One of the highlights of this poor 2013 Flyers season didn't even occur on the ice, but instead took place on the afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 26, when we learned that beloved former Flyers winger Simon Gagne had been sent back to Philadelphia from the Los Angeles Kings.
We celebrated, he scored a goal on his first night back and it made us all happy, and I think we can all agree it was really fun to see him in a Flyers uniform again after his Flyers career had seemingly ended on rather unceremonious terms in 2010.
But three years after that worst trade ever, we're back in another tough situation, as Gagne finds himself an unrestricted free agent and the Flyers find themselves in a cap crunch. And the decision of whether or not to bring back a fan favorite is probably one that's going to be resolved soon.
Gags said back in April to the Philadelphia Daily News that he'd be interested in coming back, saying it would be "an easy choice if [Paul Holmgren] would come to me and ask me to stay." Last week, he said (again to the Daily News) he was expecting to speak with Homer before the draft.
The draft has passed and free agency begins Friday, so let's look at this a bit more deeply.
He's expressed a willingness to come back on a deal worth less than his previoius $3.5 million annual salary, though given his age (33) and health issues in recent years, he likely wouldn't pick up that kind of money on the market anyway.
So what is the price point at which the Flyers should look to bring him back? Does he have a role on the team at this point? Let's break out the yellow legal pad, Ted Mosby style, and make a pro/con list of having Simon Gagne on the Flyers moving forward.
Pro: he can still score at a decent level.
Gagne tallied 16 points in 38 games last season. That raw amount was good for 113th in the league among wingers, which (if you consider that, technically, each team has four top-6 wingers and there are 30 teams, therefore meaning that there are 120 top-6 wingers in the league) means that he can still be a top-6 winger this past season in terms of point production. No, he isn't going to put up what he did in his heyday here or even what he did two seasons ago, but what he did manage to do isn't bad. Plus he shot a career-low 6.6 percent last season, which held down his goal total to just five. While I don't expect him to match his career mark of shooting 12.6 percent moving forward, we can certainly expect him to post something higher than 6.6 percent, which would add a little more to his production.
Con: his recent injury history is scary.
In the three seasons before this past one (with the Flyers, Kings and Lightning), Gagne's missed 91 games. Groin and foot problems in Philly, followed by a variety of head and neck issues in Tampa and L.A. It could just be a sign of his getting older (which we'll get to in a second), but following a season in which the Flyers were just ravaged by injuries everywhere, it's not something to be taken lightly.
Pro: he can play in a lot of situations with a lot of different players.
In his first game back with the Flyers, Gagne found instant chemistry with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot as a line that could play well on both ends of the ice. In April, Laviolette moved him up to a line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, and that unit ended up finishing the season strong. He's very versatile, spending time on shutdown lines, power plays, and top units, and having a player like that is always good.
Con: his possession numbers weren't very good last year.
I'm inclined to give him a bit of a pass here, given that most of the Flyers did poorly on possession in March and April, and because he's generally been a plus possession player for his career and I don't think he'd just lose that skill entirely overnight, in one year, just because he got a year older. Still, he had zone starts that were favorable relative to the rest of the team's forwards but posted a Corsi in close-game situations that was below the team's average since his acquisition. I think he can rebound there, but it's tough to know how much, if at all.
Pro: his veteran-ness.
Consider the players that we know are going to be among the Flyers' forward ranks this season: Giroux, Voracek, Talbot, Couturier, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, and Zac Rinaldo. Hartnell, 31 next season, and Talbot, 29, are the senior citizens among that group, and almost all of the rest of them are sitting at 25 or under. Not to mention, there's a decent chance that the remaining few spots will be inhabited by more youngsters, such as Tye McGinn or Scott Laughton.
Generally speaking, I'm all in favor of a youth movement, but having at least one competent veteran around who's seen and done a little bit of everything the way that Gagne has could probably help the young guys, even if only a bit.
Con: his veteran-ness.
Particularly, the fact that as someone becomes more of an NHL veteran, their performance tails off a bit. And sadly, Simon's no exception -- his points per game has dropped in each of the last four seasons as he's aged from 28 to 32. I'm sure he can still produce as, at absolute worst, an adequate third liner for the next couple of seasons, but there's a track record of guys around his age who post numbers like his falling off before long. And his aforementioned health problems don't exactly quell those fears.
Pro: he wants to be here.
Here's the quote from that piece Seravalli wrote last April:
"I'm at the point of my career where I made really good money for a while," Gagne said. "As a player, your goal is to win the Stanley Cup. I did that [with the Kings last season]. I still want to win the Stanley Cup. At the end of the day, money is just a small question. Being happy is important. If I like the place, I'll make things work - for everyone to be happy, to make sure that it doesn't hurt the team."
Gagne's earned just under $43 million* in his NHL career, so it's true that he's made a pretty good living in hockey, as he says. If he's willing to take a discount, sign me up.
Con: he still costs money.
We hear those kinds of platitudes from athletes fairly often, and I don't think the Flyers can significantly lowball him. My very rough guess (admittedly based on little concrete data) would be that he'd get something along the lines of two years and $4-5 million in total ($2-$2.5 million per year) on the open market. Would that be something the Flyers could provide? And if not, how much money is he willing to leave on the table to stay here? Finding that balance may be easier said than done, particularly for a team that is close to the cap the way the Flyers still are.
Pro: he's probably still better than the alternatives.
We've talked already about some of the guys the Flyers currently have control of who can fit in their lineup next year, and they'd all cost less than what Gags will. But the reality is most of them are unknown rookies and probably aren't guaranteed to do much of anything at the NHL level.
There are also probably a lot of guys on the free agent market that will provide similar or better production next year, but who in that list do you look at and think "that guy can give us better production, at a cost that's feasible and sensible for this team given its current cap situation?" If we've already got one guy who says he's willing to come back at a decent rate and provide decent production, and avoid the crazy bidding wars of free agency, it seems preferable to me.
I admit I've painted a fairly sympathetic, glass-half-full scenario here around Gagne. But I think that's the last pro here, and one that I think is going to lead to this deal getting done: consider the state of the Flyers' front office right now. They're taking a lot of heat for the team missing the postseason. After a bad 2012 offseason, and after the embarrassment involved in moves such as spending $21 million on an old defenseman or buying out the $51 million goaltender, people are rightly skeptical of most things they're doing now.
Paul Holmgren and Ed Snider aren't exactly in the good graces of the fans right now. Bringing back a respectable middle-6 forward who's universally beloved here and giving him a chance to retire in orange and black will likely be something that almost all Flyers fans out there want to see. Get it done.