There are a lot of reasons why I thought that – while he wasn’t technically a free agent – Simon Gagne was quietly the best forward value on the market this summer. When healthy, Gagne is a speedy winger with at least some defensive conscience who also brings a goal scoring ability to the table. Beyond a $100 million player such as Ilya Kovalchuk and a wallflower with a lower ceiling such as Alex Frolov, there weren’t many players to compare to Gagne on the open market.
But what really set Gagne apart in my mind is the (relative) low-risk nature of his situation. While $5.25 million is far from cheap, he’s in the last year of his deal, so if things don’t work out the Tampa Bay Lightning will only suffer for one season. Compare that to the extraordinary risk the New Jersey Devils are taking with Kovalchuk (and the fact that the Lightning gave up very little to acquire Gagne) and GM Steve Yzerman quite possibly landed one of the coups of the summer.
Of course, most athletes playing a dangerous, high-impact sport would prefer to enjoy the security of a longer deal. Mike Corcoran shares Gagne’s stated goal for the 2010-11 season: to earn a contract extension with the Lightning.
Much was made over some comments made before the start of training camp, when the term “one year” was heard, but there is no doubt what Gagne is hoping for in the long term.
“I didn’t come here to be here one year and move somewhere else after [this year],” Gagne said. “I would love to make things work here with Vinny, and the boys here, the coaching staff, Mr. Yzerman, having a good start, and hopefully finding a way to get an extension. That’s my goal and hopefully that is going to work.”
Gagne is expected to be a huge part of what the team is trying to accomplish this year. He is an integral part of what many believe is one of the best top-six in hockey. The Lightning are hoping that Gagne can stay healthy and return to the player that had back-to-back 40-goal seasons. He has looked good in practice and preseason games, including a three-point night against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks.
With his history of nagging injuries (from less serious ailments such as groin problems to scary stuff like concussions), you cannot blame Tampa Bay if they test the waters for most of – if not all – of the season. The team also will need to re-sign Steven Stamkos this summer and Victor Hedman the next, so Gagne will need to keep his expectations realistic.
Still, Gagne is only 30 years old right now, which means he should still have a few more years were he’s at-or-near his prime. He’s probably gearing up for his last “big” contract before he becomes a cheaper veteran option, so don’t be surprised if the talented winger puts up some nice numbers this season.
He certainly has every incentive to do so.
(H/T to John Fontana of Raw Charge.)