There was a belief that New Jersey's signing of Ilya Kovalchuk
on Monday could re-open player movement across the NHL after several days of doldrums.
It didn't take long for that theory to be validated, as Philadelphia waited less than three hours after news broke about Kovalchuk re-upping with the Devils to deal veteran forward Simon Gagne
to the Tampa Bay Lightning
in exchange for defenseman Matt Walker
and Tampa Bay's fourth-round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft.
The Flyers were eager to move Gagne, a high-scoring winger with a history of injury problems, because of salary cap concerns brought on by a flurry of trades and free-agent signings this summer.
The Lightning were eager to welcome the 30-year-old because they believe, when healthy, Gagne can help give them a top-six set of forwards as good as any in the League. Gagne will be joining super sophomore Steven Stamkos
, Vincent Lecavalier
, Marty St. Louis, Steve Downie
and Ryan Malone
in that top-six grouping. Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier and Gagne have all topped the 40-goal mark at some point in their career.
Stamkos, 20, did it last season, scoring 51 goals to tie Sidney Crosby
for the League lead. St. Louis had 29 goals last season but scored 43 in 2006-07. Lecavalier scored 52 for the Lightning that same season and added 40 the following campaign. He had 24 goals last season.
Gagne had just 17 goals for Philadelphia in 2009-10, but he missed 24 regular-season games with a variety of injuries. He scored 47 goals in 2005-06 and added 41 the following season. In 2008-09, his last injury-free full season, he scored 34 times. In his career, he has 259 goals and 524 points in 664 regular-season games.
"I'm very excited right now," Gagne said. "I'm looking at this opportunity as a new challenge and a new start. Tampa Bay was a team I was more than willing to waive my no-move clause for. I really like the direction the team is headed in with a solid owner, Steve Yzerman
as GM and Coach (Guy) Boucher. I'm really looking forward to playing with guys like Lecavalier, Stamkos and St. Louis. I'm excited to be a member of the Lightning, and I'm looking forward to starting next season in Tampa Bay."
This spring, Gagne made a dramatic return to the Flyer lineup in the postseason after missing time with a foot injury. Showing the goal-scoring prowess that made him a star, Gagne had 9 goals (and 3 assists) in 19 postseason games as Philadelphia pulled off a string of upsets before losing to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final.
The deal is also attractive to Tampa Bay -- and new GM Yzerman -- because Gagne is in the last season his contract, thereby leaving little long-term risk for this experiment.
"I'm fully aware of every injury he's had over the last few years," Yzerman said during a conference call. "Obviously it's a concern. If it was a multiyear contract it would be even more of a concern. But we felt with Simon going into the final year of his contract, we obviously have a very motivated player. I just think it was worth doing that. He recovered from the hernia surgery he had early last season. He had a broken toe in the playoffs, which could happen to anybody. I don't see that as being an issue moving forward. I'm comfortable that he's healthy now and will start the season healthy."
Yzerman and Gagne have some history together: They were teammates on Canada's gold medal-winning squad at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and Yzerman said knowing Gagne as a teammate made him more comfortable with the deal.
"I guess I would say in completing this trade or in anything you do, any move you make, anytime you're acquiring a player or moving a player, the more information you have on the person the more comfortable you are with your decision," he said. "Getting a chance to play with Simon then and having him at the Olympic camp this year as well, you learn the type of person he is and where he would fit in. Any player I bring into the organization I'm hoping has good character and will fit well into a locker room. I think I know Simon a little bit as a person, obviously I know him as a hockey player, so playing together in '02 just helped me get a little more information when I make this decision."
Walker, 30, has been a lower-pair defenseman in the NHL for the past five seasons, seeing time with St. Louis, Chicago and Tampa Bay. In 66 games with the Lightning last season, he had 2 goals and 5 points and was a minus-11. He also had 90 penalty minutes.
"My initial reaction was pure excitement," Walker said. "To find out that I was coming to Philly, I don't know if I would say it was a life-long dream, but I've always wanted to play in Philly and I thought I would be a good fit there."
For his career, which began with a 16-game stint with St. Louis in 2002-03, Walker has 4 goals and 30 points in 306 NHL games. He is also a minus-7 and has 444 penalty minutes.
"This was a move to solidify our defense," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren
said "Matt Walker
is a right-shot defenseman that we like; he brings size, grit and toughness to our back end. Simon Gagne
played 10 seasons for the Flyers and was not only a good player for us, but also handled himself in a first-class manner on and off the ice."
The Gagne deal is the second deal Yzerman has made with Holmgren since taking the Tampa Bay job this spring. On July 1, he dealt defenseman Andrej Meszaros
to the Flyers in exchange for a second-round pick in 2012.
Yzerman said the two deals with the Flyers will give him added salary-cap flexibility down the line. St. Louis recently signed a four-year extension, and Stamkos comes off his entry-level deal at the end of next season.
"I think we're improving the club," he said. "With Matt Walker
, with two years beyond this year on this contract, and Andrej Meszaros
, with three years beyond the upcoming season on his contract, it gives me the ability now to not only sign Marty St. Louis but also Stamkos, and some freedom and flexibility to improve the team in the future."
NHL.com's Dave Lozo contributed to this story