Simon Gagne is the consolation prize after Kings miss out on Brad Richards
Rejected again by a premier free agent, the Kings on Saturday found a respectable solution to their urgent need for scoring from the left side.
Soon after learning Brad Richards had spurned them in favor of the New York Rangers, the Kings agreed with left wing Simon Gagne on a two-year, $7-million contract with a salary cap hit of $3.5 million. Gagne, 31, is due $4.5 million next season and $2.5 million in 2012-13, a lopsided division designed to pay most of his money before the NHL’s labor deal expires on Sept. 15, 2012.
Gagne scored 17 goals last season for Tampa Bay, which was willing to re-sign him for only one year. He scored 34 goals for the Flyers in 2008-09 playing alongside recent Kings acquisition Mike Richards, and they’ll be linemates again next season.
“That was a huge factor,” said Ron Hextall, the Kings’ assistant general manager. “Simon should be very comfortable there. They have chemistry.”
Gagne also has a history of concussions, a severe groin injury, and a neck injury last season. “We weighed the risk here and know the upside there for our hockey club and felt it was worth the risk,” said Hextall, speaking for the team while General Manager Dean Lombardi traveled back from Toronto. “He played at the end of the year and in the playoffs so we’re pretty comfortable.”
The low-scoring Kings’ need for production on the wings intensified after they sent Wayne Simmonds to Philadelphia in the Mike Richards trade and Ryan Smyth asked to be traded home to Edmonton. Gagne, who peaked at 47 goals and 79 points in 2005-06, should help.
He said the Kings showed interest in him last season and again Friday but told him they couldn’t move until Brad Richards made a decision. Once Richards took the Rangers’ nine-year, $60-million offer the Kings called Gagne again.
Gagne will find many familiar faces: Mike Richards, winger Justin Williams, Coach Terry Murray — a former Flyers assistant — and one of Gagne’s Flyers coaches, John Stevens, now Murray’s assistant. “It’s almost like Philadelphia on the West Coast,” Gagne said.
He said his neck injury has healed and he’s looking forward to a deep playoff run.
“I think we’re close,” he said. “That’s why when I had some choice between teams the Kings were at the top of the list, because now they’re a team that I know that good stuff can happen at least for the next two years.”
Brad Richards said his decision was based on his good relationship with Rangers Coach John Tortorella, who coached him on Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship team; stable ownership, a Cup contender and an eastern location. “This is the right fit for me,” he said.
His deal starts with a $10-million signing bonus and $2-million salary next season and an $8-million signing bonus and $4-million salary in 2012-13. He’s due $1 million in each of the last three seasons.
The Kings, who offered winger Ilya Kovalchuk $80 million over 15 years last summer but lost out to the New Jersey Devils, thought Richards had liked their powerful recruiting pitch Friday. Tim Leiweke, chief executive of their parent company, AEG, said the Kings’ offer was “close” to the Rangers’ bid.
“We understood his desire to play out East and did the best we could to overcome that. We wish him the best,” Leiweke said. “Brad made it clear to us that his decision was not about money but about being close to home.”
Hextall said the Kings, who have nearly $12.6 million of salary cap space, will consider other moves, but added, “I don’t see anything of impact happening.” He also said management will now zero in on re-signing defenseman Drew Doughty, who became a restricted free agent Friday. Doughty can sign an offer sheet from another team but the Kings have the right to match it.
They have exchanged proposals with Doughty’s agent, Don Meehan, but no deal is imminent for the 21-year-old defenseman, who might command an average of $7 million a year. Lombardi was in the offices of Meehan’s firm, Newport Sports, Friday but they didn’t meet. Although that seems odd, Hextall called the process “normal negotiations back and forth.”
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