For a guy who’s only played 34 games in a Kings uniform, the mere mention of Simon Gagne sure does draw a lot of attention.
All joking aside, there’s nothing funny about his situation. The veteran of 761 NHL games hasn’t played in five months due to suffering a concussion.
Back in March, we sat down for a one-on-one interview with Gagne and he told us at that point, it was all about monitoring his heart-rate. That’s what the doctors and medical staff wanted to keep an eye on, so there wasn’t even discussion about a possible return date. Gagne also shared this – “I have to be really honest with myself with this one. It’s not the first time I’m going through this. Something I think you learn with these injuries is that I might not have been honest with myself after the other ones. I came back before I was 100% and maybe today I’m paying for it, who knows.”
Fast forward two months…and last week word leaked out that he had been cleared for contact – which was quite the turnaround, because just a few weeks earlier it appeared he had stopped skating. So, what’s changed and how realistic is it to think he may return for the Stanley Cup Finals?
Well, it’s not an easy answer and there are many factors at play.
For example, coach Darryl Sutter isn’t likely to mess with a winning line-up right now. If this was mid-February and the Kings were playing a regular opponent in some Tuesday night affair, fine. However, this is the fourth round of the playoffs – a place some players and coaches wait their entire careers to reach and many never get there. As you know, LA is 12-2 in the post-season, partly shaping an overwhelming thought of ‘Why fix what isn’t broken?’
Then again, there’s more to consider.
In talking with a high ranking Kings executive on the hockey ops side, there is a possibility he could play. Under what scenario seems to be the biggest unknown though.
As things stand now, Gagne did not play enough games in the regular season to qualify for his name to be engraved on the Stanley Cup, should the Kings win it. He fell seven shy of the required 41 needed. Yet, any player who plays at least one game in the Finals is also eligible – which is what makes things tricky.
When asked if that would be motivation enough to try and get him back in the line-up, the Kings source said, “I don’t think so. It would be more about us trying to get a guy who’s scored big goals in the playoffs throughout his career back out on the ice.”
That was followed by more than one ‘but’ though.
“But, he’s not ready at the moment. Yes, he’s been cleared for contact. But, before we even have the conversation, the player needs to put himself though several tough practices.” The executive went on to talk about strenuous drills needed to test Gagne’s physical conditioning and ability to be hit. There was also much talk of the risk factor involved in all of this, from both a hockey side and a player personnel side.
“We can’t take the chance right now of him taking a shift off because he’s concerned about being hit,” said the Kings source.
Meanwhile, coach Sutter continues to largely dismiss the notion of Gagne returning any time soon. When asked about it after practice earlier today, he said – “It’s the same thing when somebody asked a week or so ago. There was no chance then, because he hadn’t even skated with the team. So, all you do is improve your (odds). You go from zero to whatever.”
With a number now better than zero, twitter and other social media outlets have been going crazy today, feeding off the notion that Gagne is about to return. However, the reality is this - he hasn’t seen game action in five months, he could be risking his career by playing and Kyle Clifford is much more likely to go in as a replacement at left wing.
On the other hand, Gagne has posted 59 points (37 goals, 22 assists) in 105 career playoff games. Not to mention, his abilities could certainly help the Kings power play.
There’s also the possibility the Kings could petition the NHL for an exemption to add his name to the Cup, should be not return.
However, everybody should just pump the brakes for a minute or two. This is all a ‘cart before the horse’ situation.
Long before the Kings are even in a position to win the Cup, they need to play a few games…and more importantly, get a few wins. Plus, before any talk of Gagne’s possible return should even be considered as serious, he needs to go through some strenuous on-ice practices.
Since none of those have taken place yet, count him out of the line-up for games one and two. Where it goes from there remains a work-in-progress.
If you missed our video interview with him earlier in the day, click here to watch it now.