Maxime Talbot, a six-year veteran with the Penguins, was a bit surprised that one of the first phone calls he got when he became an unrestricted free agent July 1 came from Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Maxime Talbot knew the answer before the question was finished being asked -- are you looking forward to your first game back in Pittsburgh.
"December 29," he told NHL.com, adding the day is circled on his calendar. "It's normal, I think."
After six seasons with the Penguins, Talbot signed a five-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers on July 1, moving from Western Pennsylvania to the eastern part in the bitter Keystone State rivalry.
"I'm a proud guy," he said. "It's something where I can't forget where I've been. It's not like flipping a switch and I hate those guys. I owe them a lot, and I hope Flyers fans can forgive me for saying that. I was there six years. But when I play them I'm going to play them as hard as I can and I'm going to play them as a Philadelphia Flyer and do everything I can to beat them. That's what I do."
He said he's not sure what to expect when he returns to Pittsburgh, but he knows he won't hear it as bad as one of his new teammates -- Jaromir Jagr, who started his career with the Penguins and nearly re-signed there this summer before opting to join the Flyers.
"I think that Jags took more of a hit than me," Talbot said. "I don't know what's going to be there."
-- Adam Kimelman
The 27-year-old forward signed a five-year, $8.75 million deal that day, adding fuel to the bitter rivalry. One of the more popular Penguins players due to his rough-and-tumble style, ever-present smile and outgoing personality, seeing Talbot trade gold and black for orange and black was tough news for some Pens fans to handle.
"I got … messages on Twitter and Facebook from (Penguins) fans," Talbot said. "Half of them are taking it to heart and saying how could you do that. The other half said thanks for everything you did and good luck in Philly."
Talbot said it wasn't easy leaving Pittsburgh, but as free agency approached he realized he didn't seem to be in the Penguins' plans.
"The first step for me this summer was to realize that I was not going to be back with the Pens," he said. "That was obviously tough. It was a hard thing, because I had been there six good years. But when that was set aside, I wanted to make the best decision for Max Talbot -- the best organization that gave me the chance to win, an organization that treats its players well and takes pride in winning and doing the right things."
That made signing with the Flyers an easy decision for Talbot.
"You know one, two players on every single team in the League," he said. "You hear about the way ownership and the organization takes care of their players. Let's say there's 10 top teams (in the top third), 10 middle teams … the Flyers always come up in the first third. It's their reputation and I think it's well-deserved. Since I signed here, I know camp hasn't started, but I can see the professionalism of the ownership. You feel like you're in good hands. It would have been tough for me to move from Pittsburgh to a team that you have to build a lot more."
After facing Talbot 32 times during the past six regular seasons -- plus a pair of knock-down, drag-out playoff series -- the Flyers know just what they're getting.
"He's that kind of player that, when you play against him, you can't stand him," forward Claude Giroux told NHL.com. "He's in your face, won't leave you alone. When he's on your side, he's doing the same things to the other players on the other teams. I think he's going to be able to help us a lot this year.
"I know the fans here are going to love him. He works hard, he can hit, he can fight, he can score goals. He's the kind of player the Flyers fans can like."
While the battles on the ice were fierce, Talbot said he couldn't help but build a respect for the players he was battling against.
"There's a huge respect," he said. "As much as Pittsburgh and Philly don't like each other, there's a tremendous amount of respect for both teams. Both have been at the top of the League the last three years. There have been some great battles. There's obviously respect, but that's why you don't like these guys that much. Because they're a good team, because you know they can beat you and you know you can beat them. It's going to be a team that can put the most effort into winning that will win.
"The first step for me this summer was to realize that I was not going to be back with the Pens. That was obviously tough. It was a hard thing, because I had been there six good years. But when that was set aside, I wanted to make the best decision for Max Talbot -- the best organization that gave me the chance to win, an organization that treats its players well and takes pride in winning and doing the right things." -- Max Talbot"You’re used to battling all those guys, but let's say I would see Hartnell at an NHLPA meeting, I would go look him in the eyes and shake his hand. You get in the room here, you meet the staff, you meet the players, and say this is the team that I'm going to work with this year and this is the team I'm going to grow as a family with."
With his former family in Pittsburgh, Talbot went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and won the Cup in 2009 -- he memorably scored both Penguins goals in a 2-1 Game 7 win in Detroit. He also became as well-known off the ice for his work in the community. He hopes to replicate that kind of success on and off the ice with his new family.
"We created something down there," Talbot said of Pittsburgh. "It's the love. It's more about being a fan favorite down there and starting my own foundation down there, making an effort to build a brand, something special with the fans, the fan mail, trying to respond through websites. It was something I took pride in. It was a special situation for me in Pittsburgh. But what stops me from building something like that here? Changes are tough, but changes are life. It's not for the worst sometimes; it can be for good or better."
Talbot said he's already made inroads with a fan base looking forward to seeing him in action for their favorite team.
"I went to an Eagles game last week and I connected with some fans," he said. "They said we're glad to have you on our side. Hopefully I can still build something like I had in Pittsburgh because it was pretty special. When the fans like you, you know you're doing something right."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK