NHL free agents sign on the dotted line

Jaromir Jagr celebrates a goal against the U.S. during the IIHF World Championships in Bratislava,...

Jaromir Jagr celebrates a goal against the U.S. during the IIHF World Championships in Bratislava, May 11, 2011. (PETR JOSEK/Reuters)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:39 PM ET

TORONTO - The state of Pennsylvania and the Toronto suburb of Mississauga became free-agent battlegrounds on Friday, at the opening of NHL free agency.

Philadelphia Flyers’ general manager Paul Holmgren pulled two players away from the bitter rival Pittsburgh Penguins, including winger Jaromir Jagr. A night earlier, it looked like former Pens’ Hart Trophy winner Jagr would return from the KHL to his old team, but the Flyers went a million dollars higher to get the 39-year-old at $3.3 million. That was followed by a five-year, $9 million pitch to centre Max Talbot.

“I guess it is (treason), but it’s the right thing for me to do,” a light-hearted Talbot told TSN.

Jagr went from testing the Penguins’ patience to ticking them off big-time.

After a few years in the KHL and now pushing age 40, Jagr signed a one-year deal with the Flyers for more than $2 million US. The Flyers are already in a state of flux with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards traded at the draft, in what was billed as a spiritual housecleaning, but Jagr has been a moody player in his own right throughout his career. Jagr’s Hall oF Fame career numbers often came at the expense of the Flyers.

The frustrated Penguins pulled out of the Jagr sweepstakes on Friday morning, just when it seemed they were finally on the verge of signing their one-time scoring ace. But when Jagr dithered again through agent Petr Svoboda on Thursday night, that appeared to be the last straw for Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero.

Originally looking for somewhere between $1 million and $2 million, Jagr successfully drove the price higher.

Pittsburgh was able to get smallish forward Steve Sullivan out of Nashville for a year at $1.5 million.

The Detroit Red Wings also said Friday morning they were halting pursuit of Jagr, which many thought left the Montreal Canadiens as the apparent frontrunners. with Jagr’s relationship with Czech centre Tomas Plekanec a factor.

At the offices of Newport Sports in Mississauga, centre Brad Richards and his team of agents listened as teams made detailed pitches for the services. The Los Angeles Kings had seven in their entourage, including CEO Tim Leiweke and general manager Dean Lombardi there at noon, staying 90 minutes.

Toronto senior vice-president Dave Nonis and senior advisor Cliff Fletcher spent an hour with the 31-year-old PEI native, with the suddenly spendthrift Buffalo Sabres due later Friday.

Florida, with GM Dale Tallon needing to spend more thjan $24 million to make the $48.3 million cap floor, added right winger Scottie Upsall and brought back one of the most popular players in franchise history, defenceman Ed Jovanovski, the first overall pick in 1994. Jovanovski came back for four years at $16.5-million US, Upshall four years at $14 million. Tallon also added goalie Jose Theodore for two years at $3-million deal.

The always-interesting goaltending carousel did not involve Tomas Vokoun, considered perhaps the biggest name. He sat idle while at first,while one-time Washington Capital saviour Semyon Varlamov headed to Colorado for a first and second round draft choicein a trade. Former Hart Trophy winner Theodore was added to Vokoun’s old stable in Florida. Mathieu Garon replaced Mike Smith as Dwayne Roloson’s back-up in Tampa Bay, with Smith off to Phoenix Coyotes to replace Ilja Bryzgalov. Peter Budaj also departed Colorado for Montreal.

Another low-profile defenceman hit the jackpot earlier in the day with James Wisniewski, trading on his big year in Montreal as its second-leading scorer. He joined a Columbus team that already added Carter. The Jackets had traded for Wisniewski’s rights a few days earlier, signing him for $33 million US over six years.

Some toughness depart the San Joe Sharks, with Ben Eager heading to Edmonton to spice up a rivalry that began in the playoffs against Vancouver. Jamal Mayers added to Chicago’s muscle and Raffi Torres departed Vancouver for Phoenix.

Wisniewski came in on the tails of defenceman Christian Ehrhoff’s huge deal the day before with Buffalo. His pact is a year and $7 million less than Ehrhoff, who refused Wisniewski-type numbers from the New York Islanders and had his rights traded a second time to the Sabres.

“It was quite enticing for me to get a deal done,” Wisniewski told Rogers Sportsnet.

“We knew the names (of top defencemen) were dwindling down and if we stayed patient, we’d get the deal we were trying to get.”

For doubters of his worth, Wisniewski pointed out his journeyman NHL career has been hindered by knee injuries.

Toronto general manager Brian Burke is keeping in touch with his staff while in Khandahar, Afghanistan, on a surprise Canada Day trip with defenceman Luke Schenn to visit troops. The Leafs didn’t gain any UFAs in the first three hours, but lost centre Tim Brent to Carolina for $750,000 the next two seasons.

The Wings did nail down their own products in defenceman Jonathan Ericsson and forward Patrick Eaves, then added veteran UFA Mike Commodore.

Ericsson, 27, will make more than $9 million US the next three years, an improvement on his $1.25 million stipend from 2010-11.

Defenceman Andy Greene re-signed with the New Jersey Devils for four years.


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