Flyers send 10-year veteran Gagne to Tampa Bay in salary dump

Simon Gagne finishes his Flyers career as the franchise's ninth-best goal scorer.
Simon Gagne finishes his Flyers career as the franchise's ninth-best goal scorer.
Posted: July 20, 2010

SIMON GAGNE knew it was coming.

He did the math. He checked the numbers twice, realizing the Flyers were almost $2.5 million over the salary cap, and knew he had "pretty much no choice."

Yesterday afternoon, before the Flyers dealt their longest-tenured player to the Tampa Bay Lightning for veteran defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick in what amounts to a salary dump, Gagne officially signed on a dotted line to waive his no-trade clause.

Even though he agreed to the deal, Gagne was still surprised.

"I was expecting it because of all that has happened in the last few weeks," he said. "But to hear today that I was traded is still a little bit of a shock for me. It's the first time that I have been traded.

"Philadelphia was like my second home," Gagne said. "When you stay there more than a decade you start to get familiar with the area. You build friendships with the players, the training staff and all the people working for the Flyers. The organization becomes like your family a little bit. But you have to understand that hockey is a business and that is the way it is. It is going to be tough."

Gagne, who joined the Flyers in 1999 just a month after kicker David Akers signed on with the Eagles, was Philadelphia's second longest-tenured athlete. He was due another $5.25 million this season in the last year of a 5-year contract.

With Walker's $1.7 million salary, the trade brings the Flyers back under the NHL's mandatory $59.4 million salary cap by approximately $1.05 million, with 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders on the roster.

Not surprisingly, Ilya Kovalchuk's signing of a 17-year, $102 million deal earlier in the day paved the way for Paul Holmgren to make his second trade of the summer with newly minted Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi contacted Holmgren early in the process to inquire about Gagne as a Plan B for Kovalchuk. Lombardi's offers were not serious enough for the Flyers to ask Gagne to waive his no-trade clause specifically for LA and Gagne told Comcast SportsNet yesterday his intention was to stay in the East.

Instead, Gagne will join the now-formidable Lightning to skate with Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. He leaves Philadelphia with the ninth-most goals and 10th-most points in franchise history, despite missing 156 games over 10 seasons with various injuries.

Gagne missed 84 games over the past three seasons alone, suffering from a concussion, sports hernia and broken toe.

He led the Flyers in goals for three seasons, in points twice, and was a two-time NHL All-Star and winner of the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP.

"Any time you're talking about a young man that has brought as much to the organization as Simon Gagne, it's very difficult," Holmgren said. "Simon Gagne played 10 seasons for the Flyers and was not only a good player for us, but also handled himself in a first-class manner on and off the ice."

Holmgren called the trade a "move to solidify our defense," leaving out the obvious salary implications.

While the physically intimidating, 6-4 Walker is expected to battle in training camp, it will be hard for him to crack an opening-night lineup that already includes five defensemen who make at least $3 million.

Sean O'Donnell, 38, whom the Flyers acquired in free agency on July 1 and won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 playing with partner Chris Pronger, is expected to be the Flyers' sixth defenseman.

Walker, 30, has played for St. Louis, Chicago and Tampa Bay in his 7-year NHL career.

"He's a character-intense player," Holm-gren said. "He plays physical. He's a stay-at-home guy that is a good penalty killer and, on our team, he can buy us dirty minutes and not be a liability, but be a positive force and help and defend our own zone."

"It's exciting to be back in a hockey town, for sure, and to play for a team that's always had a certain reputation and a certain style of play, it's a style that I've always thought I could contribute to and be a good fit," Walker said. "It's definitely a place where I think it could really work out well."

If Walker, waiver-exempt defenseman Oskars Bartulis and Riley Cote were sent to Adirondack out of training camp, the Flyers could have up to $3.85 million in salary-cap space. That might be enough to sign a free-agent goaltender like Marty Turco or Jose Theodore, whose stock has dropped considerably since they have sat on the open market since July 1.

"We certainly feel comfortable right now moving forward with the team," Holmgren said. "If something comes up that makes sense, obviously, we'll look at that. We'll see what the rest of the summer brings. If this were our team in training camp, I'd be completely comfortable with it."

Now, when the Flyers open training camp on Sept. 17, Gagne will not be in the locker room for the first time in 11 years.

"I think the thing I will miss the most are the Flyers fans," Gagne said. "All the support I got there for the 10 years that I played, even during the tough times when I had some injuries, the fans were really fair with me the whole time. There were a lot of No. 12 jerseys in the stands even when I started with the team in 1999. To them, I would just like to say a huge thank you."

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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