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NHL

Jagr status at issue as Caps seek to cut costs

©Associated Press
April 23, 2003

ODENTON, Md. -- Jaromir Jagr came up average in his first playoff series with the Washington Capitals, and that's not good enough for him.

Now the money-losing team has to decide whether he's worth keeping at $11-million a year.

Jagr failed to score in the final four games -- all defeats -- in the first-round series loss to Tampa Bay. He was double-teamed and triple-teamed by the Lightning, which packed players around the crease and held the Capitals to three goals over the last three games.

"I want to be the best player in the world," Jagr said Tuesday. "Sometimes I cannot do it for whatever reason. Any time I don't reach it, I am upset.

"I'm very frustrated with hockey. I cannot be average, and I'm going to do all the things I can do to be the best. I still believe I can do it."

Jagr spoke as he and teammates were lining up for one-at-a-time exit meetings with general manager George McPhee and coach Bruce Cassidy. Two questions were on everyone's mind: Who will be back next season, and who won't?

Those questions arise every year at this time, but they are more pressing now that owner Ted Leonsis is expected to slash payroll to help offset $20-million in losses this season. Trading Jagr would be a major step toward reducing the red ink.

"It's not up to me," Jagr said. "It's up to the ownership. Whatever they decide to do, it's fine with me.

"Of course, I'd like to be back. I don't want to be changing teams every year. I know how hard it was for me to go from Pittsburgh to here."

Jagr has played two years of a seven-year, $77-million contract, getting 67 goals and 156 points in 144 regular-season games. While those are solid numbers, he hasn't been the force he was for 11 seasons with the Penguins.

Cassidy left no doubt he'd like to have Jagr back, but McPhee was noncommittal.

"No one's indispensable. I'd trade anybody if it made my team better," McPhee said. "But that guy's a good hockey player, and you've got to have good players to win."

Still, McPhee echoed Leonsis' message of offseason frugality, saying the Capitals won't be very active in free agency.

"As we see with a lot of teams, that gets you a pretty good press conference," McPhee said. "I'm not sure how much better that makes your team. I love the subtle deals that no one thinks much of."

The cost-cutting means defenseman Ken Klee's nine-year run with the team is probably over. Klee is a free agent, and his salary demands aren't in the Capitals' ballpark.

"They told us what they want," McPhee said. "We can't do that."

Another player whose return is doubtful is defenseman Calle Johansson, who has spent 15 years in Washington. Johansson has not seen eye-to-eye with Cassidy, and he was particularly upset about being benched for most of the overtime periods in Sunday's Game 6 loss to Tampa Bay.

COYOTES: Phoenix re-signed defenseman Ossi Vaananen, who missed 15 games after being hit by a car Feb. 1, to a multiyear contract. Terms were not disclosed. Vaananen, 23, partially tore a knee ligament when he was struck while standing outside a taxi at All-Star weekend in Miami.

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