LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Although the Los Angeles Kings lost the Brad Richards sweepstakes, they got a nifty consolation prize a few hours later.
Left wing Simon Gagne agreed to terms Saturday on a two-year, US$7 million deal with the Kings, adding much-needed scoring punch to Los Angeles’ lineup.
Gagne is a seven-time 20-goal scorer who spent his first 10 NHL seasons with Philadelphia, scoring a career-high 47 goals during the 2005-06 season, before reaching the Eastern Conference finals last season with Tampa Bay.
The Kings quickly signed Gagne after failing to land Richards, who agreed to a nine-year deal with the New York Rangers. Gagne didn’t mind being most teams’ second choice in that free-agent derby, and he chose the Kings partly on his familiarity with forwards Mike Richards and Justin Williams, his friends and former teammates with the Flyers.
“I’ve got a couple of buddies there, and everybody knows that I had great success playing with Mike,” Gagne said. “It’s almost like Philadelphia on the West Coast, so it was definitely a place where I know they were looking to get me, even last year when I was willing to waive my no-trade clause.”
The two-time all-star rejoins Richards, the former Philadelphia captain who was acquired by Los Angeles in a trade late last month, and Williams, who came up in the Flyers’ system alongside Gagne. Richards and Gagne usually played on the same line to devastating effect during Gagne’s final three years with the Flyers, and the tandem played a major role in Philadelphia’s run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010.
Kings coach Terry Murray also is familiar to Gagne after spending four years with the Flyers as an assistant coach, while Kings assistant coach John Stevens was Gagne’s head coach in Philadelphia.
“I had some really great seasons with those two coaches,” Gagne said. “John was the head coach in Philly for two years, so it’s good. When you change teams, sometimes you need to adjust to the coach, and I feel that I know those guys already.”
The Flyers traded Gagne last summer to Tampa Bay, and he had 17 goals and 23 assists with the Lightning, who reached Game 7 of the conference finals against Boston. Gagne also excelled in the post-season with five goals and seven assists, but said Tampa Bay made almost no attempt to re-sign him.
The two-time Canadian Olympian has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, sitting out with several concussions, a serious groin injury and a neck injury. Those injuries might have pushed down Gagne’s price in free agency, but the Kings professed no doubts about his skills.
“We’re really close together, very tight,” Gagne said of Richards and Williams. “We kept in touch all last year. (Williams) texted me last night that I look to be a good fit. He was kind of pushing for me to sign in L.A. It’s always fun to hear stuff like that, and I had a chance to talk to Mike Richards this morning, and we’re excited to play on the same line again and do the old stuff that we did in Philly.”
The Kings have overhauled their front line in the past two weeks, most notably shipping Wayne Simmonds and top prospect Brayden Schenn to Philadelphia for Richards. Los Angeles also traded Ryan Smyth to Edmonton after the veteran centre demanded to be sent back to Alberta, and the Kings allowed forwards Michal Handzus (San Jose) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (Carolina) to leave as free agents.
Los Angeles is making moves to score more goals. With an outstanding defensive team built around goalie Jonathan Quick and young defencemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, the Kings’ biggest need is offence: Among last spring’s 16 playoff teams, only Montreal scored fewer goals than the Kings’ 219.
General manager Dean Lombardi has been working to fill the talent gap, courting Ilya Kovalchuk for two months last summer and trading for power forward Dustin Penner last spring.
Lombardi patiently built the Kings’ core with homegrown talent, but giving up top youngsters Simmonds and Schenn showed the Kings intend to join the Western Conference’s elite immediately—and they might not be done.
Los Angeles still has ample salary cap room even after signing Gagne. The Kings’ West Coast travel schedule apparently turns off some free agents, and theirlow-scoring system also probably doesn’t help—but Los Angeles still seems poised to be among the West’s top teams in the fall.
“If you look at the last two years, they’re a really good team,” Gagne said. “They’re a young team, but those guys play like veterans already. Adding veterans like myself and Mike Richards will really help us to get to the next level. … When I had some choice, the Kings were at the top of the list, because I know good things are going to happen for the next couple of years.”