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Jagr returns to Pittsburgh with rival Flyers

Penguins/NHL Videos

By Bob Cohn and Josh Yohe,
Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011
 

A surly Jaromir Jagr arrived in town Wednesday for the first time as a Philadelphia Flyer, shattered the glass with a hard shot during practice in Castle Shannon and, based on his combative tone with local media, is not looking forward to Thursday night's game against the Penguins.

"Everybody knows how I'm going to be received," he snapped.

Indeed, Jaromir Jagr is back.

The once-celebrated ex-Penguin makes his Consol Energy Center debut, almost seven months after his agent proclaimed Jagr's "heart is in Pittsburgh," only for his client to spurn the Penguins' one-year, $2 million free-agent offer days later. Jagr instead signed with the Flyers for $3.3 million over one season.

Jagr expects to be booed, mostly because he has been before when returning to Pittsburgh after demanding a trade.

But his comments to a Philadelphia-area newspaper figure to raise eyebrows. He told the Delaware County Daily Times that he and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux did not speak or come to a contract agreement in late June. Penguins officials and friends of Lemieux maintained during the summer that Lemieux had talked to Jagr.

"I personally didn't talk to anybody (in Pittsburgh)," he said.

Coach Dan Bylsma publicly campaigned for Jagr to sign with the Penguins during the summer. He acknowledged yesterday that Jagr, who has produced 30 points in 31 games with the Flyers, would have looked good again in a Penguins uniform.

"What he's been able to do for that power play and for (center Claude) Giroux," Bylsma said, "those are the things that we saw him doing with our team, with a (Evgeni) Malkin and a (Sidney) Crosby."

Malkin said he would have enjoyed the opportunity to play with Jagr.

"He's a great player," Malkin said. "I hoped he'd sign. ... He'd have helped us."

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, like so many around the NHL, figured there was a good chance Jagr would finish his NHL career with the Penguins.

"We just took a shot in the dark, to be honest with you," Holmgren told the Tribune-Review. "I assumed he was going to sign with Pittsburgh or Detroit."

Things have worked out for the Penguins and Flyers.

James Neal has exploded with 21 goals while playing on Malkin's right wing, which is where Jagr likely would have been penciled into the lineup. Jagr, meanwhile, has been productive and is largely credited with turning Giroux into one of the game's best players.

"Maybe he's not the player he was 10 years ago, but he's still very, very good," general manager Ray Shero said. "We wouldn't have offered him a contract if we didn't like him."

Jagr voiced little respect for Penguins fans, suggesting they were hypocritical for favoring the idea of his return after years of booing him.

"How can there be such bad attitude and anger from these people?" Jagr told the Delaware County Daily Times. "What kind of world are we in right now• That's (expletive) scary. We should be in a world with a lot of love.

"When I left Pittsburgh (in 2001) I was traded," Jagr added. "The first time I came back with Washington, everybody booed me so bad. ... They've hated me for seven years. Then, when there is a chance that I am going to go back there, all of sudden they switch for one or two months• Then I don't go, and they go back to hating me, but even more than before. I don't get it."

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