Gagne's Return: Was It Really Worth It?
The setting: late February in Philadelphia.
Needing a spark in some way after a dreadful start to the season, General Manager Paul Holmgren decided to pull the trigger on a move involving a familiar face returning to the Delaware Valley.
Holmgren shipped a 4th round pick to Los Angeles to bring back left winger Simon Gagne.
"Simon is an experienced veteran who will help us in a lot of areas," Holmgren said on February 26. "We are glad to have him back."
Gagne seemed more than joyous to be back.
He scored in his re-debut against the Washington Capitals, banging home a brilliant pass from Brayden Schenn.
That goal sent the Wells Fargo Center attendees into a flurry of excitement. Everyone's favorite left winger was back in (orange and) black.
"I got some good hockey left in me," the former 22nd overall pick in the 1998 amateur draft said after that win. "I may not have played a lot in LA, but every time I was in the lineup, I felt good."
"Flyers goal scored by number twelve, Simon Gagne!" Lou Nolan belted after Gagne scored at the 3:54 mark of the second period. It was an all-too familiar sound in Philadelphia. Life was good with Gagne back in the fold.
On the season, Gagne scored five goals and six assists in 27 games in a mostly third line role. Not bad for the 33-year-old returnee.
Perhaps the main goal of bringing Gagne back was to nudge this team in the right direction – maybe to wake them up from a sub-.500 start to the season and push them towards the playoffs. At the time, they held a record of 9-11-1. Unfortunately, they were trending in the wrong direction.
After acquiring Gagne, the team lost eight of the next eleven games. After that, their fate was pretty much decided. Playoffs weren't happening in a town starved for a winner.
Gagne now wears the Unrestricted Free Agent tag as of July 5, 2013 and it is now September. Training camp looms just a few weeks away for all 30 NHL teams. Gagne remains without a home for the 2013-14 season.
Gagne joins a laundry list of middle class free agents that will find it difficult to be tendered a contract under the reduced salary cap. As it stands, cap room will be scarce in Philadelphia, so as of this season, don't count on the former first round pick to be making a second comeback, at least for now.
So it begs the question: Was the reunion worth it?
Plainly, no, not really.
Say all you would like about the success rate of 4th round picks in the NHL's vast history, but what good did Gagne do over the course of the past season that warranted his re-acquisition?
If he was meant to be a valuable top six forward, why stick him on a third line with an aged Mike Knuble, and a checking center in Ruslan Fedotenko? And why keep him there?
At that point, it was hard to say if Jakub Voracek, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds or Scott Hartnell had earned the full time winger spot with centerpiece Claude Giroux. Gagne never entered that conversation.
Right now, he doesn't fit in the lineup.
The Flyers have Voracek, Read, Simmonds, Hartnell, Zac Rinaldo, Adam Hall, and potentially Max Talbot and Brayden Schenn as wingers this season. Unless Gagne wants a seat in the press box on a nightly basis, he won't crack this team's structure as it stands.
Make no mistake about it, Gagne is and always will be a fan favorite in the City of Brotherly Love. It just appears, at this juncture, that this move was a shrewd way to sell tickets and put forth a half-hearted effort to push the team towards the playoffs.
A stopgap solution, if you will.
Holmgren shipped Gagne's contract out once for close to nothing. He will likely let Simon walk for nothing this time as well. If he never comes back as a player, he will most certainly retire as a Flyer, and he will receive a true Philadelphia ovation.
Consider this move strictly nostalgic. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, that's all anyone needs out of it.