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Savran: Cup dreams rely on keeping Jagr

Saturday, March 03, 2001

Getting inside another person's head is difficult, especially when there appears to be plenty of room to move around in there. I'll climb over the edge and into the well anyway.

Jaromir Jagr's "pleas" to be traded are not borne out of dissatisfaction with the Penguins, Pittsburgh, or traffic on any of the parkways. It's merely his way of expressing dissatisfaction with himself and his play. Granted, it's a dysfunctional manifestation of that frustration and not a recommended approach, but it's Jagr's way nevertheless.

Because of his misunderstood remarks, the populace has been inflamed to a lighting-the-torches-and storming-the-gates-at-midnight level. One must understand a distinction. Jagr is not demanding to be traded. But he is so down on himself that he's suggesting the Penguins would be doing themselves a favor by sending him away.

There is more than a subtle difference between those two.

Jagr, who still has serious bouts with juvenility at times despite being 29 and about to complete his 11th season in the league, must begin to understand how incendiary such comments can be. But his intentions aren't to disrupt or to give any less effort than usual, which is a considerable amount.

You can accuse Jagr of a number of things, but a lackadaisical approach to winning isn't one of them. One must never confuse production with effort. They're not always tethered together. You never get production without effort, but you can have effort without production.

Jagr's bouts with self-loathing should be analyzed separately.

Last fall, before he knew Mario was returning, Jagr conducted a players-only meeting in Calgary to discuss changing the system installed by Coach Ivan Hlinka. It had the look and feel and smell of a mini-insurrection. It was ill-conceived, ill-timed, and as I wrote at the time, ill-advised. And when Jagr was seen arguing with Hlinka, then refused to take a shift during the same game, his funk carried over onto the ice.

That should not and cannot be tolerated. Only Lemieux's announced return shook him out those doldrums. But this time, there have been no such displays of insubordination. He dare not -- not with his mentor and boss sharing a line and a locker room.

As for the theory that trading Jagr would be a boon to the franchise's finances and might further their playoff chances, the Penguins' best opportunity to win the Stanley Cup is right now. Mario will never be younger than he is this minute. He has only committed to playing one season after this. Plus, given physical infirmities which make him day-to-day for the rest of his career, his availability and capability during the playoff grind is always a question. If he has to miss a game or three or his back limits his play, how comfortable are you going to be with Jagr in Phoenix or Saskatoon?

Granted, that doesn't take into account what the Penguins might get in return. But sometimes the sum is greater than the component parts. The tandem of Lemieux and Jagr is more dangerous than either individually.

There's the notion that trading Jagr would free up money to sign some of the key players who become free agents this summer. Conveniently disregarded is that if the Penguins make such a deal, they would be getting high-profile (read expensive) players in return, so they wouldn't be saving the equivalent of Jagr's salary.

Plus, all but one of the Penguins' free agents in question are restricted, which means they can't go anywhere unless there's an offer from another team, which the Penguins would have the right to match. If they declined, the signing team would then have to compensate the Penguins with a bevy of first-round draft choices.

Would you pay such a price for any of the Penguins' potential free agents, even Alexei Kovalev? And if there are no such offers forthcoming, those guys have to wait for General Manager Craig Patrick's proposal. At his price, on his timetable. Plus, Mario's return has been a financial windfall, perhaps making it more plausible to retain most of those players.

While Jagr would be better served to take out his frustrations on Olaf Kolzig and the Capitals tonight in Washington rather than in tomorrow's newspaper, his intentions remain good, if somewhat misguided. He's not a distraction to the team and trading him doesn't help the Penguins in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup now or in their pursuit of financial survival in the future.

Stan Savran hosts a nightly sports talk show, 8 to 9 p.m. on WBGG-AM (970).

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