Friday marked the opening of NHL free agency and with a $64.3-million salary cap for the 2011-12 season, it was time for GMs to get busy with trades, signings and numbers (and high ones with surprising contracts for defenseman James Wisniewski who signed with Columbus for six years, 33 million dollars while hard-to-get Brad Richards signed for nine years and 60 million dollars with the New York Rangers, to name a few). Some players, however, made decisions that would affect not only their lives but also the ones of their devoted fans when they decided to betray their beloved supporters by signing a pact with a close enemy. Here are some new contracts that have intensified the rivalry between many teams across the league.
The former Montreal Canadien signed a one-year, $1.1 million dollar contract with the Stanley Cup champions Boston Bruins. The rivalry between Boston and Montreal has been considered “one of the greatest rivalries in sports.” The two teams have played each other more times, in both regular season and the playoffs, than any other two teams in NHL history. Just last season, the Habs faced the Bruins in Game seven of the Cup quarterfinals. Boston scored at the start of the first period of overtime, winning the final game 4-3, and made it all the way to the Finals to be crowned champions. The Bruins will host the Canadiens on Oct. 27, 2011 where we might witness former teammates’ reactions to Pouliot’s signing, but a stronger (and louder) response might be heard two nights later, when the Canadiens are scheduled to face the Bruins at the Bell Center. How loudly will Pouliot be booed?
After his unexpected playoff run (nine goals in 16 games) Bergenheim became a coveted free agent at the start of the summer. With little room for expenses due to the salaries of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and restricted free agent Steven Stamkos, it seemed inevitable that Bergenheim would end up leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Florida Panthers scooped up Bergenheim as he was given a four-year, $11 million contract by the team. GM Dave Tallon acquired many other free agents such as defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell, left winger Scottie Upshall and goaltender Jose Theodore, bringing together a new and improved team ready to change their recent misfortune. The Lightning and the Panthers are both part of the Southeast division and will meet six times this year. With Bergenheim moving to Sunrise and on the other side of the Florida State feud, we certainly wonder what kind of reception he’ll received once he will step into the St. Pete Times Forum as a member of the rival team.
Veteran center Michal Handzus signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the San Jose Sharks, a division rival of his former team, the Los Angeles Kings. The 34-year-old played all 82 games last season and tallied 12 goals and 18 assists. He had missed just one game over his past four seasons, all with the Kings. Los Angeles and San Jose met last season in the Western Conference quarterfinals, where the Sharks came out victorious after six games. Handzus won’t have time to miss L.A. too much with the upcoming season’s three planned visits to the Staples Center, where the fans might not give him a warm welcome after his move to the Shark Tank.
A few days prior to the Entry draft, Talbot knew his tenure with the Penguins was coming to an end. After a three-year offer by Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero was made, Talbot couldn’t accept it with free agency looming. A week later, he signed a five-year deal worth $9 million with the Flyers. The Philadelphia-Pittsburgh rivalry began in 1967 when the teams were introduced in the “next six” expansion wave and has remained due to divisional alignment and geographic location, as both teams play in the state of Pennsylvania. Talbot has been quite aware of the impact of his decision, commenting to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about his first game facing the Penguins as a Flyer on Dec. 29, 2011: “I feel lucky it’s late in the season, not right from the start. After two months of playing for the Flyers, I’ll look at myself in an orange sweater and be used to it. That date will keep me awake at night for a few days before.” Talbot hopes Pens fans will remember him fondly but can expect, as most of us do, disapproval from them. Meanwhile, Flyers fans are delighted to further irritate Penguins fans.
The 39-year-old veteran from the KHL signed a one-year, $3.3 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers after he was given the opportunity to return to his original NHL team under the terms of a one-year, $2 million contract. Instead, Jagr opted to sign with the Penguins’ most-hated rival. Furthermore, the former Penguin/Capital/Ranger continues to contribute to many rivalries as the Flyers are amongst the biggest rivals for all three of his former teams. He might get booed many times in many different locations this season.
Whichever team ends up facing your hometown/childhood heroes, it’s always easy to yell at them. But when a former member skates onto the ice along with the opposing team, it might make it harder to scream, but remembering the fact they signed a pact with the enemy could help you to do so.