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The 20-year anniversary of the Capitals' trade for Jaromir Jagr originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The mention of Jaromir Jagr’s name to a Capitals fan has meant less and less as years go by.
Today, there are Capitals fans of voting age that were not alive on July 11, 2001, when the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins made one of the biggest trades in NHL history. Twenty years ago seems like a whole different world, for the NHL and both rival franchises involved.
But it's not hard to remember when Jagr was traded from Pittsburgh and how the entire league was set ablaze when the winger with four-straight Art Ross trophies to his name was headed to Washington, a team he'd help torture in multiple playoff series for the Penguins.
Jagr’s trade appeared to put the Capitals, who had just lost to the Penguins in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, over the top with one of the very best scorers in the game.
In return for Jagr (along with Frantisek Kucera), the Capitals sent prospects Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk to the Penguins. The return, at that point, didn’t much matter. The Capitals improved their offense greatly in one major splash. Pittsburgh got some promising prospects but no one who would help them immediately.
“When I came here, I didn’t know what to expect,” Jagr, then 29, said in his introductory press conference. “Then I heard the promise to win the Stanley Cup in five years...Maybe three years now.”
Of course, it took a bit longer than five years for the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup. And Jagr was long gone by that point.
Jagr, who had tallied 121 points and 52 goals the year prior as a Penguin in 2000-01, had 79 points with 31 goals in his first season with the Caps in 2001-02 but the team didn't make the Stanley Cup playoffs. The following year, he had 77 points with 36 goals yet Washington lost two overtime games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their playoff stay lasted six games. It became clear Jagr wasn’t going to work out in Washington.
Just three months after being traded, Jagr signed a five-year extension with the Capitals that made him the highest-paid player in the league at $11 million per season. The deal was seven-years, $77 million in total.
The hope was that Jagr would end his career in Washington, but the contract turned out to be an anchor on the franchise, especially early in his third season when it was clear the Caps just weren't good enough to compete and an expensive, veteran team had to be dismantled.
After two-and-a-half seasons of underwhelming play, he was traded to the New York Rangers in January, 2004 for winger Anson Carter. To make the deal happen, the Capitals had to pay $20 million of the $44 million left on Jagr’s contract. In total, Jagr ended his Capitals career with 201 points in 190 games with 83 goals.
And Jagr’s success in New York was immediate, which only further aggravated the Capitals’ fanbase.
He had 29 points in 31 games after the trade to the Rangers and in the 2005-2006 season Jagr tallied 123 points with 54 goals. He finished second in Hart Trophy voting for league MVP that year. Jagr played out his contract with New York and left for big money in Russia's KHL in 2008 before eventually returning to the NHL.
The Capitals, meanwhile, began a complete and total teardown of the organization with their sights set on rebuilding a roster through the draft with young and talented players. They wouldn't make the postseason again until 2008 and it took another decade of heartbreak to finally win the Cup.
As for the Penguins, the Jagr trade didn't work out for them much either.
Lupaschuk, a right-handed defenseman, played three games for Pittsburgh in the 2002-2003 season and never played in the NHL again. Sivek played 38 games for the Penguins, also in the 2002-2003 season, and had three goals and three assists. He also never played in the NHL again after that season and retired after the 2007-2008 season.
Beech was the highest-profile prospect in the deal -- the 7th overall pick in the 1999 NHL Draft. He played 100 games for Pittsburgh over the course of four seasons and tallied 10 goals with 17 assists. He even made a return to Washington and played in 69 games with eight goals and 18 assists during his second stint early in the Alex Ovechkin era. But Washington didn't make the playoffs in either season.
“There was a lot of hype around me as a player,” Beech recently told Trib Live in Pittsburgh. “I was getting compared to Guy Lafleur as an 11-year-old by an NHL scout. From there, the comparisons kept coming. Guys like Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya. Onto Washington with (general manager) George McPhee basically referencing he thought I could be the next Steve Yzerman.”
Nearly 20 years after the trade, however, a strong argument exists that the deal eventually, worked out for both parties — in a roundabout fashion.
The Penguins immediately began their own rebuild and ended up with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury in the mid-2000s drafts. That was the backbone of teams that won three Stanley Cups and that trio is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Capitals remained tormented by the Penguins until the 2018 season when Ovechkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the franchise lifted its first Stanley Cup in history. The Capitals had to beat the Penguins, naturally, to get there.
Jagr, for his part, said he wished it had worked out in Washington. But in a way, he joked he had a hand in the future success of the Capitals.
“Caps fans,” he began in an Instagram post two years ago. “Sorry it didn’t work out, but I try my best. After 18 years we should look the positive way. If I would play very good, you would have never had a chance to draft OVI. And you probably didn’t win the Cup last year. You welcome.”