2004-01-30 / Sports

In Defense of Jaromir Jagr: A Metro Hockey Update

Hockey Columnist
By Andrei Petrovitch
In Defense of Jaromir Jagr: A Metro Hockey Update By Andrei Petrovitch Hockey Columnist

On Friday January 23, the New York Rangers finally got their man. The Rangers traded Anson Carter to the Washington Capitals for Jaromir Jagr, arguably the best right-winger in the National Hockey League today. Many around the league blasted Ranger General Manager/Coach Glen Sather for acquiring yet another expensive star player, with the most deafening boos coming from the New York sports media. However, the deal is certainly not as dumb as, say, Sherry Ross of The Daily News makes it out to be (besides, she clearly hates Sather anyway). So, today, you’ll be reading a different point of view.

Popular Criticism #1: The Ran g ers’ biggest problems are on de fense and in goal, as evidenced by their 9-1 loss to Ottawa on Jan uary 24; Jagr’s acquisition doesn’t address either of these needs.

True, he doesn’t, but what if the Rangers lost 2-1? Or 1-0? The point here is that a loss is a loss, no matter the differential. Jagr can’t play goal, but he can certainly help the differential move towards the Rangers’ favor, as he did against the Florida Panthers on January 27. Also, don’t forget that the team is missing blueline regulars Tom Poti, Darius Kasparitus, and Greg deVries to injury. Besides, the trade deadline is almost two months away, and defensemen and goaltenders will be available – just don’t expect any bruising Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger types. (By the way, the team DID acquire a defensman in Jamie Pushor, but this deal got little fanfare from the Ranger-hating press.)

Popular Criticism #2: Jaromir Jagr is just going to be the latest in a long line of superstar busts for the Rangers; he’s over the hill at 31-years old.

First, aside from Anson Carter and Alexei Kovalev, this notion of recent superstars fizzling in Madison Square Garden is overblown. Pavel Bure was averaging nearly a goal-per-game pace before repeated knee injuries put his career in jeopardy, while Eric Lindros has played strongly as of late. Before his personal demons overtook him midway through the 2001-2002 season, Theo Fleury was among the league leaders in points. Wayne Gret zky led the league in assists two out of the three years he played for the Rangers. Finally, Bobby Holik, when used properly, is still a premier checking center.

So what’s this crap about superstars "failing" here? Sure, Jagr probably won’t enjoy the 120-140 point seasons that he routinely had in the early to mid ‘90s with his original team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, but honestly, who will? In an era where the neutral-zone trap is king, and borderline minor leaguers are allowed to hook and slash the true talents of the league, the answer is NO ONE. And if a star player fails to perform well here, as in the case with Carter, then the team is justified in trying to upgrade. With that in mind, we should enjoy the offense that Jagr can provide.

Popular Criticism #3: Glen Sather made this trade to save his job.

So what? Hell, I make a dozen drastic decisions each day to save mine.

Popular Criticism #4: If the Rangers hadn’t traded away all those prospects and draft picks in previous deals, they would be much better today, and would have no need for Jagr.

Coulda’, woulda’, shoulda’. This is a favorite of area hockey writers like Ross and Rick Carpiniello. Of all the prospects and draft picks dealt away, just who has become a consistent regular NHLer? Rico Fata, who was traded away for Kovalev? A 20-goal scorer for Penguins, the worst team in hockey, thus making him the hockey equivalent of summer school valedictorian.

Filip Novak, who was traded for Bure? He can’t even crack their struggling defensive lineup. Defenseman Marek Zidliky, who was traded to the Nashville Predators for goalie Mike Dunham? He’d never put up those numbers playing behind stalwarts like Poti and Brian Leetch. Manny Mal hotra, who was traded to the Dallas Stars for Martin Rucinsky? He’s already been dumped on waivers. Mike Mottau? Please.

With the exception of Mike York, the majority of the prospects that the New York media salivate over have, to put it politely, sucked, or at least would have sucked if they stayed here85and even York demonstrated difficulty playing in the rough and tumble Eastern conference over the course of an 82-game season.

Popular Criticism #5: With a salary cap looming in the next collective bargaining agreement, tak ing on the salary of a player like Jagr is insane. Besides, the Rangers are overpaid anyway.

Second point first: get over it. It’s not your money, and after this season only a few players a under contract anyway. In regards to a possible cap, it should be pointed out that the Capitals are subsidizing a large part of Jagr’s $11 million dollar per year salary – after all, it was them and not the "evil, money splurging Ranger$" that signed him to such a ludicrous contract in the first place.

The subsidies can help the Rangers deal with any cap issues the organization may face, although, in fairness to the critics, it is not known if the league will count the full value against the team. But that condition is not certain, and chances are that league commissioner Gary Bettman won’t get everything he wants.

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