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Spoiled brat out, but Pens hurting



Published: Sat, July 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



It turns out one detail has been omitted in the news reports concerning the Pittsburgh Penguins trading Jaromir Jagr to the Washington Capitals.

Hockey fans know the Pens sent Jagr (their 11-year right winger who is due to make $20.7 million over the next two seasons) and defenseman Frantisek Kucera ($1.2 million) for three minor league prospects: Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk.

They are aware that Capitals also sent the Pens $4.9 million in cash.

What few realized until Jagr opened his mouth to discuss his future is that Pens general manager Craig Patrick also had to send the Caps a blankie, a bottle and a pacifier. The more Jagr says, the less the trade hurts.

If there's one thing sports fans in Pittsburgh and Cleveland find hard to tolerate, it's spoiled-brat athletes.

Little in return: Make no mistake about it, the Pens received little more than hope for their long-term future in this deal.

The three prospects aren't expected to provide immediate help to a team that surprised many by advancing to the NHL's Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1996.

That means the Penguins, who finished sixth in the Eastern Conference last season with the NHL's leading scorer, will have to work even harder just to make the playoffs minus Jagr, defenseman Bob Boughner (a free agent who signed with Calgary) and probably defenseman Darius Kasparaitis (on the trading block).

Subtracting the salaries of Jagr and Kucera from the Pens' payroll and adding the cash settlement means the franchise has $25 million more today to spend on retaining free agents Martin Straka, Alexei Kovalev and Johan Hedberg, among many others.

What will the Pens miss about Jagr? His scoring abilities, no question. They won't miss his leadership skills because he had so few.

Twice in the past year, Valley sports fans have watched as gifted professional athletes leave, then bad mouth the fans, team officials and media who helped turned them into multi-millionaires.

Ramirez forgives: Last November, right fielder Manny Ramirez abandoned the Indians in favor of the Boston Red Sox.

One reason Ramirez said he left was because he was hurt by owner Larry Dolan and general manager John Hart's suggestions last July that Ramirez wasn't trying hard enough to get back into the lineup after pulling a hamstring on Memorial Day.

Last week, when Ramirez returned to Cleveland, he said he forgave Dolan and Hart, but maintained they were wrong to judge him.

Give me a break -- the Tribe missed the postseason by one game.

In Manny's world, sacrificing for the team is beneath him.

Jagr's bellyaching this spring was even worse.

His $10 million salary is hockey's equivalent of the Texas Rangers giving $25 million a year to shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

Jagr is one of a kind, hockey's best player when he wants to be. But when Mario Lemieux returned to the ice last winter to spark a Stanley Cup Playoffs run, Jagr became jealous over being pushed aside from the spotlight.

Then Jagr claimed it was "tough" on him because Lemieux suggested before the Pens' semifinal series against the Buffalo Sabres that his team's captain needs to step up his play. Instead of sucking it up and responding to the challenge, Jagr wallowed in self-pity.

He's still crying the blues.

Stunned: One report said that when he found out his new team was the Capitals, a stunned Jagr suggested they better not expect him to play the defensive style Coach Ron Wilson is known to favor.

What a team player he is. Later, Jagr wisely backed off, promising to do whatever it takes to win.

Don't hold your breath -- the multi-millionaire says pressure from the Pittsburgh fans and media made his recent postseason "intolerable." He didn't mention his quitting under pressure Cry me a river.

XTom Williams is a sports reporter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.




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