Steve Yzerman's history with Simon Gagne dates back to February of 2002, when they played together on Canada's men's Olympic hockey team. That was the year that Yzerman hobbled through the tournament on a wonky knee, but made important contributions anyway; and Gagne was one of the team's rising young stars and finished up playing on the top line with Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla.
Yzerman, the Tampa Bay Lightning's rookie general manager, never forgot Gagne's contributions as a scorer which is why, on Monday, he waded back into the trading waters and acquired him from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenceman Matt Walker plus a fourth-round pick.
In Gagne, 30, the Lightning receive a proven goal-scorer that will help fast-track their rebuilding program, assuming he can stay healthy - which is the primary risk attached to the move for Tampa.
In three of the five post-lockout seasons in which he played 70 or more games, Gagne produced 47, 41 and 34 goals respectively. Unhappily, he has also had two injury-filled seasons mixed in - one (2007-08) in which he played only 25 games largely for concussion reasons; and then last year, when a groin injury/sports hernia that was aggravated at Canada's Olympic orientation camp limited him to only 58 games. In the playoffs, he missed time with a broken bone in his foot and had a minimal impact in the Stanley Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"You mention a concussion," said Yzerman. "It was a few years ago. Virtually everybody that's played in the league for an amount of time has missed time with injuries.
"If this were a multi-year contract, I would really seriously have to evaluate if I was ready to do this."
Instead, Gagne has only one year remaining on a contract that will pay him $5.25-million - too rich a contract for the Flyers, given that they have a surplus of expensive forwards that include Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Interestingly, the Flyers created the cap space needed by Tampa to make the Gagne deal by earlier picking up defenceman Andrej Meszaros from the Lightning.
Yzerman said Flyers' general manager Paul Holmgren gave him access to all of Gagne's medical records, so he went into the transaction with his eyes wide open.
"I don't look at it that I traded Simon Gagne making $5.25-million," said Yzerman. "I traded a player (Walker) that made roughly $1.65-million, so we're getting a top-six forward for one year (for the difference). If healthy, the dollars going out versus going in, we think we're getting a good player.
"He missed some time early in the year correcting a sports hernia problem that didn't bother him down the stretch. The only games he missed (in the playoffs) was because he got hit in the foot with a slap shot and broke a toe and that could happen to anyone."
Gagne gives the low-scoring Lightning badly needed depth up front. Tampa had all of its offence largely concentrated on three fronts last year: Steve Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, who produced 95, 94 and 70 points respectively. After that, it was a precipitous decline to Ryan Malone (47), Steve Downie (46), Kurtis Foster (42) and Alex Tanguay (37). Foster and Tanguay are no longer with the Lightning, having signed with the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames respectively.
No other player on the Tampa roster finished with more than 20 points last season, a primary reason why they were tied for 24th overall in NHL scoring, with only 216 goals overall.
Since the Lightning like the chemistry that has developed between St. Louis and Stamkos, Gagne should give Lecavalier a viable winger to play with. Yzerman met with both Lecavalier and St. Louis once the season ended; one would think that the lack of scoring depth up front was a primary topic of discussion.
"I'm looking at this opportunity as a new challenge and a new start," said Gagne, in a statement. "Tampa Bay was a team I was more than willing to waive my no-move clause for. I really like the direction the team is headed in with a solid owner, Steve Yzerman as GM and coach (Guy) Boucher. I'm really looking forward to playing with guys like Lecavalier, Stamkos and St. Louis."
"We did as much homework as we could," concluded Yzerman. "I know exactly what I'm getting in the player. I know there's risk involved, but it's a one-year contract and I'm prepared to do that for one season."