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Waiting on Kovalchuk: Why Steve Yzerman should trade for Simon Gagne

Although Darren Millard's tweet caused quite a stir earlier today, other sources (i.e. Helene Elliot, Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun) have since asserted that the Kovalchuk saga is still not over, although he is widely believed to be en route to meet with the Kings either tonight or tomorrow.  Although I'd very much like Kovalchuk to finally make a decision, mostly to have all the speculation end, I do, however, remain very interested in what team he signs with.  This is because I believe his decision could possibly present new Lightning GM Steve Yzerman with an affordable opportunity to improve now without, as he has stressed he would not do, mortgaging the future.  That is, I believe that a trade with Philadelphia for Simon Gagne would be largely contingent on Kovalchuk actually signing with the Los Angeles Kings.

When I first became aware of rumors the Flyers were looking to move Gagne, my immediate reaction was something like, "Wow!  If this true, I know he'd look GREAT on Vinny's wing!"  At the time, the Flyers had less than $1 million in cap space and RFAs Daniel Carcillo and Darroll Powe still unsigned.  Clearly somebody was going somewhere, but it was not until credible sources confirmed the Flyers had actually signed Nikolai Zherdev, thereby pushing the Flyers over the cap by nearly $2 million that I actually began to ponder where Simon Gagne might go.  After much deliberation (amongst me, myself and I), I came to the conclusion that the Lightning acquiring Simon Gagne would actually make a lot of sense, again, IF Ilya Kovalchuk actually signs with LA.  I would not be the first to speculate that Kings GM Dean Lombardi would try to acquire Gagne if a deal with Kovalchuk ultimately cannot be reached.

First off, Simon Gagne is a fantastic hockey player.  He possesses excellent speed and offensive instincts and is also considered to be a strong backchecker.   He is dangerous on the power play and a threat on the penalty kill.  He does, however, come with a red flag: he's missed significant stretches of two of the past three seasons ('07-08' and '09-'10) due to injury, including concussions. His cap hit is $5.25 million for next season, identical to that of Martin St. Louis.

Is this the kind of player Steve Yzerman might want to gamble on early in his tenure here in Tampa?  I think so.  Gagne's cap hit might seem prohibitive at first glance, but would his addition actually contradict Yzerman's own comments regarding the team's budget

With the defense and goaltending taken care of, Yzerman has indicated he is now looking to round out the forward corps.  There is approximately $14 million in cap space remaining (I am referencing Cap Geek which is not accounting for Harju and Persson) .  I would argue that 8 forward slots are already penciled in.  Below is a list of all forwards currently in the Lightning organization who are under contract:

Ashton, Carter

2-way

Hall, Adam

1-way

Harju, Johan

1-way

Fadden, Mitch

2-way

Fritz, Mitch

2-way

Lecavalier, Vincent

1-way

Malone, Ryan

1-way

Persson, Niklas

2-way

Purcell, Ted

1-way

St. Louis, Martin

1-way

Stamkos, Steven

1-way

Tyrell, Dana    

2-way

Wright, James

2-way

Thus, at present, I see the Lightning's depth chart to be:

Downie

Stamkos

St. Louis

Malone

Lecavalier

Purcell

Persson

Harju

?

?

Thompson

?

After Lecavalier, Malone, St. Louis, and Stamkos, Purcell and Harju are all but assured a spot.  Persson will have to earn his, but I am willing to project he will.  Hall actually presents an interesting situation, as he was stashed in the minors by the previous regime despite his 1-way contract ensuring he earned NHL pay.  I'm sure he'll be given the opportunity to win an energy role as the 12th or 13th forward, but I would not be surprised if he winds up in Norfolk again, either.  Mitch Fritz, the organization's designated pugilist, should be in Norfolk for most of the season, and only in the NHL lineup as a deterrent against certain agitators.  As far as the kids go, at least one, if not all, of Ashton, Tyrell or Wright will have strong camps and tempt Yzerman into keeping them but it will be Yzerman's decision on how best to fill the top-6 void that determines whether more than one of the kids sticks.  Fadden is highly unlikely to see NHL action anytime soon. 

Noticeably absent from that list are Steve Downie, Blair Jones, Martins Karsums, Paul Szczechura and Nate Thompson.  All  are RFAs who were given qualifying offers but yet to sign.  Downie is a lock to return, of course.  Thompson, while he has filed for arbitration, probably will sign before his hearing.  He should be considered a lock for a roster spot, in my opinion.  I expect that Jones, Karsums and Szczechura will enter the season with no such job security.

Could Yzerman settle on internal solution (i.e. Purcell) as a top-6 stopgap until one of the kids (i.e. Ashton, Tyrell, Panik, Connolly) is ready?  Sure, that seems plausible, and in the case of Ashton and Tyrell, that day might be as soon as next season.  Or might Yzerman opt to sign a veteran free agent (i.e. Alexander Frolov, Lee Stempniak, Maxim Afinogenov, Paul Kariya, Bill Guerin, Alexei Ponikarovsky) to serve this purpose?  Sure, that seems plausible, although some of the more desirable names will probably be looking for multi-year deals, something Yzerman has expressed a desire to avoid.  Finally, then, what about trading for a short-term solution?  Yeah, that makes sense too.  Hence, the undeniable appeal of Gagne, whose acquisition would probably mean the Lightning's final cap number would probably approach $55 million, which would not contradict Yzerman's description of the Lightning's financial plan.  Plus, Gagne is in the last year of his contract and will become a UFA next summer.  Yzerman would have ample time to contemplate whether or not to negotiate a contract extension.

So, I ask again, is this a player Steve Yzerman should acquire?  Again, I think so.  But let's explore some minutiae for a minute.  Obviously, Simon Gagne is a French Canadian, a la Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and new head coach Guy Boucher.  That can't hurt.  Also, Gagne and Lecavalier were rivals well before the NHL; both were highly touted as future NHL stars during the two years they competed against each other in the QMJHL.  What is more important is that Gagne would give the organization another high-octane talent at right wing.

Who, then, might compete with Yzerman to acquire Gagne's services?  While theoretically every team could make the necessary adjustments to accommodate his cap hit, certain teams seem realistically capable of affording Gagne and also in need of his talents.  Here's my best guess at five clubs (other than Tampa Bay) that might make a strong bid to acquire Gagne:

  1. New York Islanders
  2. Atlanta Thrashers
  3. St. Louis Blues
  4. Florida Panthers
  5. Colorado Avalanche

I am going to refrain from trying to guess realistic terms of trade, but I do feel confident stating that Flyers GM Paul Holmgren will probably only consider a return that includes some combination of draft picks, unsigned prospects and players on either two-way or extremely cheap contracts, thus allowing the Flyers to fit Carcillo and Powe under the cap.

At any rate, what I meant to be a 20-minute post has evolved into a 3-hour plus exposition, although I did have a few interruptions.  I'm sorry for the length, but I hope you enjoyed the read and share your own thoughts.

Go Bolts!

This post was written by a member of the Raw Charge community and does not necessarily represent or express the views or opinions of Raw Charge staff.

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