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Cook: Jagr pathetic as sports figure

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

There is no nice way to put this: Jaromir Jagr has become one of the most pathetic figures in all of sports.

Maybe not sick pathetic like Mike Tyson, but pathetic nonetheless.

It has been almost two years since the Penguins traded Jagr to the Washington Capitals for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk. At the time, Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick was widely skewered for giving away one of hockey's top talents for three marginal prospects. Today, he looks like something of a genius. That's not because Beech, Sivek and Lupaschuk have become stars. They're still prospects, at best. It's because of what Jagr has become.

A cancer in the locker room.

A coach-killer.

A grossly overpaid underachiever.

A symbol of everything that's wrong with the crumbling NHL.

Is it any wonder that the Capitals let it slip last week they would love to trade Jagr?

Is it any wonder that general managers around the league laughed aloud?

If you were paying attention to the end of Jagr's stay with the Penguins, you knew this was coming.

Maybe Jagr wasn't a full-blown cancer with the Penguins, but few, if any, of his teammates were sorry to see him go. His frequent mood swings -- always annoying -- eventually became intolerable. The all-time topper, of course, was his "I feel like I'm dying alive" speech early in his final season here. If reports out of Washington are true, Jagr is no more stable now. He's 31, but he still hasn't grown up.

That Jagr was a coach-killer with the Penguins is indisputable. OK, so he learned from the master, Mario Lemieux, who ran off a coach or two in his time, including the great Scotty Bowman. But Jagr is worse, much worse. He led a revolt against Kevin Constantine -- eventually getting him fired -- then openly feuded with Ivan Hlinka. His problems with Hlinka would have been comical if they weren't so sad. Hlinka was brought in from the Czech Republic strictly to appease him.

Now, the story goes, Jagr is at odds with Capitals Coach Bruce Cassidy. This is the same Cassidy, who, upon taking over the team before last season, made it a priority to visit Jagr in the Czech Republic. That's the way it works in pro sports these days. Paying an athlete millions isn't enough. You have to show him some love, too.

None of it has been enough to keep Jagr happy.

Not the ego-stroking from Cassidy.

Not the free-agent signings of his pals, Robert Lang and Kip Miller, before last season.

Not even the eye-popping contract the Capitals gave him soon after the trade. Washington owner Ted Leonsis must curse his foolishness each morning when he wakes up and realizes he still owes Jagr a guaranteed $55 million over the next five seasons.

Like the Penguins did for a long time, the Capitals gladly would put up with Jagr's personality quirks if he still was one of the NHL's premier players. The would even tolerate his issues with the off-shore casinos and the Internal Revenue Service. But Jagr finished 20th in the scoring race this season. He averaged only 78 points in his two seasons with the Capitals after winning four consecutive scoring titles with the Penguins. Worse, the Capitals failed to make the playoffs in his first season and were eliminated in the first round by Tampa Bay this season in a series in which he was virtually invisible.

Leonsis has as much chance of trading Jagr as Kevin McClatchy does of trading Jason Kendall.

None.

The NHL is facing a long, ugly work stoppage after next season as it fights for a new, league-sustaining labor agreement with the players. In the meantime, teams are looking to cut payroll. None is looking to take on more.

Patrick wouldn't even think of sending back Beech, Sivek and Lupaschuk for Jagr.

The pathetic truth about the once-mighty Jagr?

Patrick wouldn't give up a six pack of Iron City for him now.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.

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