SLAM! SPORTS -- December 10, 1999
TORONTO (CP) -- Flyers general manager Bob Clarke has planned to send rookie centre Simon Gagne to Canada's world junior hockey team. But he changed his mind after learning head coach Roger Neilson has cancer.
"When I left the house this morning, I was going to tell Gagne that he was going to the world juniors," Clarke said Friday. "But I got to the rink (in Voorhees, N.J.) and found out about Roger's cancer.
"I decided to keep the team together for Roger."
Clarke had originally decided to have Gagne play tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, and then send him to Canada's junior selection camp that starts Sunday in Kitchener, Ont. Today is the deadline for NHL teams to release junior-aged players for the selection camp.
But with the team rallying around Neilson, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a kind of bone cancer, Clarke didn't want Gagne to be excluded.
Otherwise, Clarke said, he would have sent Gagne, despite the young centre's protests. Clarke thinks all NHL teams should do it for Canadian Hockey.
"They develop these players us," he said. "We owe it to them to send back the juniors."
Gagne joined Calgary Flames centre Rico Fata and defenceman Robyn Regehr, New York Islanders defenceman Mathieu Biron, Tampa Bay Lightning centre Vincent Lecavalier, New York Rangers centre Manny Malhotra and Ottawa Senators centre Mike Fisher as players not made available to Canada.
Only the Montreal Canadiens -- who made centre Mike Ribeiro available -- bucked the trend.
by Les Bowen, Philadelphia Daily News-- December 6, 1999
Eight days ago, when Flyers general manager Bob Clarke told the Daily News he wanted to send Simon Gagne to the World Junior Championships in Sweden at Christmas, the rookie winger had five goals and three assists in 25 games.
He had one point - a goal Nov. 22 at Tampa Bay - in his previous 12 games.
Well, last night the Flyers played for the third time since Clarke started talking about sending Gagne away for three weeks or so to play for Canada. In those three games, Gagne has a goal and four assists, including two assists in each of the Flyers' weekend games, Saturday's 3-2 win in Montreal and last night's home triumph over St. Louis by the same score.
Coincidence? Maybe not.
"I don't think he wants to go to the World Juniors," linemate Mark Recchi said last night, with a chuckle. "He's really picked up the level of his game. . .He wants to stay here."
Team captain Eric Lindros, who last week began waving the flag for not disrupting the rookie's season, felt Gagne's strong play lately should settle the issue.
"I don't think he's going," Lindros said. "I know everyone in this room appreciates his contributions. . .He certainly would help the Canadian team, but right now he's doing a real good job of helping us."
Gagne, raised in the Quebec City suburb of Ste. Foy, assisted on Recchi's game-winner in Montreal, with his family and the entire Quebec Remparts junior team watching. That team would have been a much stronger Memorial Cup contender if Clarke hadn't decided to keep his 1998 first-round draft pick after a strong training camp.
"I want to give my best and prove I deserve to stay here," Gagne, 19, said last night. "It's not my decision, it's Mr. Clarke's. But I want to stay with the team. . .For me, that's a big motivation."
The Flyers' charter was delayed briefly in Montreal, so Gagne got a few extra minutes with his family.
"I'm going to try to see them [again] at Christmas time," said Gagne.
Of course, that will be possible only if he isn't in Sweden.
Clarke said last week that he wanted to let Gagne play for Canada, assuming broken-footed forward Rod Brind'Amour is healed soon. Brind'Amour, who has yet to play this season, has not begun skating, and probably won't be anywhere close to playing by Friday, when Clarke has said he hopes to make his decision on Gagne.
By Tim Panaccio, Philadelphia Inquirer -- December 1, 1999
Canada is expected to announce today which hockey players have been invited to play for its national team at this month's World Junior Tournament in Skelleftea and Umea, Sweden.
But Simon Gagne, a rookie center for the Flyers, said yesterday that he didn't want an invitation.
NHL clubs have been asked by the Canadians to send their 19-year-old juniors to the tournament that Gagne dominated last year in Winnipeg as an 18-year-old. Players must commit by Dec. 12.
"I want to stay here," Gagne said.
Trouble is, "I don't know if he has a say in it," said Paul Holmgren, the Flyers' assistant general manager.
Flyers coach Roger Neilson met with Gagne yesterday to find out how the player felt and to explain that the decision was up to general manager Bob Clarke.
"Clarkie is getting a lot of calls from hockey people in Canada," said a person close to Barry Trapp, the committee's scouting director. "There's some pressure there to send Gagne."
Today's announcement will include only those junior players who have agreed to join Team Canada and those junior-eligible NHL players whose clubs have agreed in advance. Holmgren said the Flyers could not commit Gagne until closer to the Dec. 12 deadline because of Rod Brind'Amour's unavailability.
"We have 10 or 11 days before we have to decide, and I don't think we know which way we're going to go," Holmgren said.
The Flyers don't have to send Gagne if there is compelling reason to keep him. Since he skates a regular shift as the club's third-line center and works the first-unit power play - and since Brind'Amour's fractured left foot figures to keep him out until late December - it's unlikely that the Flyers will release Gagne for 31/2 weeks.
The tournament is to begin on Christmas Day, with Canada playing Finland, and end Jan. 4. The camp roster is expected to include 30 to 36 players. Canadian team officials said the selection committee would leave four or five spots open for players whose clubs haven't given early releases. The final roster will have 22 players.
The New York Rangers have announced that they would not send center Manny Malhotra because he was playing a regular shift every game on a team struggling to get wins. And the Montreal Canadiens have announced that they won't send center Mike Ribeiro because they are decimated with injuries.
Neilson, also fighting for wins, doesn't want Gagne to go and says the Flyers have reason to keep him.
"He's helped us," the coach said. "He's out there on the power play, he has that speed, and he is very reliable defensively for a 19-year-old kid. I'm not anxious to see him go. . . . I could understand if he was a guy who is not playing very much, but right now, we've been playing Simon a lot."
Gagne emerged last year as the elite junior in the world by winning the tournament's MVP award. His play in Winnipeg convinced the Flyers that he was ready for the NHL, and he believes he can prosper in it.
"I like playing here, and when I play, I learn a lot," Gagne said. "If I go, I will miss maybe 10 games."
He also said that winger Keith Jones would likely reenter the Flyers' lineup Thursday night at Buffalo and that Brind'Amour might be back before he could return from Sweden. That means that whoever leaves now might not get back in.
"Yeah, sure, I know that," Gagne said. "We have two extra players right now, with Jones and Brind'Amour. That is a tough lineup to break."
He also said he didn't know what could be gained by going - since he has been to the tournament and performed well there.
"If you're playing in the NHL, you can't get any better than that," an agreeing Holmgren said. "If he went, it would be a feather in his cap, but I think playing in the NHL, well, it's hard to get any better [competition] than that."
Brind'Amour is not expected to begin skating until mid-December, which means he wouldn't be ready to play should Gagne leave. That means the Flyers would be hurting only themselves by allowing Gagne to go.
"I'm quite certain Brind'Amour won't be ready as early as [Canadian national team officials] want to know [about Gagne]," Neilson said.
Said Gagne: "If [Clarke] asks me, I want to stay."
by Les Bowen, Philadelphia Daily News -- December 1, 1999
Bob Clarke and Eric Lindros might have found something else to disagree about.
Life around the Flyers' soap opera threatened to get boring, after Flyers general manager Clarke publicly declared he wasn't trading his captain. But in the same conversation Sunday in which Clarke disclosed his reassurances to Lindros, Clarke talked to reporters about sending rookie centerman Simon Gagne to play for Canada at the World Junior Championships in Sweden later this month, if Rod Brind'Amour (broken foot) is ready to play by then.
This was not entirely welcome news to Gagne, who is trying to establish himself as an NHL player.
"I'd like to stay here all season," said Gagne, who was quick to add that he will do whatever "Mr. Clarke" wants.
Lindros, as captain, was equally quick to speak up on the rookie's behalf yesterday.
"Simon's a big part of the team right now and he's playing well. We shouldn't be talking about this now. He wants to stay here," Lindro said. "If Roddy's OK, we'll cross that bridge when it comes. [Gagne] has given his all for this team. I don't think we should be talking about it now. He's played very well. I'm a bit selfish that way; I want him here."
Flyers coach Roger Neilson sounded about as wary as Lindros.
"It's an option that's there," Neilson said. "NHL teams are committed to trying to send their 19-year-olds if they can."
Neilson noted, however, that Brind'Amour is unlikely to be ready to play by the Dec. 12 opening date of Team Canada's training camp. In recent years, Canada has not allowed players to skip any part of the selection process, even significant players such as Gagne who would have little to prove during cutdowns.
"I'm quite certain that Brind'Amour isn't going to be ready by the time they would want [Gagne]," Neilson said, perhaps hinting that the dispute might be moot. "But the ultimate decision would be Clarkie's."
Clarke said Sunday that he would only part with Gagne for 31/2 weeks if he knew that Brind'Amour was 100 percent. Yesterday, Clarke said everyone involved would have to sit down Dec. 10 and see what the outlook might be. It is conceivable that if Brind'Amour were close to returning, but not quite there, Clarke might feel confident enough to dispatch Gagne. Next Tuesday, Brind'Amour is scheduled for X-rays. Doctors hope the bone that had not quite healed the last time they looked is finally mended. If the bone is OK, Brind'Amour will be cleared for light skating, three days before Clarke wants to make his decision on Gagne.
The World Junior tournament is a huge deal in Canada, where it gets media coverage roughly equivalent to that of the NCAA Final Four in the United States. Gagne played last year on Canada's runner-up team. His presence, possibly as captain, could have a huge impact on Canada's chances this year.
"I don't want to go there, miss games, then have to restart again here," said Gagne, who would miss at least nine NHL games, with the tournament ending Jan. 4. "If Mr. Clarke says go, I'll go. I would be very happy to represent Canada. . .That's a very big experience; you remember that all your life. But [whether to go] is a very big question."
Gagne has five goals and three assists in 25 Flyers games. He has been solid, if unspectacular.
"A kid like Simon, you want to do what's best for him," Neilson said. "If it were better for him to go and get that experience at the world tournament, we would probably go along with that. On the other hand, if we need him here, and we're going to use him, you'd want him to stay here. Right now, he's done well for us. He's an important part of the team . . .He adds that speed we need, he draws penalties and he's very reliable defensively for a young kid. I'm not anxious to see him go unless it would really be good for him."
Bob Clarke said that if Rod Brind'Amour returns as planned within a few weeks, 19-year-old rookie centerman Simon Gagne will be sent to play for Canada at the World Junior Championships in Sweden. Gagne would be gone from mid-December to around New Year's.
"It's not because [Gagne] isn't playing good," Clarke said. "He would be a big man there, play a lot of minutes, and Brind'Amour needs to get a lot of minutes when he first comes back, to get his timing."
Clarke said NHL teams should be more generous with their junior-eligible players. Two years ago, then-rookie Joe Thornton was playing only a few minutes a game for Boston, but he was not sent to play in the Worlds for Canada. Clarke said the experience of being a prominent player in such an exalted international setting, competing against others his age instead of NHL players, might be important for a youngster such as Gagne...
Excerpt from an article by Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News. November 29, 1999
By Ray Slover, The Sporting News -- November 26, 1999
A blockbuster trade involving Philadelphia Flyers captain Eric Lindros and Carolina Hurricanes holdout Keith Primeau nearly came through two weeks ago.
The deal was scratched -- for now, at least -- because the teams could not agree on what other players would be involved, published reports say.
Both teams deny talks took place, but sources confirm the deal was close, the Toronto Sun reports.
According to the Sun, Flyers ownership gave general manager Bobby Clarke permission to pursue a trade for Lindros, in talks the Hurricanes initiated. However, the Flyers' recent 12-3-2 run has put trade talks on hold.
The Flyers asked for Carolina winger Sami Kapanen in the package along with Primeau, who is locked in a bitter holdout with Hurricanes management. Primeau, a restricted free agent, is the team's top talent and was its captain until he refused to report. He has yet to play this season.
***The Hurricanes asked for Flyers rookie Simon Gagne in the deal, reports say. The Flyers don't want to part with Gagne, an 18-year-old center who was their top 1998 pick. The Hurricanes don't want to deal Kapanen, 26, a right winger and budding star.
Kapanen is the Hurricanes' leading scorer with 10 goals and 11 assists in 22 games and a plus-13 defensive rating. Gagne has five goals and three assists in 23 games and is minus-2. Lindros has 10 goals and 13 assists in 21 games and is minus-2.***
Lindros could be a restricted free agent next summer, and Flyers officials believe there might be too much animosity between him and management to get a new contract signed. Primeau has not endeared himself to the Hurricanes, who reportedly have lost $83 million since moving from Hartford in 1997.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have talked to the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks about deals for Primeau, the Sun says. The Hurricanes wanted center Petr Nedved and either Manny Malhotra or Jamie Lundmark from the Rangers, but the Rangers would not part with Malhotra or Lundmark....
By Les Bowen, Philadelphia Daily News -- November 24, 1999
Nobody was panicking, least of all Simon Gagne.
The Flyers' 19-year old rookie centerman was 0-for-November. He had not scored a point since setting up Mark Greig's game-winning goal against the Devils Oct. 30. His most recent goal was 10 days before that.
But Roger Neilson, not exactly a coach who goes out of his way to stick with rookies, said the other day that he wasn't worried. And general manager Bob Clarke said there was no thought of sending Gagne back to his junior team in Quebec. With Keith Jones just about ready to return from knee surgery, and Rod Brind'Amour probably back from a broken foot in a month or so, the Flyers soon will have an overabundance of forwards.
"I just need one to go in," Gagne said Monday, before the Flyers' 4-1 loss to the host Tampa Bay Lightning.
Gagne's calm, mature demeanor never changed during his drought.
Well, it didn't get big notice in a game the Flyers managed to lose despite holding the opposition without a shot on net for more than 24 minutes, but Gagne got one to go in. Before a third-period power play faceoff, he told Mark Recchi he could get open off the draw at the right post. And when Recchi took a point-to-point pass from Eric Desjardins, Gagne was right where he said he would be. He adroitly tipped home Recchi's pass for his first goal in 14 games.
Gagne, who has five goals and three assists, has been playing well defensively and has greatly improved his faceoff percentage, working after practice with veteran Marc Bureau. But as Clarke noted recently, "[Gagne] hasn't filled out yet," and does not have the upper body strength to shrug off defenders and consistently score goals down low in tight-checking, Eastern Conference-style games. When he has open ice, he's effective. Otherwise, he isn't much of a factor.
"The game is a lot different [from junior hockey]," Gagne said. "For next season, I have to be stronger, for sure. That's tough to do during the season. I'm trying to just not lose weight, to stay at 182."
Gagne is getting some first-unit power play time, which was when he scored against Tampa, but his regular line, with Recchi and Mikael Andersson, has not been productive. Recchi's 27 points include a league-high 16 power play points. Andersson has one goal and one assist in 22 games. Recchi often gets moved up to the John LeClair-Eric Lindros line, and when that happens, Gagne and Andersson don't seem to play much.
"It's pretty tough to stay focused, to go on the ice with not the same guys, but that's not a good excuse," Gagne said.
Neilson said the key thing right now is that Gagne "doesn't seem out of place" in the NHL.
"His play has leveled off," Neilson said recently. "That always happens with a young player. He's only 19. You can tell he's a good kid, he's still skating well, working hard. The goals will go in."
Gagne takes the good with the bad
By Tim Panaccio, Philadelpha Inquirer -- November 24, 1999
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Simon Gagne's goal against Tampa Bay on Monday was his first in a month, but the drought didn't bother him as he learned about the rigors of life in the NHL.
"This is not juniors," the 19-year-old rookie said. "The game is a lot different. When I started the season, I was a little bit surprised to score a few goals so quickly. Now I am having a tough time to score or even get a point."
"That is part of the game. Sometimes the game comes easy, sometimes tough. But if things go well and the team wins, then things are not very bad."
It's that "big picture" attitude that management likes in Gagne and why he is still in a Flyers uniform and not back in Quebec with his junior club.
Gagne didn't get a point in his first three games, had two goals at Washington, went a few more games without doing much, and then had back-to-back goals at home against Buffalo and the New York Rangers last month. Then he hit a wall.
He went 13 games without a goal and eight without a point.
"I don't know what happened," he said just before he broke his scoreless streak. "Lately, I have had a couple of chances. I need just one goal to come back and get myself on track. I would like to spend this trip and do that."
After the game, he said that although the goal was "good for me," it was "very bad that we lost the game."
"We had so many chances, but the goaltender made the good saves," he said, referring to Zac Bierk.
Gagne tipped home Mark Recchi's drive from the left point on a Flyers power play in the third period.
"I felt if I went right to the net, it would open up for me," Gagne said.
Coach Roger Neilson conceded that Gagne's play had leveled off, but said, "That always happens to a young kid, especially one who's 19."
He said the Flyers had no plans to return him to the junior ranks in Canada, where he dominated last season. Because he is not yet 20, he can't be sent to the Phantoms.
One of the reasons Gagne's play has bottomed out is that he isn't getting as many shifts with Recchi as he did at the beginning of the season. The preseason chemistry the two had was startling. Recchi compared Gagne to a former Pittsburgh linemate, John Cullen.
&quor;A faster version of Cullen," Recchi said.
Beginning with the Oct. 17 game against Buffalo, Neilson began to use Recchi at right wing on Eric Lindros' line, which was joined by John LeClair, because Mikael Renberg didn't have a goal in seven games.
Recchi fit so nicely, he now takes regular shifts with Lindros. With Recchi doubling up on that line and others, Gagne has gotten fewer shifts.
He is usually paired with Mikael Andersson, who has just one goal this season and is struggling so much offensively that he blew a clean breakaway Saturday against Tampa Bay, losing the puck when going forehand to backhand and never getting a shot on net.
With two of the three people on the line struggling, it's no wonder Gagne's ice time has dwindled from 15 to 16 minutes a game in October to 10 in November.
"Sometimes Recchi goes with Johnny and Eric so it is pretty tough for my line," Gagne said. "It is tough to stay focused when you're on the ice without the guys you are used to playing with every time. But I have to play my game. Defensively, I do my job and take my chances there."
Gagne has to adjust to the hard checking in the NHL, and to learn how to find open space around the net when he doesn't have the puck.
A lean 6-foot, 175-pounder, Gagne still needs to gain upper-body strength to fend off people around the net and work himself out of being tied up along the boards, general manager Bob Clarke said.
With Gagne's tremendous speed and agility, he is expected to figure out eventually how to combine his natural talent for moving quickly in tight spaces to avoid checks and find open ice.
Those skills have persuaded Neilson to keep Gagne on the first-unit power play, with Lindros, LeClair, Recchi and Eric Desjardins.
"Certainly, he plays the power play and plays pretty regularly," Neilson said. "There are times when we have more penalties than power plays and he's not out there, and we want Recchi up there with Lindros when we can, which makes him the odd man out.
"That's hard for him, but he seems to understand that."
Recalled. Defenseman Andy Delmore was recalled from the Phantoms yesterday. Delmore is on the team as a precaution because a fellow blue liner, Dan McGillis, has a bruised right instep, having blocked a shot by Chris Gratton on Monday in the second period.
That was the period in which the Lightning didn't register an official shot on goal, a defensive record for the Flyers. The Lightning had never been shut out in shots during a period.