Simon Gagne

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


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.


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.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado

Detroit waives Cleary

Daniel Cleary

Dan Cleary‘s time as a Red Wing could soon be over.

Detroit placed the veteran forward on waivers Wednesday afternoon, per TSN. The move comes after Cleary signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $950,000 just weeks before training camp, then proceeded to play in four of Detroit’s exhibition contests, scoring two points.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens now.

At 36, Cleary doesn’t have much left in the tank and is coming off a year in which he played just 17 games. But as we noted back in the summer, this seems to all be part of a larger plan.

From the Free Press:

A situation that bears the handprint of former coach Mike Babcock has put the Wings in the position of being honor-bound to keep Cleary, 36, aboard, even as he is coming off a season that saw him play just 17 games, producing two points.

This debacle began two years ago. The Wings had offered Cleary a three-year, $6.25-million contract before he became unrestricted July 1. He declined. The Wings then signed Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, leaving little space under the salary cap. Then Cleary didn’t sign with anyone. September rolled around. The Flyers offered Cleary a three-year deal for $8.25 million, but Cleary then decided he wanted to stay in Detroit.

He ended up flying to Traverse City, where the Wings already had begun training camp. He met in a hangar with Holland and Babcock. Holland pointed to a near maxed-out budget. Babcock pushed hard for Cleary to be signed. What resulted was a one-year, $1.75-million deal with the understanding the Wings would take into consideration what Cleary left on the Flyers table.

After playing out that $1.75 million deal, Cleary re-signed in Detroit last summer to a one-year, $1.5 million pact — so, essentially, the Wings are now in final year of an unspoken three-year agreement that’s (sorta) aimed at repaying what got left on the table in Philly.

Got all that?

If Cleary gets through waivers, the Wings could send him to AHL Grand Rapids. Since he signed a one-way deal, he’d get his money regardless.

There’s also the option of Babcock and the Leafs claiming Cleary off waivers — a scenario that, as unlikely as it sounds, has already made the rounds on social media.