The Los Angeles Kings are now one game away from winning the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. Though some fans of the Philadelphia Flyers might be bitter knowing former captain Mike Richards and forward Jeff Carter are reaching the highest echelon of hockey success, Broad Street faithful should take a moment to celebrate the success of another former player.
Simon Gagne left Philadelphia in a 2010 offseason trade that was little more than a salary dump; the winger went to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a fourth round draft pick and defenseman Matt Walker, who has played a grand total of eight games for the Flyers since.
Meanwhile, Gagne still sits tenth on the Flyers’ all-time games played list, ninth on the all-time goals list and tenth on the all-times points list. Only four players scored more game-winning goals in the regular season for Philadelphia.
Gagne entered the NHL with the Flyers in the 1999-2000 season as a 19-year-old, totaling 48 points just two years after being drafted 22nd overall in the 1998 NHL Draft. Only one player in that draft—Vincent Lecavalier, who went first overall—has more career goals than Gagne.
No player, of any draft year since then, contributed goals to the Flyers at the level of frequency and importance that Gagne did. Though Gagne’s 32 playoff goals with the Flyers is far from a mind-blowing total, his ability to deliver when the hearts of fans needed him the most put this left-winger into the history of the franchise forever.
With the Flyers facing elimination in Game 6 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Gagne scored the overtime winner.
With the Flyers facing a second-round sweep against the Boston Bruins in 2010, Gagne scored the overtime winner yet again. This was just two weeks after breaking his foot in Game 4 of the first round series against the New Jersey Devils.
If more than 500 career points and two season-extending goals were not enough, Gagne capped off the greatest comeback in team history later in the playoffs that year. After Gagne’s Game 4 overtime goal extended the series, Philadelphia won the next two games, but found themselves down 3-0 in the first period of a deciding Game 7.
Two periods later, the score was tied at three with just over seven minutes left in regulation when Gagne gained control of a loose puck in the offensive zone. He snapped a shot over the right shoulder of Tuukka Rask, giving Philadelphia the lead for good.
Throughout his days wearing orange and black, the hard-working two-way forward became a fan-favorite and that did not change after his trade. Upon returning to the city with a Lightning uniform on, the former alternate captain received a considerable standing ovation not only during his first shift, but after a video tribute to No. 12 as well.
Gagne played one season with Tampa Bay before his contract expired. Before this season, he signed a two-year deal with Los Angeles. Injury troubles, which have bothered the winger throughout his career, came back in the form of a concussion this season. Gagne was limited to just 34 regular season games and did not play until Game 3 of the finals.
The standards for a player to have his name written on the Stanley Cup, for those curious, stipulates a player must appear in 41 regular season games or one Stanley Cup Finals game.
Though Gagne is not close to being an essential piece of the dominant run the Kings have made like goalie Jonathan Quick, forward Anze Kopitar or defenseman Drew Doughty, he deserves to be part of a Stanley Cup celebration for years of dedication to being a skilled and classy hockey player.
Though Gagne no longer wears a Flyers uniform, he will forever be a part of this team’s history.
In the final minute of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals Game 7, when defenseman Ray Bourque was close to winning for the first time after a lengthy career with the Bruins, play-by-play voice Gary Throne said, “The city of Boston and most of New England, on its feet. They have watched this series as though Ray Bourque was still one of the Bruins.” Commentator Bill Clement added, “He’s not still one of the Bruins, he’s just still one of them.”
Gagne did not have as much of a connection to the Flyers as Bourque did with the Bruins, nor did he have to wait 22 years in order to win the Stanley Cup. He was not as much a part of the Kings’ run as Bourque was with Colorado.
Still, the notion is the same. Though he will be a champion in Los Angeles, he will always be a hero in Philadelphia.
Jason Sapunka is a Featured Columnist for the Philadelphia Flyers. He is available on Twitter for NHL updates, commentary and analysis.