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Madden: Jagr's availability not stirring pot

Saturday, June 09, 2001

As the Penguins try to trade Jaromir Jagr -- which they would prefer to do by the June 23 NHL draft -- they might face a very unexpected obstacle: Lack of interest.

The New York Islanders' interest has cooled dramatically. Seems the Islanders would prefer three solid players for $10 million per year total, not one high-scoring flake for the same amount.

Tampa Bay hasn't stepped up as expected.

San Jose would like to have Jagr, but the Sharks also would prefer not to pay anyone more than they pay Owen Nolan, which was just shy of $5 million last season.

That leaves the New York Rangers (surprise, surprise) as the one legitimately interested team. That's not good.

The Rangers could give decent return. They have more quality young prospects than they're given credit for. They also have a few desirable veterans and limitless cash to toss around.

But -- totally ignoring his awful drafting record his last decade at Edmonton -- Rangers General Manager Glen Sather is no dummy. If the Rangers are the only team chasing Jagr, it's a buyer's market. Sather's attitude could be (and should be), "Hey, we're taking a big salary off your hands. We're not going to do much more for you."

What does Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick do then?

The Penguins can't afford to start next season with Jagr. Not financially, and not emotionally. But they can't just give him away.

The key is getting another team interested, even superficially. Even the appearance of somebody competing with the Rangers for Jagr's services would be invaluable for the Penguins.

If the Rangers wind up the lone suitor, Patrick might have to pull a series of moves to get the equivalent of a good return for Jagr.

The Penguins should insist on 23-year-old center Mike York as part of the deal. York is a great two-way player who gets a little better every game and is far from peaking.

After that, Patrick could inquire after veteran wingers Radek Dvorak and Jan Hlavac, but would be better advised looking at some of Sather's prospects such as 20-year-old forwards Jamie Lundmark and Pavel Brendl, 21-year-old defenseman Tomas Kloucek and 25-year-old defenseman Kim Johnsson.

If the Rangers are the only team truly pursuing Jagr, the Penguins will get only a fraction of what they should player-wise.

So get some money. A lot of money. Get $10 million. Then use that money to go get an unrestricted free agent.

The Penguins can't demolish their salary structure by signing a big-ticket player such as Joe Sakic or Rob Blake. If the Penguins could afford one of them, they could afford to keep Jagr.

But they could sign Detroit's Martin Lapointe, a great two-way winger who figures to pull down $3.5 million a year. They might even get Phoenix center Jeremy Roenick, who could make as much as $6 million per year but supposedly said he'd take a bit less money to play with Mario Lemieux.

Signing Lapointe or Roenick might cause locker-room problems if they got more money than some of the Penguins' presumably returning free agents. Lapointe would command more cash than Martin Straka. Roenick would get more than Alexei Kovalev. But Straka and Kovalev would have to swallow their pride and be happy with their amply inflated paychecks and with the fact that the Penguins were making the moves necessary to compete for a Stanley Cup.

If the Penguins get York, Kloucek and $10 million for Jagr, that's not enough. I'm not sure the citizens would be happy with the idea of Lemieux putting that $10 million in his pocket, either.

But if the deal finally broke down to York, Kloucek, Lapointe and $6.5 million for Jagr, well, that's not great, but it's not bad. York and Lapointe would give the Penguins the type of intense competitors they seemed to be missing in tight situations this past season. It would be sweet if the Penguins got Roenick instead of Lapointe, but I admit that getting J.R. Superstar is a long shot.

By the way, some of the Einsteins who call my show expect the Penguins to set themselves up for a decade of excellence by trading Jagr, much as the Quebec Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche) did in 1992 when they swapped Eric Lindros' rights to Philadelphia for a king's ransom that included Peter Forsberg. Those expectations are silly.

Jagr is 29, just two years away from unrestricted free agency. Lindros was 19 when he was dealt and was assumed to be the NHL's next dominant superstar. At the time, the Flyers reasonably expected to get at least 12 years out of Lindros, and he was a good bet to peak while he was in Philly. Big difference. The Penguins certainly need to shore up their future by trading Jagr, but he's simply not going to bring nearly the long-term return Lindros did in '92.

Mark Madden is the host of a talk show, weekdays 4-8 p.m. on WEAE-AM (1250).

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