With the team losing millions and a possible lockout on the way, the Washington Capitals could no longer afford Jaromir Jagr. They finally shipped him to one of the few teams that would take him: the New York Rangers.
After six months of off-and-on negotiations, the Capitals traded Jagr to the Rangers for forward Anson Carter on Friday, bringing an end to the All-Star’s 2½ disappointing years in Washington.
“This was a contract that we had to move,” Washington general manager George McPhee said. “We couldn’t go forward in our market in a new era with this type of deal.”
Much of the negotiations centered on how much of Jagr’s $11 million-per-year contract the Capitals would continue to pay as the cost-conscious NHL heads toward a possible lockout next season.
Washington owner Ted Leonsis told WTEM radio that the Capitals would not have to pay any more of Jagr’s salary this season, but they would have to pay between $4 million and $4.5 million for each of the remaining four guaranteed years of the contract. The contract, however, would not be paid during a lockout.
Leonsis said he was preparing for the “new economic reality” the league is facing with the expected lockout and the possible salary cap that could follow.
“It moves the largest player contract in the NHL to a team that can absorb it,” Leonsis said. “And it provides us with options as we seek to improve our team.”
New York coach and general manager Glen Sather refused to comment on the financial aspects of the deal.
“It’s a pretty private transaction, and that’s the way we’re going to keep it,” Sather said. “We’ve been trying to make this deal for quite some time. It’s a little over two years ago since he went to Washington when we first tried to make the deal. It’s taken a long time to get here, but I’m happy it’s here.”
The Rangers first tried to land Jagr in 2001, but Pittsburgh traded him to the Capitals instead. He becomes the latest big name to join a team that has paid its players well with little reward. The Rangers are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference despite the NHL’s highest payroll, in danger of missing the postseason for a team-record seventh straight year.
“If you look at the record today, we’re two points back,” Sather said. “If you’re going to do something, now is the time before it’s too late.”
“If you look at his track record he’s been one of the most successful players in the NHL. We think we need a shot in the arm right now and he was available. We think he’s going to help us get into the playoffs and go far in the playoffs once we get there.”
Jagr did not provide the payoff the Capitals expected when they acquired him the Penguins and signed him to a seven-year, $77 million contract with an option for an eighth year.
The team failed to reach the playoffs in his first season and was eliminated in the first round by Tampa Bay last year. Attendance has sagged for a franchise that was already losing some $20 million per year.
Jagr has fought sporadic slumps and injuries to average about one point per game with the Capitals, but those numbers are well down from his superstar years with the Penguins.
McPhee said the trade had more to do with Jagr’s salary than his performance.
“He could have scored 300 points a year — we couldn’t afford him,” McPhee said.
Jagr was not available to comment after the trade. At the Capitals morning skate before a game at Florida, he said it had been tough to concentrate because of his impending move.
“No matter how much you say to yourself, ’You’re a professional. You’ve got to go to the game and play your best.’ It’s not easy because any game or any sport, if you want to play the best you can play, you have to be mentally ready,” Jagr said. “And it’s not easy to do right now.”
Jagr had 16 goals and 30 assists this season with the Capitals and was chosen on Thursday to play in the All-Star game for the ninth time.
“He told us today he was nervous and excited about it,” Sather said. “He’s been a great player and I would think he would come to New York and be the same player he’s been throughout his career. There’s no reason to think that he can’t come there and be very successful. He’s got a good year going right now.”
Carter had 10 goals and seven assists for the Rangers this season, his second in New York since being acquired from Edmonton. Carter started his NHL career with the Capitals during the 1996-97 season and is a four-time 20-goal scorer.
Capitals forward Mike Grier said the players had dinner with Jagr on Thursday and said their goodbyes.
“It’s something that has been brewing, but its always tough to lose a teammate, especially a guy as skilled as Jags was,” Grier said before Friday night’s game at Florida. “Anson’s a great player. He’s not going to put up the numbers that Jags did, but he’ll score 20-30 goals a year. He’s a good addition.”