Simon Gagne, a healthy scratch for the L.A. Kings' last four games, hadn't asked to be traded. But he was beginning to consider it.
Gagne was frustrated with his situation in Los Angeles, where depth on offense led to questions about just how he'd fit into the lineup. He was willing to "suck it up," though, he said, for his wife and two kids.
As it turns out, he won't have to.
The Flyers on Tuesday traded a conditional 2013 fourth-round draft pick (third-round, if they make the playoffs) to the Kings for Gagne, who spent the first 10 seasons of his career in Philadelphia.
The move comes a day after rookie Tye McGinn suffered a broken orbital bone in a fight with Maple Leafs tough guy Mike Brown, and a week after Matt Read tore his rib cage muscles against Pittsburgh, leaving the Flyers with some holes to fill in their lineup. Gagne will fly overnight from Los Angeles in time to play in tomorrow night's game against the Washington Capitals.
It was the first thing GM Paul Holmgren told him when the two talked, he said.
"It’s tough to say exactly the way I feel right now," Gagne said. "It’s always a shock, first of all, getting traded, but after when they told me the place I was going, the place I was for more than 10 years and where everything started, so it’s going back to the place where I’m really familiar and really excited to go back to Philly."
The Flyers selected Gagne 22nd overall in the 1998 draft. Seven times, he scored at least 20 goals in a season for the team, netting a career high 47 goals in 2005-06. In 11 games this year, however, he has no goals and five assists, and hasn't played with the Kings since Feb. 17. It's been an issue this season, he said, of trying to find his way around the Kings' lineup, of trying to sort out the role he was needed to play.
"It’s not an easy situation," Gagne said. "As a hockey player not playing a lot last year and not playing at the end in the Final and having the long lockout, not playing for almost six months before we started the season. But I have to say I felt really good – the games that I played this year, I felt really good on the ice. ... I think it’s just a matter of playing a little more hockey and all that stuff will come back."
In his last productive season as a Flyer, 2008-09, Gagne scored 34 goals playing primarily alongside Mike Richards and Knuble. He has yet to talk to coach Peter Laviolette, however, and doesn't know how the Flyers plan to use him this time around. All he knows, he said, is that the Flyers need him to be ready to play Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Gagne is only 32, but has slowed down considerably in recent years. He struggled with injuries and concussions last year, missing the final 47 games of the regular season before returning to play in four games during the Kings' Stanley Cup run. He had collected 528 points in 664 games with the Flyers and has 62 points in the 108 games he's played since leaving the team.
In returning to the Flyers, he brings some much needed depth, though, even if he isn't the Gagne of the mid-2000s.
“He improves our depth up front automatically," Holmgren said. "Obviously with the injury bug and Matt Read being out and now we lost Tye McGinn last night for a few weeks. We have some holes. Simon is a guy who has a lot of experience and played in a lot of positions, penalty kill, power play and regular shifts. He is a good two-way player that can skate. We think he will add to us a lot.”
Just five days after winning the Cup last June, Gagne underwent surgery on his neck. Because of the timing of the surgery and the lockout, he was able to return to the Kings lineup at the start of the 2013 season. Holmgren said he wasn't at all concerned about Gagne's health, and the left wing himself said he's feeling better than he has in some time.
"I’m 100 percent now," Gagne said. "I was really excited about this year because of that, but unfortunately things didn’t work the way it was here in L.A. this year, so now having a chance to play with Philly and play on a regular basis, I’m really excited to try that. It will be fun."
A fan favorite while in Philadelphia, Gagne was traded to Tampa Bay on July, 19, 2010 for defenseman Matt Walker and a 2011 fourth-round draft pick. He signed with the Kings as a free agent in 2011.
Gagne carries with him a $3.5 million cap hit. To create the necessary room, the Flyers placed Jody Shelley on long-term injured reserve.
Including the Phantoms, Gagne is the eighth former Flyers player to return to the team this season. Among the Flyers, Gagne joins Brian Boucher, Mike Knuble and Ruslan Fedotenko as players who returned to Philadelphia after playing elsewhere.