“HIS JERSEY was your best bet for over a decade, a chance to not look as foolish with your $100 purchase as the guy next to you wearing the Umberger jersey, or the woman in front with Forsberg across her back.
But as his injuries mounted and deprived him of both speed and games, and with the unforgiving NHL salary cap hovering over his every shift like Father Time, Simon Gagne had become the polar opposite of a best bet. Each hit along the boards, each limp off the ice, underlined the dangers of keeping him and his heavy contract around for even another game, another shift.
His trade to Tampa Bay yesterday for the equivalent of a bag of ice was all about that, all about being in position to make a deal around next season’s trade deadline, in a way that they haven’t been able to over the last two seasons. Remember the beer-league defenseman they hired for a game 2 years ago? Remember how they pulled one of their draft picks out of the UMass-Lowell this winter to be backup goalie for a game? Remember how they had to sit on the sidelines when Ilya Kovalchuk was made available at the deadline last season?
The departure of Gagne’s $5.2 million salary gives the Flyers wiggle room now, or what is likely the case, down the road. About $2.75 million once they officially make Matt Walker a Phantom, as much as $3.85 million if the services of Oskars Bartulis and Riley Cote also are unneeded.
It’s significant dough in the NHL. Spent correctly, it could even prove the difference between winning a Stanley Cup or just having it visit your barn.
“I think we’re in a good position where we can just sit back and see what happens,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said after the deal was announced. “But I like our team right now. When we came out of the Stanley Cup final loss to the Blackhawks, we had specific objectives in mind and the No. 1 thing on our list was to improve our defense, and No. 2 on our list was to get a little bigger, and No. 3 on our list was to look for some more goals up front.”
Huh? Simon Gagne was the Philadelphia Flyers from 1999 until yesterday, for good and for bad. He was almost always good. He was occasionally great. He was a seam through a decade of hockey, a pair of young eyes watching the Lindros era come apart, a pair of older ones amid a Flyers youth movement, especially up front.
When he wasn’t hurt, Gagne had a nose for the net better than anyone on the team save maybe Claude Giroux. Even in last season’s hernia-delayed regular season, Gagne scored 40 points in 58 games. He had nine goals in the postseason, despite missing four games with a broken toe. He launched that historic comeback against the Bruins with an overtime winner in Game 4, then capped it off with the Game 7 winner.
“I think the thing I will miss the most are the Flyers fans,” Gagne said. “All the support I got there for the 10 years that I played, even during the tough times when I had some injuries, the fans were really fair with me the whole time. There were a lot of No. 12 jerseys in the stands even when I started with the team in 1999. To them, I would just like to say a huge thank you. Those are the people I am going to miss the most.”
And yet it is doubtful that today’s outrage – if there even is any – will register even a blip on the Cliff Lee-o-meter. Whether it was his lack of English during his electric start or the team’s up-and-down fortunes during his maturation years, Gagne was a more appreciated player than beloved.”