Simon Gagne: The Best UFA Pick-Up for 2008-09
The Philadelphia Flyers suffered the organization's worst ever season in 2006-07, winning only 22 games and totalling 56 points.
But in 2007-08, the Flyers rebounded like no other team in NHL history, with 20 more wins (42) and a 39-point improvement (95)—good enough to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Two factors made the turnaround possible—the season was a disaster, but the organization wasn't. The Flyers had a lot of quality young players in lineup and simply suffered through a season that saw a plethora of injuries to many of the team's key players, as well as some of the young players not stepping up their game as expected—namely, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
Second, the old guard was removed and Paul Holmgren was named GM, albeit on an interim basis. John Stevens was promoted from the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms, and the makeover was under way.
Holmgren made a series of trades that further armed the Flyers with young talent. This time, however, many of them had a few NHL seasons' experience under their belts.
Although at times the Flyers struggled with consistency in the '07-08 season, the improvement was not Cinderella. It was the real deal.
Headed into the summer, Holmgren and the Flyers did not have much room under the cap. Locking up Richards for 12 years and subsequently Carter and Jones ensured that.
It was apparent the Flyers would not be major players in the UFA market. This was a bit of a tough pill to swallow, while watching the offensively-gifted Brian Campbell end up in Chicago and the underrated, but effective Mark Streit head to Long Island.
Holmgren didn't sit idly by, however, and made some minor moves to acquire defensemen to fill in the holes at least for the time being. Eminger and Vanaanen should give the Flyers more mobility on the back-end than Smith, Modry, and Hatcher provided.
Although lack of cap space handcuffed the Flyers in terms of signing a big-name, offensive-minded defenseman, it could be argued the Flyers will begin the season in October with the biggest shot in the arm that any team could ask for—the return of Simon Gagne.
For all intents and purposes, Gagne is 100 percent. There was not a team in the league that acquired a UFA whose impact will be as immediate or encompassing as Gagne's
Gagne's return won't only be felt in the goals column. He's much more than a 40-goal man. He is one of the league's elite two-way wingers.
The Flyers were able to pull off the greatest turnaround season in the history of the NHL with only a 25-game contribution from their leading goal scorer the previous two seasons. His absence for 57 games was a huge reason for the inconsistent swings the Flyers suffered.
Daniel Briere suffered most, as the very reason he chose to sign with Philadelphia was not on his left wing for more than half the season. The loss of Gagne caused John Stevens to shuffle his lines constantly to try and find a player that could fill in alongside Briere and Knuble.
So when the season commences in October, the Flyers will not only be a 40 goal scorer better. If he can stay healthy, the Flyers should see a 20-25 point increase in Briere's totals. The Flyers' power play, which was ranked number two for most of last season, surely won't dip and again should be far more consistent.
All this, and Gagne is a bargain too, at $5.25 million per year!
2008-09 should see the Flyers improve further on the best turnaround in the NHL's history.
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