The Tampa Bay Lightning may or may not be interested in the services of left winger Simon Gagne. However, in my mind, the Bolts’ playoff hopes don’t hinge on acquiring the Flyers sniper.
When healthy, Gagne is, without a doubt, a consistent offensive threat who’d fit in well on one of Tampa’s top two lines. His $5.25 million salary next season presents somewhat of an issue – in that it would make it tougher for GM Steve Yzerman to fill out his currently barren third and fourth lines with quality forwards – but it’s not as if they urgently require the 30-year-old’s talents to compete for a post-season berth.
Indeed, would Yzerman have left the comforts of Detroit and a Red Wings organization that’s the class of the league just to take over a team that couldn’t prosper without a player who’s missed 84 games the past three seasons (as Gagne has)? I can’t believe the Wings legend was that desperate to be a GM.
Rather, I’m sure Yzerman looked at the Lightning and saw:
• A core of elite talents that includes Steven Stamkos, Martin St-Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Victor Hedman;
• Veteran know-how in the form of blueliner Mattias Ohlund and winger Ryan Malone;
• A ferocious little badger of an NHLer in Steve Downie;
• And, most importantly, a new owner (Jeff Vinik) willing to pay full freight to rebuild the Bolts into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
That’s what lured Yzerman to Tampa – not the weather or the lack of state income tax or the chance to go beer-for-beer with Phil Esposito in area taverns. Yzerman could see the Bolts were more or less the Philadelphia Flyers circa 2006-07: a franchise that had suffered through some short-term embarrassments, but one that still possessed an asset base that would allow it to quickly rebound.
And really, aside from the lingering stink of the organization’s previous ownership and management team, is there much at all the Lightning has to rebound from?
The fact is, as of Feb. 10 of last season, Tampa Bay sat in second place in the Southeast Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference. It was only when former GM Brian Lawton suddenly fired well-liked assistant coach Wes Walz Feb. 24 that it all went pear-shaped for the Bolts, who went 8-12-1 the rest of the regular season.
And look at what Yzerman has done since joining the Lightning May 25:
He dumped the onerous contract of turnstile-esque blueliner Andrej Meszaros and actually got a second round pick in return (leaving some to wonder where Yzerman stashed the burglar’s mask and pistol he must have used to get the deal done); he signed D-man Pavel Kubina to make Tampa’s defense corps bigger and more mobile with the puck; he hired hotly pursued coach Guy Boucher; and he landed Dan Ellis – one of the best unrestricted free agent goalies on this summer’s market – to help Mike Smith shoulder the load in net.
And as for those bottom two lines? Well, given the near total lack of free agent signings that followed the immediate push on July 1, it’s safe to say Yzerman can sit back and let the buyer’s market deliver a few cheaply paid veterans – say, a Kirk Maltby or a Wayne Primeau or a Bill Guerin – his way.
It’s unlikely the Lightning are going to push the Chicago Blackhawks for top spot in the standings next season. Nevertheless, if you compare the Hawks’ cap-decimated current lineup with Tampa’s, the Bolts clearly are anything but also-rans.
Gagne definitely would speed up their rebuild, but not having him in a Lightning uniform wouldn’t derail it either.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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