EL SEGUNDO, CA — Shortly after the media left the Los Angeles Kings dressing room following their off-ice workout/optional skate on February 26, those of us who cover the team had to go into scramble mode, shifting away from the usual after-practice news and feature story angles, to the Kings trading away an established star in the National Hockey League.
Indeed, left wing Simon Gagne, who signed with the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on July 2, 2011, was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he began his career in 1999, in exchange for a conditional pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
If the Flyers make the playoffs this season, the Kings will get a third round pick in return. But if the Flyers fail to qualify for the post-season, the Kings will get a fourth round pick.
“Simon is an experienced veteran who will help us in a lot of areas,” said Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren. “We are glad to have him back.”
Holmgren told the media during a conference call that due to some key injuries, he was looking to add some skill and depth up front. He also indicated that under normal circumstances, the Flyers would not be able to acquire Gagne due to salary cap considerations. However, with a couple of players on long-term injured reserve, they were able to make the deal.
Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said during a media conference call that he was able to make the deal because there are good, young players coming up through the ranks.
“[Gagne is] a veteran player whose game is clearly defined as a very good player,” said Lombardi. “He wasn’t fitting in, so to speak. That said, this is an NHL player who has proven to be able to play on good teams, so you don’t do this unless you feel fairly comfortable with what you have coming through the minors.”
Specifically, Lombardi is referring to forward prospects Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, and Linden Vey, who have been on a tear of late for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.
Vey (14 goals and 32 assists for 46 points) is currently 11th in the AHL in overall scoring, while Toffoli (26 goals, 17 assists for 43 points) is 16th. Pearson (13 goals, 22 assists for 35 points) is also ranked in the top 50 in the AHL this season.
“We’ve been monitoring this continuously,” Lombardi explained. “It’s an ongoing thing with the kids down there. The one thing that’s happened, we lost a couple players on waivers, they’ve been banged up at times, we traded [center Andrei] Loktionov, so it’s pretty depleted. But those three kids on that line, they are playing constantly, and they are being targeted. They are playing hard minutes down there.”
“[Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall] was there, [Special Assistant to the General Manager] Jack [Ferreira] was there, and [Mike O’Connell, who handles Pro Development and Special Assignments] is there all the time,” Lombardi elaborated. “We’re constantly looking at, ‘is the kid ready,’ and there’s different stages of ‘ready.’ There’s ready for a shot, there’s ready to make an impact, and ready to fit in.”
“We felt pretty good [about] all three [forwards]—they’re as good as we’ve had come through the system, and I mean that [they] pay their dues in the minors. When you look at their games, and what they’re able to do, they’re good hockey players. But they’re still very young. With Gagne, [we felt that] we were OK, at least in giving these kids a sniff. Hexy’s reports, and when Jack was down there a couple of weeks ago, certainly contributed to this.”
But for these young prospects to get that sniff with the big club that Lombardi mentioned, the Kings needed an open roster spot.
“This isn’t a pick where we’re going to replace Gagne,” said Lombardi. “The focal point is to [open] the roster spot. If we need a player, we feel fairly comfortable that they’re kind of at the stage where [left wings Jordan] Nolan and [Dwight] King were last year. If we’ve got to use them, we’re comfortable with that.”
“Of course, if a player [becomes available via trade], we’ve got the cash, and we’ve got the cap space,” added Lombardi. “But the idea is not to go into the marketplace to fill that roster spot right now. Then again, you never know. You’re on the phone all the time in this league. If something hits me, we’re prepared to do it.”
Lombardi indicated that the deal was not one to create more room under the salary cap.
“The money is secondary,” he noted. “The term I used was, ‘fitting in,’ not being in the lineup. That’s your first touchstone, [an indication that] this probably isn’t fitting right now. However, as we saw with our defense, you can be banged up in a hurry. So if it was just that, I’m not going to do it unless I think we have some kids in the minors who are ready for their shot. That’s the primary consideration.”
“The by-product of it is yes, it frees up space, you get a draft pick that you can use at the draft table, or later in a trade,” he added. “But this was not motivated by [salary] cap space. We’ve got plenty of space. For this year, we’ve got $7 million in space.”
“It’s not the same thing, but it’s similar to when you move Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter—we had [Slava] Voynov coming through. We feel pretty good about our depth up front in our system, so that opens up a roster spot. That’s one of the things that’s very underestimated in juggling, particularly during this shortened season. In so many games, you’re juggling roster positions. This frees up a roster spot, allows us some flexibility, and [gives us] some [salary cap] space and cash at the [trade] deadline.”
As much as this was simply a hockey deal, it was plainly evident that it was more than that. Indeed, the key aspect of this deal was that it was made out of respect for an established NHL star who deserved a chance to play a regular shift with another team.
In the end, Lombardi was thinking a lot about Gagne and his family when he pulled the trigger on this trade.
“I’m not denying that this is a good player who I’ve known for a long time, and I know that if he wanted to go anywhere, that would be the place he would want to go,” Lombardi stressed. “The word was that it would be a third [round pick] if I wanted to do it at the deadline, and I did it in a way that—from a fourth to a third. I was satisfied with that, and being able to put him where I know he’d be happy.”
“This is a player who came to us as a free agent,” Lombardi added. “He chose us. Given that we had to do this, I was certainly going to put him somewhere that he could be happy, and judging from when I talked to him today, he was very pleased. He actually mentioned that if he had sat out much longer, he was probably going to come and see me.”
“For a guy whose had a storied career, and who started there, there is an intangible here that, hopefully, works for both [teams].”
Gagne, who played in just eleven games for the Kings this season, tallying five assists with two penalty minutes, was thrilled to be heading back to where he began his NHL career, playing ten seasons with the Flyers before moving onto the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2010-11 campaign. But the 6-1, 195 pound native of Ste. Foy, Quebec did not ask for a trade, even though he was certainly headed in that direction.
“[Asking to be traded] was definitely something [that] was on my mind the last couple of days,” Gagne told reporters during a media conference call. “I talked to my agent three days ago. The situation here—you could tell it wasn’t going to get better.”
“We started talking about the options,” Gagne added. “It’s different [for me] now. I have a family, two kids. You’re thinking about them more than you think about yourself. I was willing to suck it up for a couple more weeks, and see what was going to happen here. But at the end, I knew it was not my place here, and it was time to move on.”
Gagne learned he had been dealt to the Flyers when met with Lombardi in the early afternoon on February 26, and was very pleased to be heading back to Philadelphia.
“It just happened ‘like that,’” Gagne explained. “I didn’t have a chance to ask Dean or Hexy to try to trade me. They did it on their own, and it just shows the class those guys have.”
For the time being, anyway, the Kings are not looking to call a player up from Manchester to fill the roster spot left open by Gagne’s departure.
“We still have Brad Richardson in what you’d call the ‘13-hole,’ Lombardi noted. “The other thing we’re looking at is, we’re headed towards carrying eight defensemen, instead of the two extra forwards. That’s the thing we’re looking at because [Alec Martinez] could be coming back shortly, and we’ll see about Willie Mitchell.”
“That’s one thing that’s good about Brad,” Lombardi added. “He’s a guy who can play every [forward] position, center, left wing, right wing. He can play on your top lines, as well as your checking lines. He’s still a part of this group.”
Since Lombardi Brought It Up…
…here’s an update on the Kings’ injured defensemen…
Martinez (upper body injury; educated guess is that he suffered a shoulder injury) is skating and could be ready to return soon.
“I’m noticing a significant difference when I’m out there, so progress is good,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be back soon.”
“I’ve been on the ice since last Monday, so for about a week now, I’ve been skating every day, except for one or two days, so my conditioning feels good,” he added. “It’s just a matter of feeling comfortable out there.”
“Martinez is on schedule,” said Lombardi. “Originally, we were looking at two-to-four weeks, and I still think that’s in the ball park, [so] the original prognosis still holds.”
No timetable was given on when he might be able to participate in contact drills.
Matt Greene, who is recovering from back surgery to repair a herniated disc, is making good progress on his rehabilitation/recovery.
“Greene might be a little ahead of schedule, but that’s still a ways off, given the gravity of the injury,” said Lombardi.
Then there’s the mysterious rehab/recovery for Willie Mitchell, who underwent knee surgery during the off-season. He was skating for awhile, but then he disappeared from the Kings practice facility.
Lombardi expressed hope that he could be making progress after undergoing a new therapy technique.
“The one good thing that’s happened here in the last couple of days, he said something fairly positive to our trainer, in terms of possibly coming back,” Lombardi noted. “He had another procedure done on him today that helped him the last time. It’s something he wanted to try. Apparently, he did this a couple of weeks ago, and it helped him. He’s doing it again now.”
When asked by Los Angeles Times reporter Lisa Dillman, Lombardi confirmed that the treatment he was referring to is known as Platelet-Rich Plasma therapy.
Despite that, Lombardi has no idea when Mitchell might be able to return to the lineup.
“We’re still in that same holding pattern, overall, and that’s the frustrating thing,” said Lombardi. “You can say there’s a timetable on Martinez, and that there’s a timetable on Greene. There’s really no timetable [for Mitchell]. It is what it is.”
Like we have almost daily “Sutter-isms” from Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, Lombardi is no slouch in coming up with some highly entertaining quotes.
When he began his conference call with the media, Lombardi took note of how many media members were waiting for him on the call.
“Did I just become the GM of the Maple Leafs, or did I trade for Jeff Carter? I have 16 people on this call? Holy smokes!”
Interviews with Dean Lombardi and Rox Hextall (courtesy KingsVision on YouTube)
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