Analysis: Injuries spark Flyers' trade for Gagne

2-26-13-simon-gagne-usa.jpg

Analysis: Injuries spark Flyers' trade for Gagne

On the surface, it didn’t make much sense: Simon Gagne to the Flyers for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft (see story).
 
How would another ex-Flyer -- who turns 33 this Friday, doesn’t have a goal in 11 games and has been benched in Los Angeles -- help get the Flyers’ offense going?
 
After all, this isn’t the same Gagne whose last most-productive season as a Flyer was 2008-09, when he scored 34 goals on Mike Richards’ line with Mike Knuble.
 
The deal didn’t make sense.
 
Not when there were rumors out there about the Flyers' interest in forward/defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, a guy who could have an impact in two parts of the lineup.
 
And then general manager Paul Holmgren finally shed some light Tuesday night when he revealed that Tye McGinn had suffered an orbital bone fracture during his fight with Toronto’s Mike Brown on Monday. McGinn will likely need surgery, a source said.
 
Now the trade makes sense.
 
“Obviously, with the injury bug and Matt Read being out [six weeks with rib cage injury], and now we lost Tye McGinn last night for a few weeks, we have some holes," Holmgren said on a conference call.   

"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.”
 
Gagne had fallen in disfavor with coach Darryl Sutter because he didn’t finish his scoring chances and he is not a grinder who can play on a fourth line. Gagne admitted he felt confused as to just what his role was.
 
Kings GM Dean Lombardi called the Flyers prior to McGinn’s injury -- in the midst of Gagne getting benched for five games -- to gauge interest in moving him here.

“He wasn't fitting in, so to speak,” Lombardi said. “We were able to put him in a place where he would be happy. He was very pleased with it.”
 
It wasn’t until the McGinn injury, on top of Read’s, that Holmgren bit on the deal, which required a bit of a cap maneuvering (see story).
 
“I talked to Dean a few days ago,” Holmgren said. “He said he might be in a position to move him and asked if we would have any interest. I said we might and then when the injury bug hit us in the last few games, it was a good opportunity [for someone] who can play higher up our lineup and add to our team.”
 
Gagne seemed taken aback with the whirlwind of activity, including the sale of his South Jersey house that was previously rented to coach Peter Laviolette.
 
Gagne is slated to take a red eye back to Philly tonight to play Wednesday against the Washington Capitals.
 
“It’s going to be maybe a tough one tomorrow night. I think they want me to be in the lineup,” he said. “First of all, I’m excited to be back and play in front of the fans in Philly tomorrow night.
 
“Right now, the plan for me was there is no flight left for this afternoon, so I have to take the red eye and fly all night. So it’s going to be a special game tomorrow, but I’ll try to take all that emotion and try to bring that energy to the game.”
 
Three seasons ago, Gagne had 17 goals for Tampa. All he has now are five assists. The Flyers need more scoring. There is no guarantee how many goals are left in his stick even though he is physically fine (concussion free) and his neck issues have been surgically repaired.
 
He has always kept himself in shape, too.
 
Gagne was very close to Danny Briere and Claude Giroux. He has a Stanley Cup ring now. Perhaps he can help relax a young player like Sean Couturier, who seems to be going through the “sophomore jinx” this season.
 
Then again, Gagne himself needs to get going.
 
“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 [Stanley Cup 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. My leg was feeling good, the skill was coming back, but it’s hard when you start to feel your game coming back and you’re not playing the next five games, and after that you have to go back into the lineup.
 
“[For] any player it’s going to be hard to ask someone to go back in the lineup after not playing for five games. It’s almost like a week not playing. It’s hard. But like I said, the games I played here this year I was feeling really good. I think it’s just a matter of playing a little more hockey and all that stuff will come back.”
 
The thing is the Flyers are running out of time. They need points. They are a bubble team that right now doesn’t appear headed to the playoffs.
 
Gagne, a true class act and one of the most professional of athletes ever to play in Philadelphia, returns with a certain amount of pressure on him -- to help get this team into postseason.
 
“He seems excited to be coming back and looks forward to an opportunity to play and help us,” Holmgren said.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.