It has become a forgone conclusion that one of the longest tenured athletes to ever play in Philadelphia will leave as the product of a bitter breakup with the city he knows best.
Simon Gagne, who was drafted by the Flyers way back in 1998, has been with the organization ever since and looks to be on his way out the back door. The 30-year old left-winger has been with the big-club since the 1999-2000 season where he made the NHL’s All-Rookie team after notching 20 goals and 48 points.
With the Flyers recent signing of unrestricted free agent winger Nikolai Zherdev, formerly of the New York Rangers, to a one-year $2 million deal, Gagne’s replacement has been signed and delivered. Zherdev, 25, last played in the NHL in 2008-09 campaign with the Rangers where he scored 23 goals and 58 points in 82 games.
The Zherdev signing put the Flyers over the $59.4 mill cap by $1.4 million. So regardless of the Zherdev arrival the Flyers had to shed salary somewhere.
The signing of Zherdev left fans and personal around the NHL a bit puzzled due to the well-known and respected playing style the Flyers are famous for. Although, the Russian-born fourth overall pick back in 2003 can put the puck in the net with finesse, he cannot play a speck of defense and won’t go anywhere near traffic.
Basically, he is the opposite of Gagne. Yet, this is the man who is likely taking his spot on the wing. Here is my outlook on what i’ve gathered from watching video and talking to people who cover the NHL and have seen Zherdev extensively.
- Zherdev is very talented and can be a magician when the puck is on his stick, and nobody around him.
- Forget about consistent play from him. He is often a player who takes plays off, even some games.
- High traffic areas will be a time where Zherdev will disappear. He isnt the kind of player that will try to muscle his way along the boards, more so around the slot.
- Worst of all, and most importantly, he is one of the worst defensive forwards in the league. He’s been called irresponsible and lazy once the puck leaves his offensive end.
The defensive deficiencies of Zherdev is what made this deal more confusing. Head coach Peter Laviolette’s style is aggressive two-way hockey which the players took onus to and worked hard on becoming one of the top defensive minded teams in the NHL.
Now remember, I did say that Zherdev is a gifted offensive player who has scored 20 or more goals three times in his career, I know his high points. Also, if Laviolette can magically convince Zherdev to buy into his system, than this signing for only $2 mill will make GM Paul Holmgren look like an even bigger genius than he already seems to be.
My problem is simple to understand, he isn’t a suitable replacement for Gagne.
Since making his NHL debut in 1999-2000, ‘Gags’ has racked up seven 20-goal seasons, including back-to-back 40-goal campaigns. I understand the $5 million cap hit he has, and I understand he always has that risk of being one hit away from being on the sidelines for an extensive period of time.
However, we can never discount the fact that Gagne is one of the best two-way hockey players in the league and has been for a long period of time.
Considering Holmgren wants to have enough cap space to re-sign both Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe, Gagne is the guy to presumably be getting ready to pack his bags. The good thing for Gagne is at least he gets to choose his destination before being traded.
Conflicting reports have Gagne apparently not waiving his NTC, well that’s what the left-winger told a French radio Network last week.
If Gagne refuses the deals that Homer presents to him, he can be waive and be eligible to be picked up by anyone who can pick up the final year of his contract at $5.25 million. There are a lot of teams out there that could use a player like Gagne to give them 25-30 goals if he can stay healthy. But he more suited to play this season with the team he started with.
It will be a shame to see Gagne leave as ugly and bitter as it looks like it will be. Only because he is one the true fan favorites, a future Flyers hall-of-famer, and a dynamic sniper on a team that needs consistent scoring and aggressive defensive play from their forwards.
Its obvious the Flyers aren’t done making moves this summer, so the Gagne fallout could be fast approaching.