There was nothing left in the tank when Simon Gagne’s season ended last June 9.
The grind of 19 playoff games had drained every ounce of energy and emotion from him. Gagne said he looked around the locker room during the Stanley Cup finals and no one was healthy.
Gagne, 30, knew he had to do something different in the off season to be ready for his 11th NHL season.
“I sat down with my trainer and we did a lot of testing to see where my energy level was,” said Gagne, who had nine playoff goals for the Flyers last season. “I was still low after a month of rest. But with two months left before camp, you still have to start working out and we did. We just worked smarter.
“It’s like a car, when you go and adjust your tires. That’s what I did with my body the first month of training this summer. The last month, we really did push hard.”
The Lightning, who acquired Gagne July 19 in a trade for Matt Walker and fourth-round draft pick, are the beneficiary of that decision. While he said many of his former Flyers teammates were quoted saying they are still tired in September, Gagne has a full tank for his new challenge in Tampa Bay.
Gagne, who has 259 goals and has a plus/minus rating of plus-143 in 10 seasons, adds another versatile all-star caliber forward to the Lightning lineup. In his previous three full seasons where he played more than 70 games, he has averaged over 40 goals. Gagne had a career-high 47 goals in 2005-06, the year after the lockout.
“I think Simon’s one of the best two-way players in the league,” Lightning wing Marty St. Louis said. “He does everything well. He’s going to be a guy we should all learn from.”
His off season training program might be one good lesson.
Gagne said players normally take about a month off after the season is over, but then go full out. He is glad he did not this time around.
“At first, you’re a little bit worried if you worked hard enough,” said Gagne, who has worked with Florian Bianchi the last five years in Quebec City. “I asked my trainer if he was sure. But he was right. In August, I was really pushing myself and I had a lot of energy to do it.”
Gagne said he also feels 100 percent healthy after sitting out 24 games in 2009-10 and 57 in 2007-08.
The injuries are behind him and so is Philadelphia.
Gagne has a lot of great memories in a Flyers uniform. But with cap-space problems, Philadelphia decided to shop Gagne this summer. The Lightning, looking for another top-six forward, found a perfect match with the Saint-Foy, Quebec native. Now, Gagne said he feels young again.
“I had some good times [in Philadelphia],” Gagne said. “But it’s time for a new chapter in my life. Sometimes, as a hockey player, you need these changes to get an extra boost. I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
That spark was evident in the preseason. Gagne had three goals, three assists and was plus-6 in four games.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher said Gagne will help the team with his experience in pressure moments, skating ability and steady nature.
“He’s got what we call easy speed,” Boucher said. “He just takes off and looks so smooth. You figure he’s not going that fast, but then you compare him to somebody beside him and he blows by them.
“[Gagne] can play through traffic. That’s hard. Very few guys can do that. You get guys on your back and all of a sudden you can’t see through guys and it’s hard to keep the same vision. But he does. He’s very calm in his mind. That’s probably the biggest asset a hockey player can have. No matter how fast his body goes, his mind is very calm in tight situations.”
Off the ice, Gagne admitted there were some jitters before meeting his new teammates. New place, new coach, new team, new rink and new outlook. But Gagne said the Lightning have made him feel at home.
One thing that hasn’t changed is his number. Gagne has always worn 12 in the NHL, only giving it up for Jarome Iginla in international competitions to switch to 21. He was all set to wear No. 21 this season. But without Gagne asking, Ryan Malone gave up his No. 12 sweater.
“I said we’re happy to have him on the team,” Malone said. “He’s done some great things with that number and it was time for a change for myself, I thought, so it was no problem at all.”
Malone said he did not want anything in return, but he’ll get a dinner on the road and, most likely, a few nice saucer passes from Gagne for easy goals.
Gagne, who won gold with Team Canada in the 2004 World Cup and the 2002 Winter Olympics, was drafted 22nd overall by the Flyers in 1998. The first name called that day was Vincent Lecavalier, his new teammate and likely his linemate to start this season.
Lecavalier and Gagne grew up playing against each other in their junior careers and ended up on the same line in the CHL Prospects Game as 17-year olds.
“We were rivals growing up, but we’re great friends,” Lecavalier said. “I’ll be excited to play with him. He’s a great player, great leader and a great guy.”
There won’t be much of an adjustment period.
"He knows how to win and that's huge, especially with the younger guys on the team,” Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “He's a veteran presence, but he still has a lot of game left in him.”