Penguins see Jagr, Talbot join rival Flyers
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It had to sting. A lot.
You know it did.
Well, at least you can assume it did, because Mario Lemieux was not sharing his thoughts Friday after Jaromir Jagr opted to resume his NHL career in Philadelphia, not with the Penguins.
Suffice to say, Lemieux turning down an interview request was nowhere near as much of a shock as it was to learn that Jagr had accepted a one-year, $3.3 million contract from the Penguins' arch-rivals.
This, after he had been quoted repeatedly in recent years about his boundless respect and admiration for Lemieux.
After Jagr said a while back that he would work for the league minimum if that is what it took for him to have an opportunity to play for the team Lemieux owns.
After his agent, Petr Svoboda, assured everyone who asked for the past 10 days or so that Jagr's emotional umbilical cord was connected directly to the NHL franchise in this city. Then again, maybe not.
Lemieux was Jagr's teammate for most of the 11 seasons Jagr spent here, and one has to suspect he was upset by how things played out. Especially after he spoke with Jagr last week to discuss the possibility of Jagr returning.
General manager Ray Shero, like most people on the hockey side of the organization, arrived after Jagr had been traded to Washington a decade ago. Not surprisingly, he didn't take Jagr's decision to spurn the Penguins' offer personally, even if he was a bit perplexed by it.
"I don't know Jaromir Jagr, so I'm not bitter at all," Shero said. "This is business, to me."
He also said, however, that "to come back to the Penguins seemed like a tap-in for me."
The Penguins actually pulled their one-year, $2 million dollar offer to Jagr off the table at 11 a.m. Friday, a couple of hours before word of his agreement with the Flyers leaked out. Shero said he had informed Svoboda that if Jagr did not agree to the Penguins' proposal by then, it would be rescinded. Turns out he was not kidding.
"If Jagr had said yes to us by 11, he'd be a Penguin," Shero said. "He didn't, and it was time to move on."
Shero was diplomatic throughout a late afternoon meeting with reporters, volunteering that Jagr spurning the Penguins and joining a detested rival "doesn't change his place in our history here." Perhaps not to him, but the public response to Jagr's actions suggest that Shero's opinion wasn't widely held.
There had been considerable talk recent years about retiring Jagr's sweater No. 68 after he gave up the game. The way things stand now, that might not happen until sometime after the Steelers unveil a Ray Lewis statue on the 50 at Heinz Field.
Penguins partisans will get their first opportunity to express their feelings about Jagr's decision Dec. 29, when the Flyers visit Consol Energy Center. The decibel level of the booing that night figures to be the most severe test of the building's structural integrity since it opened.
Lemieux might not be among those jeering at Jagr that night, but it would not be surprising if he feels betrayed by how things played out.
Shero said he did not discuss Lemieux's reaction to Jagr joining the Flyers when they spoke Friday, but noted Lemieux, along with fellow owner Ron Burkle, had approved of setting a deadline for Jagr to act on the Penguins' offer.
Jagr, by the way, was not the only former Penguin to find work on the far side of the Commonwealth Friday.
Center Max Talbot, who recently rejected a three-year contract proposal from the Penguins, got a five-year, $9 million contract from the Flyers. There was no chance of him getting such generous terms from the Penguins, which is part of the reason their fan base might be a bit -- a bit -- more accepting of seeing him in an orange sweater this coming winter.
What's more, Talbot did not do or say anything likely to inflame the passions of those who adored him here. He called the Penguins "one of the top organizations in the league," and acknowledged that severing ties to them -- even if most of the cutting was done by Shero -- was difficult.
"It's always ... tough to leave a town when you put so much emotion in the city and the team," Talbot said.
He did not, however, offer to work for the league minimum if it meant he would get a chance to return.
First Published July 2, 2011 12:00 am