Archive | 9:28 PM

Jagr, Talbot Laugh Last In Return To Pittsburgh

29 Dec

The most important thing was that the Flyers didn’t lose three in a row. It would have been the first time all season they had done so. But make no mistake about it — Peter Laviolette knew the game meant a little more to Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot. The former helped the Flyers to a 4-2 win over the Penguins, keeping them undefeated in the Consol Energy Center.

Laviolette started the line of Jagr, Talbot and Claude Giroux for one ceremonial shift. That meant a return to Pittsburgh for Jagr and Talbot.

Once that line left the ice, the Flyers were behind the 8-ball. Tyler Kennedy found Jordan Staal at the right side of the Flyers’ net and he had a wide open net to shoot the puck into as starter Sergei Bobrovsky had already committed to Kennedy.

But the Flyers struck back. On the power play, Giroux found Kimmo Timonen at the point on a power play and the defenseman one-timed the puck over the glove of Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the score.

In the second period, however, the big statement was made. With fans mercifully booing Jagr each time he touched the puck, he was given a drop pass from Scott Hartnell and carried in, danced between two defenders and backhanded a shot past Fleury. It was a classic Jagr goal, kind of like one of the 439 he had as a Penguin.

Jagr hunched over along the boards, as if to avoid the rain of boos, and made his trademarked salute, seemingly directed at a fan who gave him a salute of his own (although of the one-finger variety).

Second periods had given the Flyers trouble in recent games, but against the Penguins they won the period 2-0, making the most of their six shots on goal.

Matt Read added the second tally of the period, snapping a nine-game goalless drought when Sean Couturier, who returned to the lineup after a head injury kept him out four games, took a shot that bounced off the leg pad of Fleury and right in the slot for Read to bury.

In the third, Kennedy made it interesting with a blast over Bobrovsky’s glove side where there was precious space available. In the game’s final minute, Talbot tallied on an empty net for his 10th of the year, completing a storybook ending for the former Penguins.

Bobrovsky did his part as well, making 24 saves. His performance gives him a fourth career win over Pittsburgh and begs the question: Does he get the start in the Winter Classic?

For now, the Flyers will just focus on the fact that Jagr silenced some boos, they avoided a third straight loss, and put them in a tie with the Rangers for the first place in the division.

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Flyers Had Eyes For Citizens Bank Park All Along

29 Dec

CITIZENS BANK PARK — Dec. 19 was the official move-in day for the NHL, but Phillies President David Montgomery didn’t recognize his own building, Citizens Bank Park, even before then. He won’t for a while. It’s not just the Winter Classic; it’s not just an alumni game. There is a whole week’s worth of events on ice at Citizens Bank Park, the only place this outdoor series was ever going to be in Philadelphia.

“I knew that the toughest message was going to be telling [head groundskeeper] Mike Boekholder that we were gonna have ice,” Montgomery recalled. “The reality is that we knew that we were gonna sacrifice the field, but that’s a price we will pay.”

Don’t worry; it won’t be too tough for the Phillies to make up the cost. According to a report from the Daily News, the daily cost of having the rink up is somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000.

It was nearly a year ago, the Phillies became aware of the potential of not only the income, but also the opportunity to have a whole outdoor series on their premises.

“It was probably 11 months ago that I heard from Peter Luukko about the possibility of this event taking place here,” said Montgomery. “We got into what I would call more serious discussions late spring, early summer as far as what a host of the Winter Classic — what the undertaking really meant.”

The call to the Phillies makes sense. The Flyers, who are owned by Comcast-Spectacor, had a vested interest in the Phillies’ home, which is also partially operated by Comcast-Spectacor Global Spectrum Division.

A source indicated to Philly Sports Daily that the Eagles reached out to the Flyers with interest in hosting the events at Lincoln Financial Field last winter. The Flyers apparently reciprocated the interest, but then trailed off. The Eagles operate Lincoln Financial Field, so the Flyers, or rather Comcast-Spectacor, wouldn’t see as much income as a result.

“I couldn’t say that we were terribly aggressive,” said Montgomery. “I think the aggressive party was the Flyers. Peter [Luukko] and Ed [Snider] made a real conscious effort to see if it couldn’t be done here in Philadelphia. Obviously we hope that the weather cooperates because that’s clearly a factor in the NHL’s selection to play outdoors.

“The fact is that they were the party and when they saw this opportunity here, circumstances dictated the opportunity as much as anything else. Like I said, I think it’s very beneficial that you can have a series of events in a baseball facility and you can take the time to do it right as far as bringing the elements of the Classic to fruition to the degree you want. We’re pleased that through Jan. 8 we’ll still have events here.”

If the events were to be held at the Linc, there wouldn’t have been as much time for setup or the events after the Winter Classic, although that wasn’t known at the time the Eagles showed interest during the lockout.

Even with the Phillies on board nearly a year ago, the formal announcement went less than smoothly.

“I think it got announced before the parties had even gotten together,” said Montgomery. “Somehow I guess the word leaked that Philadelphia was a potential site and then, appropriately so, I think the parties decided ‘Maybe before we do an official announcement we maybe want to talk about what the arrangement’s gonna be.’

“Because it was already out there, I don’t think the league — they should probably speak to this — I don’t think they felt the pressure that it was kind of the worst-kept secret that it was coming to Philadelphia. I think it was on the Flyers’ schedule that we were playing the Rangers on Jan. 2 and they were still hosting Disney on Ice at that point.”

The NHL schedule wasn’t announced until June 23, but the hosting of Disney on Ice is a holiday tradition that goes back to when the arena was called the CoreStates Center, three names ago. Clearly the game wasn’t going to be held at Wells Fargo Center. Just as clearly, the complexity of the entire outdoor series couldn’t have been done at Lincoln Financial Field if there was even a possibility of Eagles home games in the regular season or, dare we say, the playoffs.

“This is very complex in the sense that the game is the NHL’s,” said Montgomery. “The ability to do ancillary things became more local opportunities and the NHL is involved in the alumni game so you almost have three different structures as far as the events are concerned.”

Even though it was basically a foregone conclusion that the series would be held at Citizens bank Park, Montgomery feels lucky to play host.

“If the South Philadelphia sports complex has a bucket list of events they’d like to have, this is gonna be pretty special to be checked off,” said Montgomery.

“The fans are so wonderful in this city in all aspects. To think that we’re not only, as expected, going to sell out a Winter Classic, but we’re gonna have 43,000 people for the alumni game and 43,000 people to sample outdoor hockey for a Phantoms game. Again, we the Phillies have been such a beneficiary of the solid fan support that this community provides and I think it extends to so many sports. It showcases our city. I was born here in Philadelphia and I’ve been here my entire life. I’m very proud of this city in so many ways.”

Jagr Braces For Return To Pittsburgh

29 Dec

VOORHEES, N.J. — The rivalry between the Flyers and Penguins was intense enough. Pittsburgh fans certainly didn’t need Jaromir Jagr to fuel the fire. This year, they expected the Czech to be skating with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, or at least for the No. 68 to hang in the rafters at Consol Energy Center.

Instead Jagr chose to join the hated Flyers over the Penguins on July 1 when free agency opened. Fans felt betrayed since the organization extended an offer to Jagr and were long-rumored to be the top contender for the 39-year-old winger’s services. But Jagr feels betrayed himself. He says the Penguins were playing games of their own and now he looks like an enemy where his NHL career started.

Jagr didn’t take Pittsburgh’s offer and instead, shockingly joined the Flyers. He says that the offer from Pittsburgh was just made to appease the fans, that he never felt wanted.

“Exactly. They’re not gonna say it, but that’s the way it is,” said Jagr. “Whoever is smart, they’re gonna figure it out, but I don’t want to talk about it. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m just protecting myself. That’s all.

“They saw me play at the World Championships. There was not many GMs there, but the GM from Pittsburgh was there. He saw me play. If he was interested or whatever in the way I play, they would ask me. They would talk to me.”

When the free agency window opened this summer, Penguins general manager Ray Shero claimed that he had indeed been keeping a close eye on Jagr at the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia.

“We feel from the information we have and after seeing at World Championships, that he’s a guy who might be able to help us this coming season,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 28. “We feel he’s a guy who could help us this year, and retire as a Penguin.”

Jagr says that’s not so. At no point in the offseason did he think that he would actually be donning black and gold again in Pittsburgh.

“To be honest with you, not really. I didn’t think they wanted me,” said Jagr. “Truly, I don’t think the management, the coaches wanted me to be there. When you look back to the articles over there, what happened one month before I was a free agent — and I didn’t even talk to anybody.”

OK, let’s take a look.

“I don’t understand where all this came from,” GM Ray Shero told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in May. “Jagr is not a guy we’ve spoken about in a couple of years. We talked about him for a little bit after his time with the Rangers, but that’s about it.”

“They were not interested,” said Jagr. “All they were interested in was to bring me back for the [20th anniversary of the 1991 Penguins championship team] golf tournament.”

“We were able to get that invitation to him, and we’d like to acknowledge his involvement with the organization,” Shero told the Tribune-Review. “That’s really all there was to it.”

This season, Jagr is in orange and black. He’s scored 11 goals with 19 assists in 31 games with the Flyers and has seen great benefit from playing with Claude Giroux. A few months ago, some in Pittsburgh had visions of him playing with different young stars — Crosby and Malkin — and adding to his remarkable Pittsburgh totals. He had 439 goals and 640 assists in 806 games with the Penguins.

“I don’t think I’d be playing with them,” said Jagr. “I had a conversation with them. I talked to the GM. They said Crosby had players to play with and they didn’t think I’d be playing with him.

“When the GM tells you we have to sign [Tyler] Kennedy first and Kennedy is playing the third or fourth line … Just go and look for [the] GM a month before I was a free agent, and it’s going to tell you a lot. It’ll tell you if they wanted me or not.”

Many believe that Jagr was just out for money. His one-year deal with the Flyers is worth $3.3 million. It is believed to be more than what the Penguins offered in their one-year proposal that Shero eventually retracted.

“We made what we thought was a very fair contract offer to Jaromir on [June 28], based on his stated interest of returning to the Penguins,” Shero said in a statement. “We made our best offer from the start, given our salary cap structure, in an attempt to facilitate a deal. But now, after several days, with an extended time frame for making a decision, and additional teams getting involved, we have decided to move in a different direction. It was never our intention to get involved in a free agent bidding war, and we have to focus on our team.”

Jagr says that his return to the NHL was never about the coin.

“If this was about money, I would have stayed in Russia and got twice more than here … tax free,” said Jagr.

In fact, the Flyers weren’t even the highest offer in the NHL.

“You would be very surprised,” said Jagr. “There was a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year in a different conference and they just wanted to sign players because they had to get to the minimum [salary floor].”

Clearly, Jagr is still a little shaken by the whole experience and feels as though he was set up by the Pittsburgh front office. His intention, he says, is to bring this to light for the fans that feel wronged.

“People have to understand that this is the whole business,” said Jagr. “People are gonna say whatever they have to say to make the fans happy. When I got traded, I came to [then general manager] Craig Patrick and told him, ‘This team is in trouble.’ Not bankruptcy, but we didn’t have much money. I was making $10 million that year. There was the second line: [Robert] Lang, [Martin] Straka, [Alex] Kovalev. They were all free agents. We couldn’t sign them. Pittsburgh couldn’t sign them.

“I came to Craig Patrick. I told him, ‘You know what? I know it’s gonna make it easy for you and the Penguins organization if you trade me for that money. Sign all three players and the team’s gonna be better. If I were to stay there and those guys leave, we have no team.’ He drafted me. I felt like I was his kid or something. I think it would be tough for him to trade me if I didn’t come to him and say it. I didn’t want to get traded, but I just made it easy for the team to do it because I don’t think we would be good. I think we would be bad if I wouldn’t have been traded.”

If the potential of a Lang-less, Straka-less, Kovalev-less Penguins team was bad, his situation with the Penguins now just might be worse. Jagr has already been to New York and Washington this season and he’s heard a healthy contingent of boos in both Madison Square Garden and Verizon Center. He expects to hear many more boos Thursday night at Consol Energy Center.

“It’s gonna be a lot worse in Pittsburgh, no question about it,” he said when asked about his reception in New York last Friday. “If you want to hear boos, go to Pittsburgh.”