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.