No Big Deal
The trade for Jaromir Jagr won't get the Rangers into the playoffs
EMBATTLED RANGERS coach and general manager Glen Sather hasn't been very talkative with the media of late, and he was nearly speechless after New York was pummeled 9-1 by the Senators last Saturday night in Ottawa. Just the day before, he had pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that sent disappointing wing Anson Carter to the Capitals for five-time NHL scoring champion Jaromir Jagr, who makes $11 million per season—a salary Washington could no longer afford. But in his Rangers debut Jagr had no points and only one shot, and his new teammates were listless and disorganized. "It looked like everyone was standing around waiting for Jagr to do something," Sather said.
What did he expect after declaring the 31-year-old Jagr, who had 16 goals and 29 assists in 46 games for Washington this season, to be the "shot in the arm" that New York needed to get into the postseason for the first time since 1997? (Through Sunday the Rangers were 18-20-7-4, six points behind the Islanders for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.) But adding another big-money scorer to a roster full of overpaid underachievers is tantamount to fixing a flat tire by changing the oil.
New York's most glaring weaknesses are in net and on defense. Starting goaltender Mike Dunham, who has been shaky most of the season, is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion last Thursday night against the Flyers, and three top blueliners—Greg de Vries, Darius Kasparaitis and Vladimir Malakhov—are injured and will be sidelined for weeks. Unless Sather deals for a top netminder (the Lightning's Nikolai Khabibulin and die Coyotes' Sean Burke are available) and adds talent to the back line, the Rangers are doomed to miss the playoffs again.
The mercurial Jagr, whose contract is worth $44 million over the next four seasons (the Capitals are picking up roughly $20 million), has mostly played with disinterest since Pittsburgh dealt him to Washington in 2001, producing two of the worst seasons (79 and 77 points) of his 14-year career. Jagr, who made no secret of his desire to play in New York, only picked up his game this season to help the Capitals in their quest to trade him. With an improved attitude he should spark the Rangers' moribund power play, which ranked 19th in the league (14.5%). His acquisition should also stir interest among the restless Madison Square Garden fans who have recently chanted for Sather's firing.
Since taking over behind the bench in January 2003, Sather has a 29-30-11-7 record despite having the second highest payroll ($77 million) in the NHL. Unlike nearly every other coach in the league, he has failed to emphasize gritty defensive play, and even as the Senators were skating circles around his team on Saturday night, he did not bench a single player. Said center Bobby Holik, "I believe fundamentally we are the worst team in the National Hockey League."
And that's something Jagr can't fix.