Gagne on return: 'It feels almost like I never left'


Gagne on return: 'It feels almost like I never left'

Simon Gagne said it almost felt like coming home.

“It feels almost like I never left,” the newest Flyer said after his first game back in Philadelphia. “Just walking in the building before the game, knowing everyone and everybody’s still here. … It definitely helped me tonight to get through the tough travel yesterday, definitely helped me to get through the game and feeling good.”

The Flyers re-acquired Gagne in a surprise move Tuesday (see story), flying him through the night on a red-eye from Los Angeles in time to play in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals.

But Gagne didn’t just fight through fatigue to put in his 16 minutes. His scoring chances started on his very first shift with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot, and he went on to score the Flyers’ third goal of the night, a tap-in beauty on the power play.

He couldn’t have written the script better if he’d tried.

“Not really, I guess,” he said, smiling. “Especially after what happened yesterday, flying late last night from L.A. I tried to sleep a little bit, but at the same time, now I’m excited to be back. It was hard to fall asleep. I tried to get a nice night of sleep, but at the end, coming here and getting a big win, and scoring that tap-in goal, it’s a good scenario for sure.”

Gagne, of course, has a big leg up over most other players who are traded midseason. He is familiar with the area, he knows nine Flyers from his previous stint with the team and he’s already played for coach Peter Laviolette. He even technically still owns a home in Voorhees, N.J., -- he only just found someone to buy it last month.

Fans, too, were ecstatic about his return. Gagne was a crowd favorite during his 10 seasons in Philadelphia, and he was greeted with cheers when he skated on the ice for warm-ups. When a video welcome was played on the Jumbotron in the first period, he received a loud standing ovation.

“I think there’s always a little bit of an adjustment when a player comes to the team,” Laviolette said. “But I think it’s easier when they’ve been there and they’ve played for the coach and know a lot of the players and a lot of the system. I think that does make it a little bit easier.”

Gagne’s new teammates were simply hoping for an emotional boost in his return Wednesday. They got so much more. His goal at 3:54 of the second period was his first since Nov. 17, 2011, and first for the Flyers since March 28, 2010. In his 11 games with the Kings this season, he had five assists but had yet to score.

“Sometimes you just need one to get things rolling,” Gagne said. “And it was good to get that first one in my first game back in Philly.”

The 32-year-old left wing was a casualty of depth with Los Angeles, a healthy scratch for the Kings’ last four games. His injury and concussion struggles over the last couple years were no secret, but Gagne said he’s felt healthy this season and was excited to hit the ice with memories of last season’s struggles (he missed the Kings’ last 47 regular-season games) behind him. He would use only his Stanley Cup victory experience to build on.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to figure out where he fit in on this season’s L.A. roster.

With the Flyers, though, his experience makes his role here obvious.

“Right away, I got a call from Homer (general manager Paul Holmgren) yesterday, and talking to Lavy (Laviolette) on the phone yesterday, they told me what my role’s going to be,” Gagne said. “… As a player, you need that. It was maybe the tough thing in L.A., I wasn’t sure what my role was and didn’t really understand why I was not playing.”

Gagne, who will turn 33 on Friday, has always kept the thought in the back of his mind that he could return to the Flyers one day. He had hoped it might happen, but couldn’t imagine it would have happened less than three years after he left.

He might not be the player he was during his first stint with the Flyers, but he is a wiser player. And that knowledge should only help him -- and his new team -- during this strange, lockout-shortened season.

“[The Kings] thought it was going to be the best place for me to come back and make things a lot easier to try to get my game back,” Gagne said. “I know exactly what I have to do, I’ve got the experience. I know what it takes to play in Philly.”

And Wednesday night, he said, he’ll definitely sleep well.

2016 Flyers free-agent fit: Maple Leafs RW P.A. Parenteau?

2016 Flyers free-agent fit: Maple Leafs RW P.A. Parenteau?

Each day from now until July 1, the day NHL free agency begins, producers Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile some of the league’s top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.

P.A. Parenteau, right wing

Age: 33
Height: 6-0
Weight: 200
Last team: Toronto Maple Leafs
2015-16 cap hit: $1.5 million

Scouting report
Parenteau was drafted with the 264th overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks back when the draft went nine rounds and he's enjoyed a relatively productive career.

The 6-foot right winger has played eight seasons with five different teams, with Toronto being his last club. His most successful seasons came in 2010-11 and 2011-12 with the Islanders.

During the '11-12 campaign, Parenteau set career highs in assists (49) and points (67). He used that season to cash in during free agency, signing a four-year, $16 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche, but he never found much success out in Colorado.

Parenteau spent two seasons with the Avalanche, playing in all 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and 55 games in 2013-14. He registered 76 points in two seasons with Colorado before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens in June 2014.

In Montreal, he was hindered by injuries and found himself as a healthy scratch on occasion. In 56 games with the Habs, Parenteau had eight goals and 22 points.

Last summer, he inked a one-year deal with the rebuilding Maple Leafs and enjoyed his best season since 2012-13, his first in Colorado. Parenteau netted 20 markers, tying a career high, and 41 points in 77 games with Toronto last season.

I wouldn't be opposed to bringing in Parenteau at the right price, but he's not a great fit.

He made an affordable $1.5 million last season and scored 20 goals again. If the Flyers are looking for a scoring winger on the cheap, he could be an option.

The problem with Parenteau is, he's easy to knock off the puck and is a one-dimensional player. That doesn't sound like he would get along with head coach Dave Hakstol.

Parenteau is a proven playmaker who's produced points at this level. He could help on the power play and when he has the puck, he controls it well.

It depends on how much general manager Ron Hextall is willing to pay for scoring. If he wants a more complete player, Parenteau is not the answer.

But if he wants to bring in a veteran on a one- or two-year contract with a cap hit under $2 million, then Parenteau could be attractive.

Ultimately, I don't see Parenteau signing with the orange and black.

Ron Hextall 'shocked' Flyers' 1st 4 draft picks were available

Ron Hextall 'shocked' Flyers' 1st 4 draft picks were available

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Most times, it takes several years to properly gauge whether an NHL club had a good, bad or even great draft.
Yet even Ron Hextall admitted after this year’s draft ended Saturday that it would difficult to think the Flyers' top two picks this weekend — forwards German Rubtsov and Pascal Laberge — measure up equally to last year’s top two, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.
“We were [No.] 7 last year and now 18 to 22,” the Flyers' general manager said. “Given where we were at, we did really well. The first four guys — shocked they were there that deep. We thought maybe two of three we get or one for sure.
“So we were happy with our whole draft. I am not focusing on our top four guys … you are kind of holding your breath and those two guys were there. We felt we did pretty well.”
Hextall’s goal was to stock up on bigger, more skilled forwards, which the organization is sorely lacking.
The Flyers went in with 11 picks, flipped one for a pick next year and came away with seven forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. They added size and skill, but they didn’t pluck a pure goal scorer.
Rubstov is an all-around center. He’s not Kieffer Bellows, a 50-goal left winger the Flyers should have taken. Both Hextall and Chris Pryor, the club’s director of scouting, said going into the draft that “all Bellows does is score goals.”
Exactly. He’s one-dimensional.
And goal scoring is the one dimension the Flyers desperately needed. All Danny Briere did was score goals, as well. Where does it say every forward on your team has to be a complete, two-way player?
That’s why Hextall stunned people by trading down from No. 18 to 22, thereby leaving Bellows for the Islanders to select at No. 19.
Time will tell whether the Flyers drop-down trade with Winnipeg was the right move.
Hextall believes the team got everything it wanted in this draft, regardless of how people feel about bypassing Bellows. Rubtsov was ranked the fifth best international skater by NHL Central Registry.
“We wanted speed, we wanted size,” Hextall said. “We wanted skill. Obviously, it’s not in every player. But we feel like we got all three elements. We had enough picks.
“It was a lot easier to zero in on. Some of it is combinations like Laberge and Rubtsov and [Wade] Allison. Big guys. Good skaters with speed and skill. We’re excited. Excited about the draft. I say it every year.”
The top four Hextall referenced were Rubtsov, plus his three picks in the second round. Laberge, taken at No. 36, is a 6-foot-1 center/winger who overcame personal tragedy to become a mentally-tough, top U-18 prospect at the world juniors.
Allison, taken at No. 52, is a 6-2 right wing, who had 25 goals in 56 games for Tri-City in the USHL. He’s enrolled at Western Michigan University for the fall.
Carter Hart, taken before him at No. 48, was the Flyers' lone goalie selection. He’s 6-1. Central Registry had him ranked second among North American goalies and he ended up being the first goalie taken in the draft.
Hart played in 63 of his club’s 72 games — the Everett Silvertips of the WHL — with a 2.14 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Hextall said he envisions him as a No. 1 goaltender in the near future. 
Every club tries to locate a sleeper and the Flyers think they might have found one with their last pick. Defenseman David Bernhardt, taken in the seventh round at 199, played for Djurgardens IF in the Swedish Hockey League.
European scout Joakim Grundberg spotted him.
“Those kids in the back part of your draft, there are certain elements to their game you grab onto and certain things they need to get better at,” Pryor said.
“Whether it be getting stronger or a little more consistent. Some of those kids at the back part of our draft, our guys have seen a lot of those guys and usually have a real, good feel for them.
“Sometimes those kids slide back a bit and you grab onto them. Like the Bernhardt kid. Joakim saw a lot of him. You know there are some inconsistencies there, but a lot there to like. The Swedes invited him to their Under 20 camp this summer. They think there is something there.”
In a few years, the Flyers should find out if their hunch paid off.
Free agency
It opens on Friday — July 1. The interview period has begun and Hextall said he might sit down with a few people.
Hextall again emphasized that given he still has not re-signed some of his own key players, such as Brayden Schenn and Ryan White, he has salary cap restraints. He was unable to move any veteran players at this draft to create cap space.
Schenn, who had a breakout season (26 goals, 59 points) should get close to $5 million even though he is restricted. The Flyers have less than $12 million cap space. When it’s all said and done, they might have just $6 million left and Hextall wants at least $2 million reserve on his cap.
Barring moving salary via a trade that implies the most the Flyers can spend in free agency is $4 million on a top nine forward.
“If we can add someone for the right term and right price, we’ll do it,” Hextall said.

10 observations from the 2016 NHL draft

10 observations from the 2016 NHL draft

Another year, another draft well done by Flyers general manager Ron Hextall.

Hextall entered the weekend with 11 picks with five in the first three rounds. By the time the Flyers' name was called at No. 18, he traded down and added another second-rounder.

The trade: No. 18 and No. 79 to Winnipeg for No. 22 and No. 36. More on this later.

In all, the Flyers made 10 selections this weekend. They needed to stock the cupboard with forward talent, and they accomplished their goal by adding seven (see story).

It was another eventful draft for the orange and black and the league. It's always a fun weekend for hockey die-hearts. Now, the offseason moves on to free agency (July 1).

But before we get there, let's break down the 2016 NHL draft with 10 observations.

1. I fell in love with the idea of the Flyers drafting Kieffer Bellows at 18.

So when their name came up in the first round and Bellows was still on the board, I thought it was best case scenario for the Flyers. They'll finally get a scoring winger.

Bellows, the son of former NHL sniper, Brian Bellows, fit the mold of what the orange and black needed. He plays wing, has size and is a power scorer. Sounded like a perfect fit.

But it's clear Hextall didn't see Bellows head and shoulders above the available prospects, and saw more value in moving down four spots and adding another second-rounder.

The initial disappointment of the Flyers passing up Bellows was quickly swallowed up by reason. Sometimes we fall in love with certain players and forget the bigger picture.

In the mid-to-late first round — where the Flyers were picking — it's a crapshoot, so the difference between a Kieffer Bellows, a Julien Gauthier and a German Rubtsov isn't much.

Hextall's decision to step back to No. 22 and pick up another second-rounder, too, carried more value than drafting one prospect at No. 18. Reason outweighs emotion all the time.

2. When the Flyers' name came up again at 22, all the pins were lined up.

It appeared the orange and black were going to grab Max Jones, a power forward who was linked to the team heading into the draft.

Both Gauthier and Jones were possible at 18, so to think the Flyers were able to move back to 22, pick up another second-rounder and still grab one of them was intriguing. (Gauthier was drafted at No. 21 by Carolina.)

Instead, Hextall called the name of German Rubtsov, a center whose stock may have fallen because of the Russian doping scandal. It was yet another best player available pick.

Rubstov is a unique Russian prospect because he plays a much more North American game. He's strong on the puck, wins puck battles, skates well and plays a 200-foot game.

He's going to fit in well with what Hextall is building and sounds like a fit for head coach Dave Hakstol's system, which is important to remember here, too.

It's another exciting piece of the Flyers' future. We know about the defensive prospects. We know about Travis Konecny. And now we'll quickly find out about Rubtsov, too.

3. Some initial worry about the Rubtsov pick was the Flyers' glut of centers, which is a fair assessment. There can be a situation where you have too many centers.

But there shouldn't be much concern about Rubtsov being a center. Konecny plays center and wing, and the Flyers envision him playing right wing in the NHL.

If the Flyers view Konecny as a winger at the NHL level, then Rubtsov being a center doesn't really matter. Let's take a look down the road a few years here.

Say Rubtsov doesn't come over for two more seasons — when his contract in the KHL expires. That gives the Flyers Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Rubtsov as their 1-2-3 centers.

Who's on the wing? Konecny, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Brayden Schenn — assuming he signs a long-term extension here this summer. That's a really promising top six.

And then Rubtsov gives you a third-line center who can score. Depth is big, and with the BPA at the Flyers' pick this year being a forward, it's all coming together for Hextall.

4. We have to applaud the Flyers' first of three second-round picks. Pascal Laberge was considered a first-round talent by many, but fell into the orange and black's hands at 36.

Laberge penned an essay for The Players' Tribute on Thursday that shed some details on how difficult of a year it has been for the 18-year-old. It puts things into perspective.

You can read it here. Laberge's stepmother died last September because of metastatic cancer, and then his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly after. All of this while Laberge was working hard to accomplish his dream of playing in the NHL.

As for the hockey side, Laberge is a good fit with the Flyers. He swarms the puck and plays with a bit of a physical edge. He's got some good offensive instincts, too.

In a few years, I have a feeling we'll look back at this pick as a steal.

5. Wade Allison is a bit of a project, but one Flyers fans should be excited about.

Allison, the Flyers' third second-round pick (52nd overall), is a big, power forward type who describes himself as a player who likes to drive to the net and shoot the puck.

The one knock on Allison that needs improvement is his skating, which he admitted Saturday. If his skating improves and he continues to grow, the Flyers can strike here.

He'll do so under Andy Murray at Western Michigan University. The Flyers hope their former assistant coach can help groom Allison into an NHL player during his time at WMU.

6. It didn't take long for the first surprise of the draft, when Columbus drafted Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi at No. 3. Dubois should shake out as a quality NHL player, but the Blue Jackets needed a superstar and Puljujarvi is going to be that.

Maybe Puljujarvi's minor knee surgery scared Jarmo Kekäläinen away. But the feeling here is Columbus completely whiffed at an opportunity to greatly improve its organization.

Edmonton strikes gold again. Puljujarvi goes to the Oilers to play with Connor McDavid. That's scary.

7. The draft has the reputation of being a place where blockbusters happen, but in recent years, it hasn't really been that way. There have been few, but more smoke than fire.

Still, there was some movement in the first round Friday night. Washington acquired Lars Eller from Montreal and the Canadiens got Andrew Shaw from Chicago in a separate move.

We didn't see the blockbuster this year, but we saw seven trades in the first round and nine on Day 2, none of which fall under the blockbuster category.

There's always next year.

8. Sometimes a step backward is the best step forward. Calgary had a disappointing 2015-16 campaign after making the playoffs in the season before, but make no mistake here.

The future is bright in Calgary. Last season, the Flames finished 26th in the league and earned themselves the No. 6 pick. It was a step backward for a rebuilding organization.

But let's look at perspective. It's important because of the Flyers' situation. The 2014-15 Flames team was not a playoff team, yet squeaked its way into the postseason.

Sound familiar? It should. It's an accurate general description of the 2015-16 Flyers.

Now, Calgary adds a big, goal-scoring winger in Matthew Tkachuk who adds size to a team that needs it and some flare, too.

Tkachuk was expected to be a top-five pick, but fell to the Flames. In this space last year, I praised Calgary for a strong draft, too. This team is on the rise.

And Tkachuk wasn't even the best news for Calgary this weekend. Moments after drafting the winger from London, the Flames acquired goalie Brian Elliot from the St. Louis Blues.

Book it. The Calgary Flames will be a playoff team in 2016-17 and may even win a series.

9. One of my favorite parts of professional sports drafts in today's age of social media is seeing people retweet old tweets from players. It happens in all four sports.

This weekend's NHL draft featured the more of the same. My personal favorite comes from Boston Bruins first-round pick Charlie McAvoy, who "hates the bruins so much," according to a now-deleted tweet from 2013.

A runner-up comes from the Flyers' Allison. He doesn't like people who pour milk before pouring cereal, which I agree with. Who does that?

10. The Steven Stamkos watch is officially on. Get your popcorn ready, sit back and watch the Sabres throw "geography" at Stamkos because that is always the deciding factor when superstars decide to leave their original team. But seriously, I think he goes to Buffalo.