Why Simon Gagne Was Always the Kings’ Best 2011 UFA Option
Simon Gagne signed a two year contract today with the Los Angeles Kings worth $7 million dollars. This is easily the most affordable salary cap hit ($3.5 million) of any forward with first-line talent in this year’s free agent class.
Some are suggesting that this was plan B, after Brad Richards, and is merely satisfactory. I actually think it is nothing short of ideal.
Need for LW
The Kings have needed a left-winger with the ability to light-the-lamp since the retirement of #20. This void has been more apparent with the emergence of Anze Kopitar as the Kings’ premier center, as his production would surely benefit from another forward with the same level of talent.
The coaching staff has had to instill a shooting mentality in Kopitar to get him to take more chances because he is often more inclined to pass. The reason they have done so is because he has been the most capable goal scorer on the team for the last few seasons.
Simon Gagne is a two-time 40 goal scorer. That is a legitimate tagline for a press-release about a player, especially when compared to ’four-time 20 goal scorer Alexei Ponikarovsky’. Who could have predicted that would underwhelm?
He has also scored over 30 goals in two other seasons. All of those seasons were with the Philadelphia Flyers. You may ask, ‘what is with all the former Flyers?’ Actually, Simon Gagne is only the third player on the current roster after Mike Richards and Justin Williams. But the front office is filled with former Philadelphia players and coaches as well: Ron Hextall, Terry Murray, and John Stevens.
Back to the players- is it really such a bad thing to have multiple players coming from one other team? Perhaps to some it may indicate that the Kings are attempting to imitate the Philadelphia Flyers. But to suggest that this has anything to do with why Mike Richards was acquired is absurd. And the benefit of having Flyer ties in the organization is that there will be familiarity for Richards in having his previous coaches here, and now a former teammate. This will no doubt be mutually beneficial for Richards and Gagne, even if they don’t end up playing on the same line.
But if they do, the last time they did so with any regularity was in 2008-09, when Gagne posted 34 goals and 74 points and Richards added 30 goals and 80 points of his own. The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, haven’t had anyone crack the 60 point mark except Kopitar for the last three seasons.
Another July 1 came and went without a significant signing for the Kings, and in the case of this year, there were no signings at all. Names of potential left-wing suitors flew off the board like Ville Leino, Erik Cole, and Tomas Fleischmann. Concern grew among Kings fans.
Meanwhile, the Brad Richards domino, though creating palpable buzz thanks to TSN, was yet to fall. It seemed that perhaps Dean Lombardi and the Kings would fail to snag that big free agent fish yet again.
But what, exactly did Lombardi fail to do?
- He failed to pay Erik Cole $4.5 million for each of the next four years. Cole has had a serious neck injury and is prone to physical play, though he did play all 82 games last season. He seems to be good for 25 goals and 50-60 points, but not much more.
- He failed to pay Tomas Fleischmann $4.5 million for each of the next four years. Fleischmann has shown flashes (Flash was his nickname in Washington) of a scoring touch as well as an ability to disappear. He has never played a full 82 games and suffered from a Pulmonary emboli last season, which is a blood clot in his lung. Not surprisingly, this shut him down for the remainder of the season.
- He failed to pay Ville Lenio $4.5 million for each of the next six years. Leino was thought to be more of a role player until his breakout season with the Flyers, and was blessed with a talent laden roster with which to supplement his production. One of these players, was Mike Richards. Leino amassed 19 goals and 51 points, but has never come close to that level of production in the NHL before.
All of this carried over until the next day.
Saturday, the Kings failed to lure Brad Richards who instead chose the New York Rangers. They agreed to a nine year, $60 million deal. More on Richards later.
Dean Lombardi also failed to pay Tim Connolly $4.75 million for the next two years. Connolly has been plagued with concussions and post concussion syndrome throughout his career. He was not going to get re-signed in Buffalo yet still managed a raise from Brian Burke in Toronto after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign.
So what did Dean Lombardi really fail to do? He failed to overpay for anyone, as usual. None of these players is going to be as effective as they are getting paid for. The exception may be Brad Richards.
If there’s anything good that can be said about the Richards Saga, it is that it was at least brief, in comparison to the Kovalchuk debacle last year. Of course if the charade is offensive to any of us, we only have ourselves to blame for our unquenchable thirst for hockey gossip (see: Hockeybuzz.com)
Brad Richards was the big free agent fish of the season, and for good reason. Richards has perennially been a point per game player and won a Conn Smythe in 2004 when his Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup.
But sometimes what happens is the hype machine leading up to the July 1 free agent frenzy likes to focus on the big names that will be available. Last season of course it was the mad Russian; this year, Richards. Brad Richards is the only name we’ve heard discussed over the course of the last year that ‘will be available for teams looking to boost their scoring’. And who’s team isn’t?
Thus, the name Richards became equivalent to achieving success in the mind of the fans. “We got Richards!” But what have you really achieved?
In the case of the Rangers, they achieved locking up a terrific player for nine years. But Richards also missed the last ten games of last season with a concussion. At 31 years old, he is no shoe-in to play until he is 40. The cap hit of $6.67 is rather affordable, however, as Glen Sather seems to have finally figured out that whole ‘negotiating’ concept.
But New York is a good fit for Richards. He will be their #1 center. He is friends with Sean Avery (for some reason), has been coached by John Tortorella, and figures to be paired with an elite sniper in Marian Gaborik.
In Los Angeles, his role would not have been so clear. The Kings already have two players very capable of playing the top center spot, so Brad Richards may have been asked to shift to the wing. Who knows how comfortable he would have been with that idea, but logic would suggest that filling the #1 center role would be a bit more appealing.
In addition to depth chart slots, B. Richards is also known for being a playmaker, not a goal scorer. The Kings do not need more players that want to move the puck; they have Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Andrei Loktionov. They need a legitimate goal scorer.
They got one in Simon Gagne.
That said, Gagne had a less than impressive season last year with the Lightning, posting 17 goals and 40 points in 63 games. Not his best output. But, Alexei Ponikarovsky was paid only a half a million less to score 5 goals and 15 points in 61 games. And many of the games he missed were due to coach Terry Murray choosing to dress enforcer Kevin Westgarth or a youngin’ from Manchester over him.
So I pose this to doubting Kings fans:
- Would you rather pay money to a player who might miss some time due to injury but can fill the net while in the lineup, and has done so playing on a line with a player on the roster?
- Or would you rather pay close to the same money (using the cap hit) to a player to sit in the press box and only be effective in a shut down role the rest of the time?
To me, it’s not even a question.
If Simon Gagne was plan B, then plan A came from George Steinbrenner.