When the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season abruptly ended on May 27, the clock representing Simon Gagne’s remaining time in Florida began to tick down.
With the July 1 unrestricted free agent deadline approaching and the high-priced, oft-injured winger concluding a deal that paid him over $26 million in five years, Gagne, 31, could be looking at a new home or possibly even an old one.
“Gagne, I’d say slim,” said Lightning beat reporter Erik Erlendsson on Twitter, when asked the chances of the player’s return to Tampa.
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In the face of unrestricted free agency, a player’s on-ice production, both potential and registered, is typically in direct correlation to the dollar amount they make or are set to bring in. In other words, compensation for personal efforts.
Yet, when it comes to UFA to-be Ville Leino and the Flyers, the 27-year old Finnish forward’s production is just one part of the equation. Danny Briere’s production is the other piece.
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On May 25, in an abrupt and surprising decision, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski called it a career, retiring after 11 seasons in the NHL.
The announcement came without warning as the jaws of the collective hockey world dropped in disbelief. Rafalski, 37, walked away from one year on his contract at $6 million. He was playing a solid 20 minutes per game on a good, competitive team and that play had not dropped off as he finished the year with 44 assists and a plus-11 rating.
The Red Wings, who planned for the defenseman to finish his contract, are now left with a gaping hole on their blue line and little time to fill it — a consequence of early retirement that most teams will never face.
However, if general manager Paul Holmgren and the Flyers aren’t paying attention and didn’t see Rafalski’s sudden retirement as a wake-up call to take a look at their own defensive situation, the same could happen to them with 36-year-old Kimmo Timonen.
Rumors, speculation and amateur attempts at general managing have become a staple of every NHL offseason. While ideas become somewhat intriguing during a summer of disappointment and vacant of real news, rumor mongering is typically unreliable and in some cases, annoying.
So when the scuttlebutt broke from Twitter on Monday night that New York-based news hound Incarcerated Bobclaimed the Toronto Maple Leafs and Flyers are in “serious discussions involving Jeff Carter,” there was a spark of curiosity and rightfully very few true believers. Just another Carter trade rumor.
However, there is one overlooked nugget in Bob’s proposed deal that is hard to ignore. The formula actually makes sense.
On Nov. 7, 2008, forward Steve Downie was shipped out of Philadelphia in a box labeled ‘lost cause.’
The Flyers groomed the 2005 first-round pick for three years, until they simply had enough. He took too many penalties, earned one too many suspensions and appeared as if he would never be able to ride the fence of tactful aggression and being a barbarian.
That was all true, until he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who transformed the young but chaotic talent into a player.
“He’s made a conscious effort to do that,” Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman told the Windsor Star with regards to Downie controlling himself. “We want to reassure to him that he is a good player and his play in the playoffs is showing that. He’s got great hockey sense, he’s got good skills and he sees the ice very well. We want him on the ice, we don’t want him in the penalty box. We try to encourage him to do that and I think he understands that.”
The future of Dan Carcillo in Philadelphia is up in the air once again.
For the second season in a row, the truculent and maniacal forward is tapping into restricted free agency with the Flyers, looking for another contract. And for the second season in a row, general manager Paul Holmgren has to make a decision whether to extend his $1.075 million deal, or walk away.
This time, it should be the latter. But it has nothing to do with his performance.
The offseason chatter surrounding the improvement of the Flyers has focused primarily on goaltending, Mike Richards’ captaincy and potential trade opportunities featuring Jeff Carter.
Yet, while those topics may headline the solutions put forth to avenge their embarrassing second-round playoff exit, there is a more fundamental problem the Flyers need an answer for— where was the fight?
“We got slapped around and that was a little harder to take,” general manager Paul Holmgren said after his team was swept from the playoffs by the Boston Bruins. “I think we have to take a look at some things and see where we are going.”
With their need for a bona fide starting goaltender listed as top priority in the offseason for the Flyers, all eyes shifted immediately to Phoenix Coyotes backstop Ilya Bryzgalov, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
But while Flyer fans fall in love with the prospect of acquiring the soon-to-be 31-year old 2010 Vezina Trophy runner-up, one giant hurdle could stand in their way — Coyotes general manager Don Maloney.
“I think the process is identifying priorities, who’s the most important and the second-most important and on down the line and then going out and executing your plan,” Maloney told the Arizona Republic. “Certainly, Ilya Bryzgalov is very important to us.”
The Flyers’ goaltending situation can truly be described as in flux, while also being in need.
And with many varying options on the table for general manager Paul Holmgren this offseason, one thing is for certain — the Flyers require a workhorse between the pipes and according to goalie coach Jeff Reese, Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t it. Yet.
“Everybody develops a little bit differently,” said Reese. “I thought [Bobrovsky] had a very very good first season and in my opinion, has a chance at a real bright future and to be a No. 1 down the road. It’s probably going to take two or three years to come along, but you never know, it could be next year. For now, it’s probably going to take a couple years.”
Mike Richards isn’t the problem and neither is his captaincy with the Flyers.
After being swept out of the postseason in effortless fashion by the Boston Bruins in the second round, fingers were pointed and blame was assigned — most of it landing on the shoulders of the 26-year-old, who was playing with a torn ligament in his wrist.