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
The Sporting News (By Ray Slover) -- 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....
Philadelphia Daily News (By Les Bowen) -- 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."
Philadelpha Inquirer (By Tim Panaccio) -- 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."