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Numbers Game: Flyers Deal Gagne to Lightning

Scott Cullen
7/19/2010 3:46:19 PM
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Philadelphia needed to shed salary after making some earlier moves this summer and it resulted in Tampa Bay taking back a proven scorer with a high salary.

Numbers Game examines the Lightning's acquisition of Simon Gagne.

The Lightning Get: LW Simon Gagne.

Gagne, 30, is a proven scorer, topping 30 goals in three of the last five seasons, but he's run into injury problems in the other two years, missing 24 games thanks to a sports hernia in 2009-2010 and 57 games, largely due to concussions, in 2007-2008.

The result of these injuries is that Gagne is a commodity with an uncertain value heading into the final year of his contract; a contract that will cost the Lightning $5.25-million next season.

When healthy, Gagne is a productive player who can handle the hard minutes.  According to www.behindthenet.ca, Gagne faced the highest-calibre opposition of any Flyers skater at even-strength last season, which is a function of frequently playing with Mike Richards, but it also indicates that Gagne won't have any trouble taking a prominent role in Tampa Bay, say, on Vincent Lecavalier's wing.

Last season, Gagne scored 17 goals and 40 points in 58 games, with 19 of his points coming on the power play. 

If he can stay healthy for 70-plus games, which is no sure thing, a 30-goal season should be within Gagne's grasp and that would give the Lightning a rather effective top-six forward group (Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Steve Downie, Ryan Malone, Gagne and Lecavalier) around which to build.

Having scored nine goals in 19 playoff games in 2009-2010, and with 90 postseason games on his resume, Gagne is an experienced scoring forward with a measure of success.  By taking him with one year left on his deal, it's a low-risk investment for the Lightning that could pay off if Gagne finds chemistry with his new linemates. 

If it doesn't work out, Gagne could always be moved out before next year's trade deadline for additional assets; almost assuredly assets worth more than Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick.

Sure, the Lightning have nothing settled on their third and fourth lines at this point, but third and fourth line worries naturally come after addressing the requirements at the spots higher up on the depth chart and the Gagne acquisition suggests that the Lightning have positioned themselves to be an improved team in 2010-2011.

The Flyers Get: D Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick.

A defensive defenceman with size and toughness, 30-year-old Matt Walker is a third-pair defenceman who is better off playing limited minutes.

Walker is signed for three more seasons, at a cap hit of $1.7-million per season, making him an expensive seventh defenceman, but that's where he figures to fit on the Philadelphia depth chart, likely just behind veteran Sean O'Donnell.

While this trade gets the Flyers under the $59.4-million salary cap now, Walker's salary could very well get buried in the minors at some point over the next three years unless he plays better for Philadelphia than he did in his first year with Tampa Bay, when he managed five points and a minus-11 rating in 66 games, playing a little over 16 minutes per game.

In the short-term is a distinction worth noting because, over the long haul (and barring a buyout), the Flyers owe Walker $5.55-million over the next three years -- more than the Lightning will pay Gagne this year.

The fourth-round draft pick isn't terribly significant, with a little better than 15% of fourth-rounders making it as NHLers, so it's virtually a token price to be paid for a salary dump that helps the Flyers in the short term.

Of course, part of the reason the Flyers are in this financial pickle is that they already acquired defenceman Andrej Meszaros in a prior trade with the Lightning.  Meszaros and Walker did see quite a bit of ice time together in Tampa Bay, so there is a possibility that they could be a better tandem in supporting roles on a stronger Flyers team.

Gagne's departure isn't devastating for the Flyers, a team with ample scoring talent up front.  Second-year winger James van Riemsdyk and returning-from-Russia Nikolai Zherdev both figure to get good opportunities to produce in Gagne's absence in 2010-2011. 

It's just difficult -- and possibly a sign of the financial times in the NHL right now -- to see the Flyers move out an asset that would figure to hold appeal for several teams in need of scoring and not come away with anything more than a little bit of short-term cap relief.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.




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