Simon Gagne’s best-case scenario with the Boston Bruins may be a rerun of Jay Pandolfo’s winter of 2013. While there is no need to dismiss a more fulfilling outcome for the individual, the club should crave nothing less than an intangible imprint.
Going in, it is the same basic arrangement as it was two seasons ago with Pandolfo. Boston has 30-something forward accepting an invitation to bring whatever he has left to training camp.
Per Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe, “General manager Peter Chiarelli confirmed Friday that the team is bringing in 34-year-old Simon Gagne for a tryout.”
Over those 18 appearances with the Spoked-Bs, Pandolfo’s single-night highs included 11 minutes and 42 seconds, 17 shifts and three shots. He did not muster a single point.
Pandolfo and Gagne have another common thread. Neither has played an NHL game since the end of that 2012-13 regular season.
Gagne, originally a Flyer who saw subsequent stints in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, returned to Philadelphia in 2013. He made his latest appearance in the April 27 season finale.
His absence from intensive extramural engagement since then exacerbates the one-time star’s recession. Although, there is a chance that a protracted hiatus could kick enough ice chips over the effects of a nagging injury log.
That was his first major production nosedive. The last time he played a full-length campaign with negligible interruption was 2008-09, when he logged 74 points in 79 outings.
With those obligatory observations squared away, the Bruins can still upgrade this arrangement from harmless to worthwhile. As Matt Kalman of CBS Boston concluded, “it can never hurt to have an extra veteran around, even if Gagne winds up mentoring the kids in Providence down the road.”
Indeed, Gagne is a veteran of 13 NHL seasons and therefore a veteran of 13 training camps. To accentuate his seasoning, Hall of Fame beat man Kevin Paul Dupont recalled on Twitter that Boston tried to trade for him in 2000.
While injuries and age have obliterated much of Gagne’s talent, they surely have not touched his understanding of the game at this level. That goes for his inherent hunger as well.
Consider what he said to Frank Seravalli in the Feb. 24 edition of the Philadelphia Daily News: “With all of my injuries, I knew the end was going to come at one point. But watching games, I still believe I can play, I know I could do a lot better than some of these guys.”
In his own words, Seravalli noted that “Gagne is thankful his neck, head and groin issues are behind him and he wakes up energized each day to play with his daughter Lily (3) and son Matthew (4). But he is bothered to not have a job.”
It has been six months since Seravalli offered that update on the one-time flashy Flyer. From that vantage point, Gagne’s fate at Boston’s camp could hinge on a simple tug of war between rest and rust.
That and how his competitors hustle in accordance with his presence.
For those reasons, even if it is confined to the preseason, his presence can help the young Bruins aspirants. It can give them a subconscious incentive to flaunt a midseason work ethic before 2014-15 even starts taking shape.
Quantity-wise, Boston has an overstock of left-shooting forwards with at least one spot on the regular roster up for grabs. Depending on what else unfolds, veteran Chris Kelly and rookies Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner are the front-runners.
One of those three could plug the left wing vacancy while another retains his natural slot at center and another stands by as the spare 13th forward.
For the younger candidates, another left wing with a saturated resume can only elevate the sense of internal competition. It will be a test of unripe homegrown talent versus a striped import trying to earn NHL membership all over again.
There is no cause to assume that Gagne cannot constitute a serious barrier to the final cut. Being away for as long as he has, especially for injury recovery, can take a case-by-case effect.
If he brings fresher legs than his identification and medical history would suggest, he will compel Khokhlachev and Spooner to resist any lax self-projection. If one, let alone both of them are to land a permanent passport to The Show this fall, it will not be by default.
Spooner should already understand that notion. There was a time in the thick of last winter when he was looking like a lock to stay in Boston.
But once the injury bug let up on the strike force, he returned to Providence. At the time, head coach Claude Julien told reporters that Spooner’s lack of goal production and two-way proficiency warranted more AHL refinement.
By training camp, the 22-year-old third-year professional should have the means to garner a permanent elevation. That does not mean the Bruins should let up on making that elevation a hard-earned one.
To date, Boston’s lone major offseason transaction up front has been Jarome Iginla’s departure via free agency. With the club’s payroll chipping the salary ceiling ($809,143 over the limit, according to CapGeek.com), options to refill the depth chart are at a premium.
If you delete the long-injured Marc Savard and assume restricted free agent Reilly Smith re-signs, the Bruins have 12 healthy forwards on their NHL payroll. While Khokhlachev and Spooner are not presently listed there, Jordan Caron and Justin Florek are.
The quality in that cluster is less than reliable at this time, though there is ample long-term potential to tap into. In turn, there is too much risk of creating the impression that whichever up-in-the-air candidates make the cut will do so by backing in rather than cracking in.
With few affordable options to amplify the competition, the contract-less Gagne makes a measure of sense. He is at a point where his desire and need to verify his aptitude resemble those of the four youngsters more than the top-sixers and other veterans.
Yet he brings one crucial fundamental difference from Caron, Florek, Khokhlachev and Spooner. He started going through these annual preseason tryouts when the other four were all in grade school.
It is one thing (and an indispensable commodity) to have a grizzled leadership core, as the Bruins do. It is another for a fresh-faced yet seasoned striker seeking a second wind to step in and spread his example to the youth.
For himself, Gagne will surely want to be more than the bridge man who instills work habits to Khokhlachev, Spooner and the like. But if he does stop there, the Bruins need not ask for much more out of him.
Imagine if the veteran’s actions express his aforementioned “I know I could do a lot better than some of these guys” mentality. The youngsters will have no excuse not to get ready to hit the ice sprinting come October.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.