I can imagine what you must be thinking right now. "Oh, God no. Kat is writing another Gagne article again?" It can get old, I know. I also realize that you have a team to worry about, no time to care about a player who's not on the team anymore. But throughout the season, there has been something that bothered me a lot and as we're getting near to the end of the regular season it angers me that much more.
It's people, Flyers fans, who constantly talk about how relieved they are Simon Gagne is not a Flyer anymore. How genuinely happy they are the Flyers don't need to deal with his injuries and a huge cap hit anymore. How they claim he obviously would have been a liability had he stayed on the team. How clear it is that Holmgren "won this trade". And so long, and so on. I think you get the idea.
Look, I am not writing this to whine and complain about how the Flyers need Gagne, how he is missed or how he was a vital piece that can not be replaced. No. First, it would be incorrect. Second, it would be pointless. Third, I do enough of that in plenty of other discussion threads. I am writing this as an attempt at explaining why I think it's unfair to claim and express things I stated above.
First thing that hits you when you look at Gagne's stats is his +/- rating. Holy cheese, minus-19! It's the worst on the Lightning and it's near the bottom of the league (the worst player in this aspect is Erik Karlsson with minus-34). That itself screams how awful Simon is and how he sucks. Well, wait for a minute. Okay, it's bad, it's really bad but is it really the only number we should be looking at? It's +/- the only thing that is the factor in evaluating players these days?
As I found in one of the articles you linked to in recent Fly By, Simon Gagne is among the most unlucky players this season.
Although a lot has gone right for the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning under new GM Steve Yzerman, Simon Gagne must be looking like a supreme bust to this point thanks to lackluster production and his terrible plus-minus rating.
However, Gagne has been victimized by the terrible goaltending that haunted the Bolts through the first half. The even strength save percentage behind him thus far has been .868, which is what one would expect from an NHL goalie…on the penalty kill. Add in that below average on-ice shooting percentage and you have a noteworthy acquisition and worthwhile gamble looking like bust because of straight up bad luck.
Gagne probably isn't a 40-goal scorer anymore and he's highly injury-prone, but he's certainly better than the surface stats suggest right now.
As much as I hate it, Simon does carry a label of being "injury prone." You can agree with it or you can argue it (as I do). Either way, it sticks with him and it brings a worry if/when he gets injured. Yes, he was hurt again this season. He was out for nearly 6 weeks, missing 18 games in the process. Laughs, giggles and "told you so" comments from the Flyers fans ensued. The Philly fans did look like winners at that time while the Lightning fans were frustrated with the situation. So much that it made me write another article in Simon's defense.
To quote myself,
Not even a half of a year ago, this guy played on a broken foot, helping his team to get into the Stanley Cup finals, only to be crushed by a heartbreaking loss in overtime and on top of things, to be traded away for a garbage. Not only did Simon lose his lifetime dream, he also lost his home in the span of few weeks. Think I am exaggerating? I beg to differ… Besides Quebec, Philadelphia was the only place he ever lived in. He spent 10 years there, he settled with his family there. He planned on spending the rest of his life there. What does this have to do with his lack of production? Even though it probably shouldn’t, huge changes like that affect the player, whether we like it or not. A guy who’s been used to cold, mist, drizzle and snow is now dealing with a spring-like weather. A guy who had familiar places and faces around him is now a stranger in a completely new environment. A guy who was respected and loved is now bashed and hated.
Dramatic, eh? Anyway... The off ice, personal aspect of players' lives is something hockey fans tend to forget about or think it's something that should not be considered as a factor of any value. "You're being paid millions of dollars, suck it up and play like you're supposed to." Right. Why am I bringing this up though is not only to justify Simon's lack of scoring touch but also to explain why his injury took longer to heal than it could have.
I'm not sure how many of you know, but the Simon's "stiff neck" issue didn't really begin in the Lightning - Islanders game, as I used to think. As many used to believe. The real, initial source of the injury was a check on Gagne from Mark Giordano in the Lightning pre-season game.
As Gagne said,
I got hit pretty hard in Calgary, head first, face first. I wasn't feeling the same on the ice (...)
But after the hit (in Calgary), I was like, 'I got hit pretty hard. I hope I'm going to be okay,' but everything was fine.
It was hard to know at that time if there was anything wrong. I kind of noticed a little, but I wasn't quite sure, and if you're still able to play, you go play.
And coach Boucher commented on that,
It's his last year of his contract, and after what's been said about him the last two years, he wants to get rid of that. There's pride there. You want to play. You want to contribute. You want to have a good reputation.
With the quotes I put here, it makes me wonder whether the situation would have been the same had Simon stayed with the Flyers? People are quick to say that his injury was expected and the amount of time he was out as well. But do we really know this would have happened to him in Philadelphia as well? My point is, if he was still with the Flyers, would he try to play through his symptoms, thus making the injury worse? I tend to think he wouldn't. Yes, the last year of your contract is still last year of your contract but it's a bit different when you're trying to impress new coach, new teammates, new fans. Unfamiliar environment and the desire to succeed, to get rid of a label, in front of people you want to impress. That's tough and I believe the injury wouldn't have been half that bad hadn't Simon had to deal with all that kind of pressure.
I know. The "what if" game. It's probably not that valuable in an argument or a discussion and I would be the first person to tell you that I hate it, and for a simple reason. We're not dealing with facts. Just speculations and more or less probable scenarios. Unfortunately though, I could not find any other way to play a Simon's advocate again. And as much as I can't be 100% sure that Simon would have been spectacular had he stayed, you can't be 100% sure he wouldn't have.