Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said he has known Simon Gagne since they were 9 years old, playing against each other in their home province of Quebec.
So, last week, amidst rumors Gagne might be traded to Tampa Bay, the two friends — Lecavalier from the Montreal suburb of Ile Bizard, Gagne from the Quebec City suburb of Ste. Foy — spoke on the phone to compare notes.
"He asked me about Tampa," Lecavalier said. "He asked me about the city and the fans, everything surrounding the organization. I told him it would be a great situation for him."
Gagne, with permission from the Flyers to shop himself around the league, obviously liked what he heard and agreed to waive his no-trade clause for Tampa Bay, which Gagne said was his first choice and Monday acquired the high-scoring left wing and two-time All-Star for defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round 2011 draft pick.
"I'm looking at this as a new challenge," said Gagne, who was moved after 10 seasons in Philadelphia to clear cap space.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it was a little bit of a shock when they asked me to waive my no-trade clause. But to have a fresh start with a team going in the right direction, and with a chance to play with really good players, I'm excited."
It is too early to say with whom Gagne, 30, will play (though speculation of a Gagne-Lecavalier-Marty St. Louis line already has begun).
But Tampa Bay, with left wing Ryan Malone, center Steven Stamkos and right wing Steve Downie, who still must be signed, now has two offensive lines as good as any in the league.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman admitted Gagne's injury history — three surgeries the past four years and concussion issues — are "a concern" but said he has seen Gagne's medical file from the Flyers and, "I'm comfortable he's healthy now."
The move also got the Lightning out from under another too-big contract as Walker, with two goals, five points and minus-11 in 66 games last season, is to make $1.625 million next season and $5.25 million the next three.
In other words, Gagne's $5.25 million salary in the final year of his contract is manageable and not a bad price to pay for a player who in the past three seasons in which he was healthy scored 47, 41 and 34 goals and has 259 goals and 524 points in 664 games.
"I don't look at it that I traded Simon Gagne making $5.25 million," Yzerman said. "I traded a player (Walker) that made roughly $1.65 million, so we're getting a top-six forward for one year (for the difference). If healthy, the dollars going out versus going in, we think we're getting a good player."
"I'm a big fan of his," said former Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, who played with Gagne in Philadelphia from 2000 to 2002. "Great speed, underrated shot, good passer, a good power-play guy, a very good penalty killer. He's a 20-minute guy. He's going to add a lot to that hockey club."
If he is healthy.
Gagne, 6 feet, 195 pounds, missed 24 games last season with groin and abdominal muscle problems that required surgery, though he still managed 17 goals and 40 points and had nine goals (two winners) and 12 points in 19 playoff games. He missed four playoff games with a broken toe from blocking a shot.
"Tell the fans, I'll try to block a shot with my pads next time and not my feet," Gagne joked.
Gagne had double-hernia surgery after the 2006-07 season, played just 25 games in 2007-08 because of post-concussion syndrome and had hip surgery after 2008-09.
"Obviously, it is a concern," Yzerman said. "If it was a multiyear contract, it would be a concern. But we felt with Simon going into the final year of his contract, we have a very motivated player. I just think it was worth doing. I'm comfortable that he's healthy and he'll start the season healthy."
"I'm 100 percent healthy," Gagne said. "If you look at my 10 years in the league, maybe I only had three tough years. Yes, I had some surgeries done, but most of the surgery I had was in the offseason, so I was able to play with pain. Most of the time I was healthy, and when I'm healthy, I know what I can do."
Yzerman knows, too. He played with Gagne on Canada's 2002 gold-medal Olympic team, which featured Gagne on the top line with center Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla.
"Getting a chance to play with Simon … you learn the type of person he is, where he would fit in," Yzerman said. "Playing together in '02 just gave me a little more information when I made this decision."
Gagne said his decision to leave the Flyers (the team that made him a 1998 first-round pick and with which he was named to the NHL's 2000 All-Rookie team) was not taken lightly and made only because he had some control of the process.
"The only way I was going to waive my no-trade clause was if the Flyers gave me the okay to talk to other teams," Gagne said, adding he spoke to 10.
He also spoke to Lecavalier.
"He was very excited with the changes the team is making with Yzerman and Guy Boucher, the coach," Gagne said. "Hopefully, we get a chance to play on the same line and do some good stuff."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.