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Jaromir Jagr as a Capital just never quite worked out.
The 2001 offseason took the Caps in the wrong direction. In so many ways, the events of the summer of 2001 made the Caps a lot like a car going the wrong way on a one-way street.
The Caps had just come off a fairly successful 2000-01 season. The team won the Southeast Division for the second consecutive season. Unfortunately, for the second consecutive season, they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Desperate to get his team over the hump, owner Ted Leonsis went for broke. Leonsis took an "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude and was able to execute a trade with the Pens for Jaromir Jagr. The Caps traded three prospects to the Pens in order to land Jagr.
At the time, this seemed to be the move that would finally bring the Stanley Cup to Washington. One of the two men most directly responsible for the Pens playoff dominance of the Caps would now be a member of the team he had victimized so often.
After all, Jagr was a five-time winner of the Art Ross trophy. In the 2001 playoffs against the Caps, he had scored a goal and added five assists. By most accounts, Jagr was still a prolific goal scorer who would help the Caps immensely.
Statistically, Jagr had one of his best seasons ever in 2000-01. He scored 52 goals, added 69 assists and his 121 points were the fourth-highest total of what will eventually be a Hall of Fame career.
But there was dissension in the ranks in Pittsburgh. Mario Lemieux had come out of retirement, and there was resentment from the fans that Jagr was the captain of the team, even though Lemieux was considered a deity of sorts by Penguins fans.
To that extent, it made sense to move Jagr, and from the Caps' perspective, there was nothing to indicate Jagr's production would decline as quickly and as sharply as it did.
If the situation in Pittsburgh was somewhat tense, then Jagr's arrival in D.C. did nothing to make the Caps own internal turmoil any more pleasant.
Captain Adam Oates had demanded a trade from the team during the 2001 offseason. This was rejected by the Caps management. To take things one step further, Oates was stripped of his captaincy, and it was given to Steve Konowalchuk and Brendan Witt as co-captains.
The move was rather mind-boggling, considering that Oates had led the Caps to back-to-back Southeast Division crowns in the two years he had been captain.
Once Jagr was traded, the Caps then signed him to the largest contract in NHL history, a seven-year, $77 million deal. If the pressure on Jagr was not immense before, it sure escalated after he signed that sort of a deal.
With team chemistry splintered, team morale rather low and the team moving in the direction of overpaying for talented players who might have been past their prime, what happened next can hardly be considered a surprise.
Jagr's production plummeted. He scored just 31 goals and added 48 assists for 79 points.
Having co-captains was an abject failure. The Caps struggled far too much, and they finished with a record of 36-33-11. While that could not be considered bad, it was still an 11-point decline from the previous season, and the Caps fell two points shy of making the playoffs.
What was supposed to be the Caps breakthrough season had turned into just another disappointment. Leonsis would continue with his strategy of buying veteran talent, and the next season, he acquired another member of the Pens in Robert Lang.
With Jagr reunited with Lang, the Caps made the playoffs in 2002-03, but were sent packing in six games of the opening round by the Tampa Bay Lighting.
That set on course some of the events discussed in the slide regarding 2003.
But make no mistake about it. The offseason of 2001 set the stage for so many things that went wrong for the Caps over the next few years.
Jagr's contract was a disaster to try and get out of. Attendance was never where it should have been. The team still could not win in the playoffs. To top it off, the Caps lost millions of dollars.
At the end of the day, the experiment Leonsis had begun with the acquisition of Jagr in 2001 directly led to the implosion of the team just two years later.
It would take the Caps seven years to recover from the worst offseason in franchise history.