something," Sather said.

What did he expect after declaring the 31-year-old Jagr, who had
16 goals and 29 assists in 46 games for Washington this season,
to be the "shot in the arm" that New York needed to get into the
postseason for the first time since 1997? (Through Sunday the
Rangers were 18-20-7-4, six points behind the Islanders for the
final Eastern Conference playoff spot.) But adding another
big-money scorer to a roster full of overpaid underachievers is
tantamount to fixing a flat tire by changing the oil.

New York's most glaring weaknesses are in net and on defense.
Starting goaltender Mike Dunham, who has been shaky most of the
season, is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion last
Thursday night against the Flyers, and three top blueliners--Greg
de Vries, Darius Kasparaitis and Vladimir Malakhov--are injured
and will be sidelined for weeks. Unless Sather deals for a top
netminder (the Lightning's Nikolai Khabibulin and the Coyotes'
Sean Burke are available) and adds talent to the back line, the
Rangers are doomed to miss the playoffs again.

The mercurial Jagr, whose contract is worth $44 million over the
next four seasons (the Capitals are picking up roughly $20
million), has mostly played with disinterest since Pittsburgh
dealt him to Washington in 2001, producing two of the worst
seasons (79 and 77 points) of his 14-year career. Jagr, who made
no secret of his desire to play in New York, only picked up his
game this season to help the Capitals in their quest to trade
him. With an improved attitude he should spark the Rangers'
moribund power play, which ranked 19th in the league (14.5%). His
acquisition should also stir interest among the restless Madison
Square Garden fans who have recently chanted for Sather's firing.

Since taking over behind the bench in January 2003, Sather has a
29-30-11-7 record despite having the second highest payroll ($77
million) in the NHL. Unlike nearly every other coach in the
league, he has failed to emphasize gritty defensive play, and
even as the Senators were skating circles around his team on
Saturday night, he did not bench a single player. Said center
Bobby Holik, "I believe fundamentally we are the worst team in
the National Hockey League."

And that's something Jagr can't fix.

COLOR PHOTO: JIM YOUNG/REUTERS (JAGR) Jagr (68) may boost New York's power play, but Sather (below)still needs defensive help. COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE BENNETT STUDIOS/WIREIMAGE.COM [See caption above]

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