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Savran: Many holes to fill in Patrick's puzzle

Saturday, July 14, 2001

Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go for Thanksgiving dinner, famished and anticipating the traditional holiday fare. Only this year, Grandma surprises us by serving celery stalks and peanut butter crackers ... stale ones at that.

Chef Craig Patrick served Jaromir Jagr Surprise this week. There were wide expanses of white on the Penguins' plate, and the occupied sections were filled with mystery meat.

No one knows for sure what a 20-year-old might do at the NHL level. They're scouted and evaluated as teen-age boys. And, if you're putting your faith in Patrick's keen, nearly infallible eye for talent, it's likely he has never seen Kris Beech, Michal Sivek or Ross Lupaschuk play in person. If he has, it was a fleeting glance.

No, he's relying on the opinions of his scouts, which is as it should be. If you can't trust their judgment, they shouldn't be in your employ.

What appears to have happened is that Patrick did the best he could do under the circumstances.

My first reaction, perhaps like yours, was, "That's it? This is the best they could get, even with all Jagr's baggage?"

Obviously it was, or Patrick wouldn't have agreed. It's equally obvious that the package allegedly offered by the New York Rangers (or was it the New York Post?) never existed or wasn't as tightly wrapped as reported.

In addition, General Manager Glen Sather never believed Washington was seriously interested in Jagr, and further suspected Patrick was using the Capitals as a stalking horse to drive up the ante. Surprise, surprise!

However, if Sather had investigated more deeply, or if Patrick had been able to convince him that the Capitals were true players in the bidding, would the Rangers have increased their offer in a last-ditch attempt to bag the marquee player they've desperately been seeking?

If you detest this deal, let me present it in another light.

What if the details read: "The Pittsburgh Penguins today traded Jaromir Jagr and $1.2 million of useless defenseman to the Washington Capitals for Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka, Robert Lang, Jan Hrdina, Johan Hedberg, maybe Darius Kasparaitis and/or Brett Hull, three top prospects, plus almost $5 million dollars."

Presents a different perspective, no? In effect, that's what's happened. The Penguins never were going to get equal value for Jagr, because, at present, available equals don't exist. But the deal might allow the Penguins to fill in the blanks -- those left in Jagr's wake and those which existed previously.

One of those blanks might have been filled within the nebulous "future considerations." That can run the gamut from a draft choice to a player to an agreement for an exhibition game in the other team's building.

But, in this case, the money ($4.9 million, to be exact) constituted the "future considerations."

That doesn't preclude the possibility of an another trade between the two clubs, one technically independent of the Jagr deal, but loosely connected all the same. This is the dangling chad, you should pardon the expression. But there are hanging and dangling chads all over the place, because moving Jagr would seem to be a precursor of further upheaval.

Some fans are upset that Jagr was traded at all. But what part of "I don't want to be here anymore" don't they understand? Jagr publicly suggested maybe it was time to move on. But in a private conversation with Patrick, there was nothing left to interpret. He wanted out, and as I've written before, several of his teammates wanted him out. Sounds like a match.

Jagr might be happy to be leaving Pittsburgh, but how happy will he be in Washington?

Coach Ron Wilson uses a very strict defensive system. In fact, you might recall that during the 2000 playoffs, Wilson stated he actually copied the system Kevin Constantine used with the Penguins! And we all know how much Jagr enjoyed that.

Factor in that Wilson has had very public and nasty disputes with stars Peter Bondra and Adam Oates, and now you're adding an avowed coach-killer to this volatile mix? Playing in a system he is known to detest? Good luck. But that's their problem. The Penguins' problem is how to best take advantage of the financial wiggle room created by Jagr's departure.

I understand the disappointment. Everyone on Christmas morning would hate finding their presents labeled, "Do not open 'til Easter." You might have to wait longer than Easter for Beech, Sivek and/or Lupaschuk. But by September, you might know a whole lot more about what Patrick has spread under the Penguins' tree.

I'm not suggesting you like this deal. I'm only suggesting you shouldn't hate it. Yet.

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

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