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Jagr signing reignites Pens-Flyers rivalry

| Saturday, July 2, 2011

One wrong was actually righted by Jaromir Jagr on Friday.

By signing a one-year contract worth $3.3 million with Philadelphia, Jagr officially restored the Penguins-Flyers rivalry to where Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik has said it has always belonged.

"If you ask anybody in this room about our biggest rival, it's the Flyers," Orpik said last season when the Penguins and Washington Capitals were being followed by HBO's cameras for a documentary series.

"It's always the Flyers."

Jagr's return to Pittsburgh — the place his agent said Thursday "is in his heart" — will happen next season.

Dec. 29, Consol Energy Center, Penguins vs. Flyers ...

"It's going to be ... I don't know, something I've never witnessed when it comes to anticipation," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Friday. "And it's going to be definitely unique, and I think our fans will be at a level I've never seen them at for a regular-season game."

Jagr, 39, had told Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux he wanted to play for the Penguins, with whom he won the Stanley Cup twice and five scoring titles from 1990-2001. Jagr said the same thing Tuesday to Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who in turn offered him a one-year contract worth $2 million.

Jagr hadn't accepted or declined it by Wednesday, as his agent had promised Shero, who also received no decision from Jagr's camp Thursday.

Jagr's agent, Petr Svoboda, was contacted by the Flyers on Thursday night, according to Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren, who said "it started innocently ... with a text message."

It ended Friday — the first day of NHL free agency — with Penguins fans loathing Jagr more than they ever had during the past decade following his disheartening requested trade to the Capitals 10 years ago this month.

Shero rescinded the Penguins' offer after Jagr failed to meet an 11 a.m. deadline.

Jagr had said he wanted to make amends with the Penguins, their city and most especially Lemieux.

"To come back to Pittsburgh seemed like a tap-in," Shero said. "But I respect his decision."

On any other day the big disappointment for Penguins fans would have been 2009 Stanley Cup hero Max Talbot signing with the Flyers, which he did for five years and $9 million.

However, Shero conceded that Talbot "got a lot more" from the Flyers than the Penguins had offered on a three-year proposal. Shero said he spoke with Talbot, who famously shushed Flyers fans as the Penguins closed out Game 6 of a first-round playoff series at Philadelphia on their 2009 Cup run.

"Totally different situation (than Jagr)," Shero said. "Max will always be a part of history here. I'm really happy for him."

Shero seemed comfortable losing forward Mike Rupp, too. Rupp signed a three-year deal worth $4.5 million with the New York Rangers.

"He gave us a chance," Shero said of Rupp, who spent the past two seasons with the Penguins. "I just had a feeling it wasn't going to work out."

Shero had that feeling about Jagr on Wednesday night when Svoboda didn't have an answer at the deadline he had proposed.

By Thursday night, Shero conceded, "it didn't feel right."

Jagr never asked for more money, Shero said.

"He just went somewhere else," he said.

Just somewhere?

"Uh, no," Bylsma said.

Bylsma confident Pens remain among elite

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma doesn't deny that the prospect of working with Jaromir Jagr was intriguing. However, Jagr is a Philadelphia Flyer now — as is Max Talbot — and Bylsma on Friday offered thoughts about players who will be Penguins next season during an interview with the Tribune-Review:

On James Neal:

"He's a 25-30 goal scorer, I know that. He didn't score like that when we got him last season, granted. But if you looked at our team at this time last year and said, 'They got James Neal,' you would say, 'Now, that's something they needed, that kind of player.' I've watched every goal he has scored in the NHL, and he has lost a little shine because he didn't score a lot for us, but he's still that guy who scored those goals. ... I see Neal playing like the wingers that Sidney (Crosby) likes to play. He plays with speed, likes to create pressure and is a straight-line player. That's why Sid likes (Chris) Kunitz, why he liked Colby Armstrong. Those players allow Sidney to pick up loose pucks and anticipate where other players are. James Neal is a Sidney Crosby kind-of player, like Kunitz. So Sidney has two of those guys he likes to play with. I'll take that with a healthy Sidney Crosby."

On a return of the "Big Three" centers:

"The one thing I hear get bounced around when I talk to other coaches at the draft is, 'Well, I don't have Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin.' I may take offense to that personally, but that is the view of other teams in this league. I say, 'Throw Jordan (Staal) in there, too,' and I'm getting all three of those guys, hopefully healthy, for the first time in a couple of years. So when I hear that from other coaches, what they're telling me is, when you play my team, you feel like you're going up against a wall.

"Here is what those three do that we missed the last two playoff series we lost and all of last season because they weren't in the lineup together other than (two) games: 1) We're never chasing a bad matchup, and 2) we're never in a bad matchup defensively.

"There are certain things that win hockey games, and to have those three, our defense and our goaltending — those last two things being our strength last season — well, other teams will look at that and say, 'Wow!'"

On prospects' potential impact:

"We all feel like (Dustin) Jeffrey took a step last season before he got hurt, and he can be a half-wall or point-man on a second power-play unit. More than ever these young guys — Jeffrey, Nick Johnson and don't forget Joe Vitale — are going to compete to make our team. ... I do like that competition factor and a little bit of turnover, bringing in younger players and saying, 'Hey, Nick and Joe, you've got a chance to make our team, no promises, but go get that spot.' And what I like about our veterans is that they know these players will come up and play in the right spots on the team, not just be thrown in there."

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