Flyers West? Los Angeles Kings shrewdly sign Simon Gagne to two-year, $7M deal

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If you ask me, the Los Angeles Kings dodged a bullet two years in a row. They came up just short of nabbing Ilya Kovalchuk last season after the New Jersey Devils locked him up (and then went on to flop their way out of the playoffs). This time around Kings GM Dean Lombardi probably flinched at the kind of term that 31-year-old star Brad Richards was asking for and his team will likely be better for it.

The Kings backed into a better move for their team this afternoon after they signed injury-prone but extremely useful winger Simon Gagne to a two-year deal worth $7 million. That’s one heck of a value when you consider the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs handed even-more-fragile (and less proven) center Tim Connolly a two-year deal worth $9.5 million today.

Yes, it’s another risky deal

Again, there’s no denying the notion that Gagne might miss some serious time in Los Angeles. He missed  19 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010-11 and 24 contests with his long-time team the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009-10 and dealt with concussion issues in the past and during the 2011 playoffs. For a franchise that has a checkered past with injury-prone players, this signing might not work out.

Why it’s worth the risk

Yet when you look at the big picture, this might be one of the best deals of the 2011 free agent frenzy. That might be something of a backhanded compliment, but $3.5 million per year is an absolute steal for a player of Gagne’s caliber.

Injuries limited him to dual 40-point seasons the last two years, but Gagne is a two-time 40+ goal scorer, scored at least 30 goals two more times and has three other 20+ goal seasons. It’s very rare to find a scorer on his level at such a reasonable price; would you rather roll the dice with Gagne’s health or give Michael Ryder a similar deal and hold your breath that he’ll even show up to games?

Gagne brings Flyer familiarity and fits a need

I’ve joked about this before, but it’s become clearer and clearer that the Kings are turning into Philadelphia Flyers West. GM Lombardi and head coach Terry Murray have ties to the Flyers organization. Mike Richards was the captain of the 2010-11 team. Justin Williams was once a hot prospect for the Philly organization while recently departed center Michal Handzus also cut his teeth in Philadelphia. Now the Kings added a long-time Flyers who was so popular in that area, he received an ovation when he played against the Flyers as a member of the Lightning.

Beyond that, the move makes a lot of hockey sense. The Kings were shifting from a team that was rich on wingers and poor on centers to the opposite. They added Richards to make them strong down the middle with Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll also in the lineup, but parting with Ryan Smyth and Wayne Simmonds weakened them at the wings. If reasonably healthy, Gagne’s speed and scoring would make him an extremely valuable left wing in Los Angeles. It wouldn’t be surprising if he skated with Richards considering their comfort level with each other, but Gagne could be a nice compliment to Kopitar too.

The best part is that Kings fans can breathe a sigh of relief because they won’t have too depend too much on lethargic, unpopular acquisition Dustin Penner.

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Overall, I think this is one of the best moves of free agency. There’s almost always a risk factor in this area and Gagne’s health is the blaring red flag. That being said, the term is palatable and the $3.5 million cap hit is about as good as it gets for a guy with 276 regular season goals on his resume.

Score a big win for the Flyers … er, I mean the Kings, this afternoon.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

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— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick