Congratulations Simon Gagne

Congratulations Simon Gagne

I've been told I attended my first Flyers game at the age of 2. Of course, I don't remember it.

See, my Dad used to take my Mom to games all the time until she revealed, after they got married, that she didn't like going. This remains an amusing story to almost everyone but him.

Anyway, you can imagine he was pretty quick to get me into hockey once that bombshell dropped and I finally came along. And aside from just being a fan of the teams in this city, there's always been something special about the Flyers for that very reason. I assume this isn't an uncommon story for a great many of you read this site, who were introduced to sports by your father or mother, or are now introducing something to a son or daughter as a parent yourself.

Simon Gagne has held the mantle of "my favorite hockey player" since shortly following his rookie debut -- even if there was a brief period of overlap between he and Paul Kariya -- and serves as a prominent fixture in so many of my most cherished Flyers memories. Some of the reason the following moments stand out is because he was involved; that said, he was so talented as to make himself involved.

-- Game 6 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. Flyers down 3-2 in the series. Skating with the captain and JR:

 
(Note: Gagne's first goal of the game might actually be one of the most impressive of his career.) 

-- Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semis. Flyers down 3-0 in the series and on the verge of elimination. His first game back since undergoing surgery after taking a shot off his foot against the Devils in Round 1:

 
-- Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semis. Flyers had come back from down 3-0 in the series only to find themselves down 3-0 in Game 7. You may remember Peter Laviolette's "one F---ing goal" timeout tirade. Just as they came down from 3-0 in the series, they did it on the scoreboard in Game 7:

 
The first clip remains the one I revisit the most, though some of that is surely due to differences between Gary Thorne and Joe Betinati. Anyway, it's just a small smattering of the big playoff moments in which Gags was involved as a Flyer.

If you look back through the team's history, you won't find his name at the top of any of franchises' most important lists, but you'll find him on those lists nonetheless. Sure enough, never at the top, but always included with the Flyers' greats is Simon Gagne. Pick twelve forwards in this team's history for an all-franchise team, and you might have to go out of your way not to include him, even if he might have to cede his No. 12 to someone else on the team.

Speaking of lists, there's the very real possibility he could have had his name on another, had he only wanted it. The Derian Hatcher-Peter Forsberg-Jason Smith era was a very strange time for this team in terms of leadership; it also constitutes the prime of Gagne's career. But every time Gagne was asked about the captaincy by the media, and probably the team, he deferred, citing whoever held the title as the guy in charge, even if that guy, Keith Primeau, couldn't play anymore. He never did wear the C, always an A, but was a leader in his own way. Just think of how many injuries he fought through in that one playoff run alone.

That brings us to, of course, the injuries themselves (and we're not just talking about those of the nagging groin variety). It's impossible to discuss his career without thinking about them, and, over time, it got harder to think about them without revisiting Primeau and Eric Lindros. Another Flyer, another leader, with a persistent history of concussions. Those issues followed him out of town to Tampa Bay and, of course, to his current team in Los Angeles. Gagne was absent from the Kings' lineup from late December until Game 3 of the Finals with his latest head injury. Now he's calling on the NHLPA to establish a concussion support group so that he can aid players like himself, and perhaps even receive some help in his own right.

This all leads us back to Games 3-6 of this year's Finals, when he just didn't look like the same guy. Granted, after missing six months and being thrown right back into the Finals, it's going to be tough to get in the flow. But Gagne hasn't looked the like the same player since he left Philadelphia, and his ever-growing injury history isn't helping either. As an ode to a veteran, or perhaps just because they felt they were better with him than without him, even if they were doing just fine (14-2 in the playoffs) without him, he got back on the ice. 

Fast forward to when the Kings finished off the Devils in Game 6 and, yes, he nearly dropped the Cup. There was almost something fitting about it. It's as if he and the Flyers fans had waited so long for him to hoist it, that neither he nor us knew what to do when it finally happened. 

After he handed it off, he was interviewed, while holding his son in his hands. Watching with my dad, I felt old. Simon Gagne was a 20-year-old kid who skated on All-Star line with Brett Hull and, his idol, Mario Lemeuix when I was an even younger kid. And now, he's 32, holding his own child, a hockey prodigy no doubt, and probably looking at the end of his career sooner rather than later given what we're finding out about head injuries and the fact that he doesn't have to chase that trophy anymore.

He will now have his named etched on Lord Stanley's Cup. It just won't be as a Flyer.

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

In the sixth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 6 is Hart to Jones.

Taylor Hart

Roob: No matter how hard the Eagles try, they just can't get rid of Taylor Hart. Chip Kelly drafted Hart in the fifth round in 2014 and then Hart began last season with Kelly in San Francisco before reappearing here later in the season. Hart is going into his fourth NFL season and has 15 games, 12 tackles and no sacks to show for it. He turns 26 next month and has never shown any signs of being a guy who can contribute in a 4-3 defense. I’m going to say he goes, but don't be surprised if he finds his way back onto the roster at some point. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Hart was with the Eagles last training camp but cut him on Sept. 4 and he was claimed by the 49ers and Chip Kelly. Then when the Niners cut him, the Eagles claimed him back and he spent the rest of the season watching the Eagles play football. He was inactive in all but the last game and in that one he didn’t play. Hart is a former fifth-round pick who just fits better in a 3-4. The Eagles already played undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao over him, so it’s time to set him free. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Cap hit: $796K

Roob: Whenever you blast Chip for getting rid of Shady, DeSean and Jeremy Maclin, you have to mention that he did draft Jordan Hicks in the third round. Hicks, in just 24 games, has become one of the most productive playmaking linebackers in Eagles history. With seven interceptions, he already has the 11th-most interceptions in franchise history by a linebacker, and he led all NFL linebackers with five INTs this past season. Only four linebackers in NFL history have had more interceptions in their first two seasons – Hall of Famer Jack Ham is one of them. But Hicks is more than a ballhawk. He’s a smart, heady linebacker who is stout at the point of attack and is already developing into a terrific locker room leader as well. The future is certainly bright for Hicks.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He just finished his second year in the NFL, but Hicks is quickly becoming one of the biggest playmaking linebackers in the league. Through the first 24 games of his career, he has seven interceptions. In his first two years, he has 7 INTs, 4 FRs, 1 FF. He’s the fifth player in NFL history to do that in his first two seasons and he’s the only linebacker. That said, Hicks needs to get better against the run and he knows it. Now that he won’t have an injury to heal from this offseason, he plans on hitting the weight room to get stronger and better at stopping the run. He looks like a cornerstone of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Jenkins had another good year in his third season with the Eagles, although not quite up to his Pro Bowl level of 2015. Jenkins, who turns 30 late next season, is on the books for another four years with some pretty high cap figures — $7.5 million in 2017, then $10 million, $9.75 million and $9.25 million. But as long as Jenkins continues to play at a high level, I don’t see him going anywhere until after the 2018 season at the earliest, when he would count just $3 million in dead money if he’s released. But Jenkins is a guy you'd like to see finish his career in Philly. Hope that happens. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to quantify just how much Jenkins means to the Eagles or how much he’s worth. But it’s a lot. The last two seasons have been the best of his career and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The best Jenkins stat is this: He’s missed just eight defensive snaps since arriving in 2013. Unreal. If the Eagles chose to play him at cornerback last year, he would have probably been their best one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson
Cap hit: $10M

Roob: If he goes, it’ll be because of a third positive drug test. Johnson’s play in the six games he was available to the Eagles was at an All-Pro level. But after two positive tests for banned substances and suspensions of four games in 2014 and 10 games in 2016, he’s now one positive test away from a two-year ban that would essentially end his Eagles career. My gut feeling is Johnson has learned his lesson and won’t take any more chances. That he understands what’s at stake here and isn’t going to risk his career by taking a supplement that hasn’t been pre-tested and cleared. Obviously there are other reasons the Eagles were 5-1 when Johnson played. Those five wins included games against the hapless Browns and Bears and a win against a Cowboys team that wasn’t trying to win. But that said, Johnson’s value is clear. He's a beast. It’s up to Johnson whether he becomes a Pro Bowl offensive tackle or a casualty of the NFL’s substance abuse regulations. I can’t imagine he’ll make the same mistake again.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A lot was made about Johnson’s suspension voiding the guaranteed portion of his contract. And for a week or so, a bunch of fans were calling into talk radio saying the Eagles should cut him. That was laughable. Johnson is still the Eagles’ best offensive player and as long as he stays on the field and plays the way he did in 2016, he’s going to make most of the money in his contract. He obviously deserves plenty of blame for the way last season went, but he’s a big piece of the future. One more suspension and his career is basically over, so the Eagles just have to hope he doesn’t ruin everything.  

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson

Roob: Johnson is an interesting guy. Ran a 4.37 so he has wheels, but he didn’t have much of a career at Texas. Then again, Texas didn’t have a legit quarterback while he was there so maybe there’s a lot of untapped potential. The Eagles are so desperate for help at wide receiver they’ll take a good long look at everybody on the roster, even a guy who bounced off and on the practice squad last year. This Longhorn is a longshot to make the roster, but then again, if he catches the football consistently in training camp he’ll give himself a fighting chance.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The receiver was with the Eagles during training camp and flashed some before getting hurt. He joined the practice squad during the season and was there at season’s end. He’ll be brought to camp but is a longshot to make the roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Donnie Jones
Cap hit: $1.25M

Roob: At 36 years old, the greatest punter in Eagles history (sorry Mat McBriar) showed no signs of slowing down. In his 13th NFL season, Jones averaged 45.8 yards per punt with a 40.7 net – both above his career highs. The most amazing thing about Jones is his knack for dropping punts inside the 20 without hitting very many touchbacks. He had 21 inside the 20 this year with just six touchbacks, and in four seasons with the Eagles he has 117 inside the 20 with just 26 touchbacks. When you don’t have an explosive offense, field position is critical, and Jones is a human field position flipping machine. The Eagles signed him to a three-year extension this year, and he’s now under contract through 2019.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: At times during the last two seasons, Jones has looked like the offense’s best weapon. That’s not a good sign for the offense, but it is for Jones. He’s already the best punter in team history. He’ll be 37 by the time the 2017 season starts, but he just signed a contract and will be the team’s punter for at least a couple more years if everything goes to plan. 

Verdict: STAYS