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Jagr returns to league in enemy-making deal

PHILADELPHIA — As if the rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers couldn't get more bitter.

After a week of saying he wanted to return to the NHL and, by some media accounts, having a gentlemen's agreement to return to the team with which he has had his greatest success, Jaromir Jagr on Friday said he will make his North American comeback not in Pittsburgh but in Philadelphia.

Penguins fans were stunned and angered. Flyers fans were more than a bit gleeful.

Jagr was not available for comment on why he chose the Flyers, who gave him a one-year, $3.3 million deal on the first day of free agency. His agent, Petr Svoboda, told a Pittsburgh radio station, "It was never about the money. It was about where he felt he had the best chance to succeed and win."

Svoboda said Jagr had an offer of $6 million from another, unspecified team.

The Penguins — with whom Jagr won two Stanley Cups, five scoring titles and a league MVP award from 1990 to 2001 — made a one-year, $2 million offer Tuesday, general manager Ray Shero said. Jagr also had offers from the Red Wings and a team Svoboda said he wouldn't identify.

Pens co-owner Mario Lemieux, Jagr's former teammate and to whom Jagr has said he owes his career, even called him to get him to return to Pittsburgh after three years in Russia's KHL.

According to media reports, the Pens and Jagr had reached an understanding that Jagr would sign with the team when he was eligible at noon Friday. But more teams began making offers, his agent said, and an official decision by Jagr was put off to the point that the Pens and Wings pulled their offers shortly before free agency started, saying they couldn't wait for a decision any longer.

"If Jagr had said yes to us by 11 (a.m.), he would be a Penguin," Shero said. "I respect his decision."

The Flyers later gave Penguins fans another hit by signing free agent forward Max Talbot, a fan favorite who scored both goals in Pittsburgh's 2009 Game 7 Stanley Cup win, to a five-year, $9 million contract.

Talbot had turned down am earlier offer from salary cap-constrained Pittsburgh for fewer years and most likely less money.

"It was tough for me to leave in the first place, as my heart has always been with the Pittsburgh Penguins," Talbot said of the only team for which he has played. "But at the same time, it's a new challenge for me in Philly. It's going to be real interesting."

Stats: Through early Friday evening, unofficially 63 new deals had been reached. The top spenders by signings and re-signings, according to the salary cap-tracking website Panthers, $56.6 million; Blue Jackets, $33 million; Sabres, $30.6 million; Canadiens, $20.3 million; and Capitals, $19.825 million.

Panthers: Florida, which started the day about $20 million under next season's required minimum payroll of $48.3 million, signed seven veterans, including wing Sean Bergenheim from the Lightning, and acquired another in a trade. Bergenheim, coming off an impressive playoffs, got a four-year, $11 million deal. Also signed were five-time All-Star defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who began his career in Florida after being the first overall draft pick in 1994; goalie Jose Theodore; forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc; and defenseman Nolan Yonkman. Forward Kris Versteeg was acquired from Philadelphia for a second-round draft pick in 2012 or 2013 and a third-round choice next year.

Capitals-avs trade: Washington sent goalie Semyon Varlamov, a restricted free agent, to Colorado for a first-round draft pick in 2012 and a second-round selection in 2012 or 2013.

Jagr returns to league in enemy-making deal 07/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011 11:52pm]
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