He won a Stanley Cup in Los Angeles last June.
That was the crowning achievement for Simon Gagne after a dozen seasons in the National Hockey League.
And yet, many involved in the sport had a very hard time seeing him dressed in Kings’ black and silver instead of Flyers' orange.
In so many ways, Simon Gagne was and always will be a Flyer.
“This is where everything started,” Gagne said this week. “Rarely do you see a player spend more than five or six years with one team. I was here for 11 years, so a lot of things -- not only hockey wise -- but outside of hockey, I missed a lot of friends the last couple years.”
Gagne is easily among the classiest athletes this city has ever had the distinction of watching perform.
A guy who never harbored an ill thought. A player you never heard a fan complain about.
“I always said, even before I got traded, I wanted to finish my career here in Philly,” Gagne said. “I was hoping to stay here the whole time, but it’s a business at the end, and you understand that as a player, sometimes u have to move and go someplace else.
“With that, I got lucky. I had a chance to win a Cup, but now coming back here, it’s really hard to describe the way I feel right now. It’s too fresh. It’s almost hard t believe I’m here right now talking to you in the locker room where everything started.
“It was almost natural for me to put the jersey on yesterday and go for warm-up and see the fans again. It felt really good.”
His first training camp in Peterborough with Roger Neilson was 1998 after being drafted 22nd overall. Gagne desperately wanted to make the Flyers' roster.
Neilson pushed general manager Bob Clarke in that direction, but Gagne ended up going back to Quebec for one more year of junior.
Funny, but now Gagne looks back and considers 1999 his first “real” camp.
“Yeah, Roger was the coach and was bringing the team to his hometown, bringing training camp there for a week [in 1999],” Gagne recalled.
“That was my first real camp because the one before that, the way things worked with the Flyers, when you were getting drafted, you would come to rookie camp and they would send you back to junior right away.
“So it was my first one at 19, and right away they gave me the chance to play with good players. It helped right away. It was fun. It feels like it was yesterday, but it’s been 13 years now.”
Gagne, who turned 33 on Friday, gave the Flyers an emotional lift in his “second” debut this past week against Washington. He even scored a goal during the 4-1 victory over the Caps.
Not bad for a guy scratched almost 14 days in LA and without a goal in 11 games.
“I was not playing for almost the last two last two weeks,” he said. “I was practicing and riding the bike, but you need to play games to feel good. I guess coming back, getting the emotion and using that energy on the ice helped, and the crowd helped a lot.
“Actually, I felt pretty good. That’s probably the most [scoring] chances I had than in the whole year I was in LA, so it definitely was a fun feeling.”
It’s interesting to ask a player who comes to a struggling club what their “read” is on it right away.
And it’s hard to pinpoint what kind of team coach Peter Laviolette has in this crucial month of March.
Is this a Flyers club ready to make a push and nail down a playoff berth?
Or is the inconsistent team we’ve seen since January that couldn’t string together more than two wins in succession?
“It’s hard to tell right now,” he said. “From what I saw [against Washington], especially the start, we have four good lines. The way we played defensively, we don’t give too many chances.
“The defensemen were really good last night. Our goalie [Ilya Bryzgalov] was really good, too. It’ll take a little more time for me to give a better answer to that, but from what I saw last night, I like what I saw.
“There’s a lot of talent here on this team, and good stuff can happen with this team, for sure.”
New plan, same rivalry
If you’re a hockey fan anywhere in the Atlantic Division, this week’s NHL proposed re-alignment plan doesn’t shock you in the least.
Nothing changes for the Flyers or anyone else in their division. The new format sees the very same Atlantic Division clubs albeit, with Carolina, Washington and Columbus thrown in.
The Flyers have had some great games with the Capitals. What we like here is that for the sake of the Caps and Hurricanes, it kept their rivalry intact.
Columbus? Well, that franchise is teetering. The good news for the Blue Jackets is they can now establish a rivalry with a nearby club in Pittsburgh.
There was a lot of concern about the Penguins being moved into the other division [Central] in the East. There are two divisions in the East and West.
The East has eight clubs per division and the West has seven.
Losing the Penguins, who have become the Flyers No. 1 rival, would have been awful. Recall when the National League took the Pirates out of the NL East and placed them in the Central years ago? That ruined one of baseball’s best rivalries from the 1960s all the way through the 1990s (see full story).
Flames took gamble on O'Reilly
On the surface, it was bold move by Calgary's general manager, Jay Feaster, to go out and sign Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly to a two-year, $10 million restricted free agent offer sheet.
One which the Avs quickly matched, despite the second-year salary consequences.
Less than 24 hours later, however, Sportsnet.ca reported that neither the NHL nor Feaster knew that the 22-year-old O’Reilly played two games in Russia after the lockout ended and would have had to clear waivers.
In which case, O’Reilly would have been claimed and … Feaster would have lost his 2013 first and third-round picks for nothing.
Then again, if the NHL itself didn’t know about O’Reilly playing in Russia, he would not have had to go through waivers, anyway, would he?
Sportsnet reported that Metallurg coach Paul Maurice and KHL spokesman Shawn McBride, confirmed that O’Reilly appeared in games on Jan. 21 and Jan. 23 – both after the NHL lockout-shortened season began.
That meant that waivers were required before O’Reilly could return to the NHL as a free agent midway through the season (see full story).
Associated Press, Calgary Herald, Sportsnet.ca, and Yahoo! Sports contributed to this report.