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Gagne Among Familiar Company

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

After coming up short in the pursuit of one top free agent, the Kings landed another on Saturday when they signed winger Simon Gagne to a two-year contract.

Gagne, 31, is a two-time 40-goal scorer who, if regularly healthy, should easily be able to fill the top-six left-wing spot vacated when the Kings sent Ryan Smyth to Edmonton.

"The high-end skill that he brings is exciting," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "You always look for him to play with your top center icemen. He's a great scorer. He's got great hands. He comes through with timely plays, timely goals."

Health is a question for Gagne, though. He missed 18 games last season because of a neck injury and has missed 102 regular-season games over the past four seasons. Gagne totaled 17 goals and 23 assists in 63 games with Tampa Bay last season.

Before the run of injuries, though, Gagne was a force, a speedy, skilled winger with the Philadelphia Flyers who scored 47 goals in 2005-06 and 41 goals in 2006. When healthy two seasons ago, Gagne finished second on the Flyers with 34 goals.

"There's risk with every player," Kings assistant GM Ron Hexall said. "You always analyze the risk vs. reward. Obviously with the amount of money that goes into it, and the cap space, you look at the injuries, and we felt that the reward was worth the risk."

Gagne’s signing could give the Kings some interesting top-six options. Gagne joins Dustin Penner on the left side, alongside centers Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards and right wingers Dustin Brown and Justin Williams. Third-line options could include center Jarret Stoll and wingers Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson, Scott Parse and Trevor Lewis.

That will be left for Murray to sort out, but Murray already knows what he’s getting in Gagne. Murray was an assistant coach with the Flyers for four of Gagne’s 10 seasons in Philadelphia. Gagne also played under Kings assistant coach (and then-Flyers coach) John Stevens and was a teammate of Williams and Richards.

"It has worked," Murray said of playing Gagne and Richards on a line together. "I've seen it work. There's good chemistry there. They play off each other, read off each other very well. It's just a knack. Those things are called chemistry. You wonder why chemistry works sometimes, and how it works and how it happens and why it happens, but that type of chemistry fell in place when they did play together, and they had good success together. That won't be too far away from my mind when I'm putting down some lines and starting to put things together in my mind for training camp."

Early Saturday, the Kings learned that free-agent target Brad Richards signed with the New York Rangers. Eight members of the Kings’ front office and coaching staff went to Toronto to woo Richards on Friday, and the Kings were considered to be "finalists" for Richards’ services, but Richards cited a preference to remain on the East Coast.

Gagne was also considered among the top tier of free-agent forwards this summer, and the Kings moved quickly, signing him less than five hours after Richards’ decision.

Gagne said his relationships with former Flyers -- he jokingly referred to the Kings as "the Flyers on the West Coast" -- made the Kings more attractive.

"Yesterday, we were talking to some teams and L.A. was one of the teams that called up really early Friday, and let us know that I was at the top of their list,’’ Gagne said. "At the same time, they were honest with us that they were waiting to see what was going to happen with Brad Richards. At the same time, on our side we were looking at some other things with other teams. Then, this morning when Richards signed, they came back and I had a chance to talk with Mike Richards and, actually, Justin Williams too, yesterday. So I've got a couple buddies there, and everybody knows that I played with Mike Richards in Philly and had a lot of success too.

"It was definitely a place where I know they were looking to get me. Even last year, when I was ready to move my no-trade clause, that was one of the teams that was really pushing to get me, so I know that it was a great fit for me."

The Flyers drafted Gagne in the first round in 1998 (No. 22 overall) and he broke into the NHL in 1999-2000. Gagne stayed with the Flyers until last summer, when he was traded to the Lightning for defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round draft pick.

Gagne is a two-time All-Star who also has 37 goals in 105 career playoff games. Gagne made his biggest mark in the playoffs in 2010, in the second round, when the Flyers rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to beat Boston. Gagne returned from an injury to score an overtime goal in Game 4, two goals in Game 5 and the winning goal in Game 7.

"I think the one thing about Simon is that he's always been a big-game player," Hextall said. "He has scored big goals at critical times. You look at his playoff numbers, and he played in some real big games and has played some of his best hockey. That's part of the reward that we look at. This is a pretty darn good player, and he's also a very good defensive player, a much better defensive player than people give him credit for.

"He can kill penalties, he can check and obviously with the offensive part of his game, he's got a track record of numbers there."

Gagne said he is healthy and is looking forward to being a veteran presence among a young group of Kings who have made the playoffs in the past two seasons.

"I believe that the Kings are just getting better and better every year," Gagne said, "and those young guys are just getting better and better too. So that's why, when I had some choices between teams, that the Kings were at the top of the list, because they're a team where I know good stuff is going to happen for the next two years."

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