"It was weird," Gagne said Thursday afternoon. "I was trying not to think too much that I was back here."
But Gagne was back in the city he called home for 10 seasons, the city where his professional career was born and blossomed, the city where he became a star in orange and black. Only, this time he was back in Philadelphia as a visitor, flying in to a familiar airport only to take a very unfamiliar bus ride to a hotel he never once had a reason to stay.
In fact, Gagne said that until now he had never once stayed in a hotel in Philadelphia. The only time he had stayed in one in the area was when he was a rookie and had to rent a room at a Hampton Inn near the Flyers' practice facility across the river in Voorhees, N.J.
Life is different now. At least for this season he's a Floridian, and the orange and black he'll see Thursday night inside Wells Fargo Arena (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, RIS) when the Lightning take on his old team will worn by the enemy.
Talk about strange.
"It's going to be weird just in the warm-up to go on the other side and see them now getting ready for a game," said Gagne, who was traded from Philadelphia to Tampa Bay on July 19 for defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round draft choice. "I'm not going to lie to you -- that was the game I looked at first on the calendar, when we'll play Philly in Philly. It's tonight. I'm looking forward to this one."
Soon after losing to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, Gagne was looking forward to his 11th season in Philadelphia. He had no interest in leaving, so when the Flyers, who were staring at salary-cap issues, first approached him about waiving his no-trade clause, Gagne told them no.
"That was not the answer I think they were looking for," said Gagne, who had 524 points in 664 games with the Flyers.
Gagne was "a little bit" surprised when the Flyers asked him to waive his no-trade clause.
"Especially with the run that we had," he said. "I'm not the type of player that will look at what I did, but I thought that I did some great things to help the team to win and get to where we were at the end. But I understand it's part of a business. They had a salary cap problem at that time. They had to make some moves."
The Flyers were in the unfortunate predicament of having to move a key piece to make their salary cap work. Gagne, with one year and $5.25 million left on his contract, was on the chopping block.
He said when the Flyers came back to again ask him again to waive his no-trade clause, he reluctantly said yes.
"You don't feel part of the team when something like that happens," Gagne said. "I was not going to see myself coming back knowing they were ready to trade me. I called my agent and said let's find the best scenario for me and figure out what we're going to do. We decided we were going to decide where I wanted to go."
Gagne said the Flyers were OK with that. The team gave him and his agent their blessing to seek what they wanted and if they had a team in mind the Flyers would try to strike a deal to please Gagne and get their needed cap relief.
But the idea made Gagne nervous.
"You have some teams in mind but we all know with the salary cap it could be a problem," he said. "It was in the middle of July so most of the GMs had made their signings. So I was a bit scared at that point, but we decided if I had a chance to be able to get traded to Tampa Bay, with the team we have here, the talent we have offensively, the coaching change and (GM Steve) Yzerman, I would be coming to a team that wanted to win. That felt pretty comfortable to me.
"That's how I ended up with the Lightning. It turned out pretty good for me."
The Lightning worked for so many reasons.
For one, he was going to a team that already had strong offensive players in place such as Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos
, Martin St. Louis
, Ryan Malone
and Steve Downie. Gagne could be the missing piece to Tampa's top six.
"He's still one of the great scoring leaders in this League," Stamkos told NHL.com. "He's scored close to 50 goals (47 in 2005-06), and other than the injuries he's a consistent point getter in this League. Those are rare. He adds the scoring to our lineup that we've been lacking the last couple of years, another guy that can go out there and score big goals and make big plays."
The Lightning also worked because Gagne knew he wouldn't be alone in the transition. He is one of 10 new players on the team, and even the ones that were left behind from the pre-Yzerman regimes still are learning new coach Guy Boucher's ways.
Everything from the system, the language, the philosophy and the way practices and morning skates are run, is different. Lecavalier, now in his 12th season in Tampa, is learning that just as much as Gagne.
"You know, that might be why it was a bit easier to come here," Gagne said. "When you get traded to a team and you're the new guy you need to learn from the start and most of the guys know the system, but with a new coach we have a new system and everybody has to learn the same thing. Everyone had the same starting point at camp."
Except, heading into Thursday's game Gagne remains the only player in the top six without a point through two games.
"I expected that," Boucher said. "New guy coming in, different and wants to please so he has to get accustomed to everybody. It's not easy. The other thing, too, is he's got the most unselfish job on the power play, in front of the net. A lot of times you don't necessarily get points, you get phantom points. That's just a matter of time."
Gagne would love for that time to come Thursday.
"It would definitely be the best scenario," he said. "Guys know that this one is very important for the team, but very important for me."
Very strange, too.
"I would imagine when we take the bus to the game tonight, that's going to be tough," Gagne said.Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer