The Los Angeles Kings traded Simon Gagne back to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday for a conditional draft pick, sending the struggling left wing back to the city where he had his greatest NHL success.
Gagne spent his first 10 NHL seasons with the Flyers, but won his first Stanley Cup title last season in Los Angeles after a late-playoff return from a concussion. He hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games this season for the Kings, who decided the veteran didn’t fit in coach Darryl Sutter’s system.
Before Gagne even got up the nerve to ask for a trade, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi sent him back to Philadelphia.
“They just did it on their own,” Gagne said. “It just shows you the class those guys have. Even if it’s hard getting traded in the middle of the season, going to Philly — and they told me it was the best place for me to go — they’re really gentlemen to do that to me this year.”
Los Angeles will get a third-round pick if Philadelphia makes the playoffs or a fourth-round pick if the Flyers miss the postseason.
Gagne had 259 goals and 524 points in his decade with the Flyers, who traded him to Tampa Bay in July 2010 partly to get under the salary cap. The Kings signed him a year later, but Gagne has scored just 24 goals in 108 games since leaving Philadelphia.
“This is a good player that I’ve known a long time, and I know that if he would have wanted to go anywhere, that would be the place he wanted to go,” said Lombardi, a former Flyers scout. “Given that we had to do this, if we can, I would certainly put him someplace I know he’d be happy.”
Gagne scored a career-high 47 goals during the 2005-06 season while playing mostly on a line with Peter Forsberg and Mike Knuble, who re-signed with Philadelphia last month. Before the lockout last July, the Flyers re-signed Ruslan Fedotenko, who began his career alongside Gagne with the Flyers more than a decade ago.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren spoke with Lombardi a few days ago about Gagne, but suddenly had urgency to add front-line depth. Matt Read is sidelined for six weeks with torn rib cage muscles, and Tye McGinn will be out for a few weeks after breaking an orbital bone in a fight with Toronto’s Matt Brown on Monday night.
“He improves our depth up front automatically,” said Holmgren, who traded Gagne three years ago. “He is a good two-way player that can skate. … Coaches have watched tape of him playing, so we feel comfortable that he is fine. He seems excited to be coming back, and looks forward to an opportunity to play and help us.”
The seven-time 20-goal scorer was sidelined for more than five months of his first season in Los Angeles with his latest concussion, but returned to action in the Stanley Cup finals. He played four games while winning his first NHL championship, but underwent neck surgery five days after raising the Cup for the first time.
Gagne’s ice time was down sharply this season, and he had been a healthy scratch recently for the Kings (9-6-2), who have won four straight after a slow start. Gagne had five assists this season, but lost playing time recently to fellow veteran Dustin Penner.
Gagne only recently pulled up some of his Philly roots. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has been renting Gagne’s old house in Philadelphia’s New Jersey suburbs for the past 2½ years, but Gagne recently sold the house, with the closing scheduled for March 15.
While Los Angeles started clicking after a slow start, Philadelphia is off to just a 9-11-1 start despite scoring 60 goals, third in the Eastern Conference.
Gagne has a $3.5 million salary for the season and will be a free agent this summer, but Holmgren said the Flyers could afford him after losing players to injury.