General Manager Steve Yzerman’s crusade to return the Tampa Bay Lightning to a consistent and perennial Stanley Cup contender came one step closer to fruition on Monday as the team acquired two-time 40-goal scorer Simon Gagne through a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The announcement resonated at around 3 p.m., prompting a conference call later in the afternoon featuring Yzerman, in which the Bolts’ GM fielded questions regarding the transaction that were called in via telephone by members of both the local and national media.
Yzerman, known for his methodical and well-executed approach, admitted that interest in acquiring the left wing first piqued during this summer’s NHL Draft, which was held in Los Angeles on June 25 and 26. With the Lightning and Flyers needing to manipulate their own unique salary cap situations, the acquisition of Gagne, according to Yzerman, “worked out well for both teams.”
Gagne, a two-time all-star who led the Flyers in goals three times during his 11-year tenure in Philadelphia, fulfilled Yzerman’s desire of adding a top-six forward, in addition to creating depth through the addition of another offensive-minded player to round out the top two scoring lines.
“In adding Simon to the Lightning today, we acquire a very talented player that will play along side our top forwards,” said Yzerman. “With his combination of speed and skill we are excited to have him with us. This trade not only makes us a better team in the short-term, it helps create long-term flexibility for us, which all along has been one of our top priorities.”
Yzerman himself is no stranger to Gagne, as the pair suited up as teammates for Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a tournament in which both players significantly contributed in bringing home the Gold Medal. It is this familiarity with Gagne that facilitated Yzerman’s decision to get the deal done.
“I think the more information you have about a player, the more comfortable you are in making your decision,” Yzerman added. “We try to bring players here who have good character and who work well in the locker room.”
In addition to admiring Gagne’s work ethic on and off the ice, Yzerman appeared pleased when discussing the versatility that Gagne brings to the table. Yzerman labeled Gagne, who became the first Quebec-born player in the NHL to score 40 or more goals in a single season since Mario Lemieux in 1996-97, as a great all-around player capable of playing in all situations including on the power play, the penalty kill and in the defensive zone. Yzerman said he was also impressed with the winger’s speed and goal-scoring ability.
With concerns about Gagne’s health, Yzerman said he had no reservations. All question marks should have been erased after the left wing returned from injury last season to post 16 goals and 35 points in 49 games after returning to the line up. He went on to help lead Philadelphia all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, along the way tying for the league lead in playoff power-play goals with five.
In addition, Yzerman assured the media that the recent string of acquisitions who are also Quebec natives, including those of head coach Guy Boucher and Assistant General Manager Julien BriseBois, were pure coincidence, much like the timing of the Gagne transaction, which came just after Ilya Kovalchuk was re-signed by New Jersey.
Nevertheless, Yzerman expressed his pleasure with the offseason moves made by the team thus far, noting the “club is improving” following the contract extension of Martin St. Louis, and the acquisitions of goaltender Dan Ellis and defensemen Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark.
When asked if the Lightning would continue to fill the roster through free agency or by using prospects within the team’s own system, Yzerman stated that decision is one that will be looked at by his staff and was not yet determined.
“We are still trying to improve the skill level and competitiveness,” Yzerman said. “But we cannot turn around an entire team in just one offseason. In Simon, however, I feel like we are receiving a very good player.”
Gagne also expressed his feelings regarding the deal, reaffirming his General Manager’s previous sentiments regarding mutual benefit.
“Tampa Bay was the team that was really interesting to myself and that’s when we started talking to Steve Yzerman,” Gagne said to the Tampa Tribune. “We were able to make something happen with them. I was willing to waive my no-trade clause only for Tampa Bay, not for other teams.”