He was injury-prone, too soft, too old, too expensive. He was also Philadelphia's longest-tenured athlete before he was traded to Tampa Bay for Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick, a two-time all-star, an Olympian, a lethal scorer and an underrated two-way player.
Simon Gagne was all of these things, but more than anything, Simon Gagne was the epitome of class. Through all the ups and downs, Gagne never made any excuses, never took a shift off, never complained. Perhaps his injury woes made him appreciate the game a little bit more. And the fans appreciated him for it. Gagne knows that, and he's grateful for that:
"I think the thing I will miss the most are the Flyers fans. All the support I got there for the 10 years that I played, even during the tough times when I had some injuries, the fans were really fair with me the whole time. There were a lot of No. 12 jerseys in the stands even when I started with the team in 1999. To them, I would just like to say a huge thank you. Those are the people I am going to miss the most."
Truth be told, Gagne shouldn't be thanking us; we should be thanking him. Thanking him for all those incredible seasons, for all the memorable goals, for the way he matured from a scorer to a true sniper to a tremendous two-way player, from a green forward ceding the room to the John LeClairs and Eric Lindroses to becoming an exemplary leader with his play and with his actions. He was the definition of class, a man and player no one ever uttered a negative word about beyond he gets hurt too much. That's what makes his departure so sad. Everyone knew Gagne's days as a Flyer were numbered — a casualty of the cap and father time. But, well, it was just so hard to picture him in any other sweater but the Orange and Black that even now I won't quite believe it when I see it.
Given his concussion troubles and injuries over the past three seasons, it's easy to forget just how good of a player this guy was for the Flyers. He burst onto the scene as a rookie in 1999-2000 with 20 goals and 28 assists for 48 points in 80 games, finishing a plus-11. He followed that up with 59 points as a sophomore (27 goals, 32 assists) at plus-24 and 66 points (33 g, 33 a) and a plus 31 in his third season. Then the first injury came, a groin that just never quite would heal. He played just 46 games, posting 27 points on 9 goals and 18 assists, still good enough for a plus-20 rating.
But contrary to popular belief, Gagne didn't make it a habit of getting hurt immediately after that. In fact, he followed that up by playing 80, 72 and 76 games the next three seasons, putting up staggering numbers. In 2003-04, Gagne had another 20-20 season, netting 24 goals and 21 assists with yet another plus rating at plus-12. The next year, he hit his statistical peak, scoring a career-high 47 goals to go along with 32 assists for a career-high 79 points, finishings a plus-31. And in 2006-07, he again scored more than 40 goals, netting 41 pucks and adding 27 assists even as the Flyers struggled to their worst season ever.
But then the concussion happened. Gagne played just 25 games, and many fans thought he'd never be the same again … and perhaps it was time for Gagne to go. He had missed virtually the entire run that saw the Flyers go from worst season in franchise history to the Eastern Conference Finals. When everyone thought he was done, Gagne came back last year and posted 34 goals and 40 assists, finished a plus-21, tallied the second most points of his career. And even this year, when he missed significant time due to injury again, he had 17 goals and 23 assists … and scored the biggest goal of the playoffs:
In all, Simon Gagne scored 259 regular-season goals as a Philadelphia Flyer, tallied 265 assists, for a total of 524 points. In 10 seasons, he finished a plus-143, having just two minus seasons in his entire career. He played in 90 playoff games, scoring 32 goals and adding 15 assists, and had a flair for the dramatic, scoring 6 game-winners, including one against his new team.
It was time for Gagne to leave, but that doesn't make it any easier. He was a great player, a great teammate, a great human being. He will always be revered in Philadelphia, always be respected, and that's saying a lot for a guy with a reputation as injury-prone. You have to be pretty special, pretty memorable to get past that label here in Philadelphia. And Simon Gagne was. Thanks for the memories, Simon. Best of luck down south.