Imagine this trade at its worst. Imagine injuries. Imagine ineffectiveness. Imagine failures.
Imagine that Simon Gagne, the newest Bolt, spends the next 12 months fighting more injuries. Imagine that he does not score a goal. Imagine that he does not win a game. Imagine that he comes and he goes, and in the meantime, no one remembers what jersey number he wears.
Even then, in the worst of all scenarios, I like this deal.
In the months to come, with every goal Gagne scores, I suspect I will like it more.
I like the possibilities. I like the payroll flexibility. I like the price, which was darned near free. I like the boldness. I like the message. I like that the Lightning has a chance, and a pretty good one, to have just pulled off one of the finest steals in franchise history.
Yes, this was a gamble, and yes, this was a risk. Talk to Gagne, and the conversation starts with this: "So, Simon, how is the groin … and the head … and the foot?" It's like playing a game of Operation. Even Steve Yzerman, Lightning general manager, admitted Gagne's injuries were a concern. If his contract were longer, Yzerman said, they would have been even more of a concern.
That said, this was absolutely worth a roll of the dice because, with Gagne, the payoff is the playoffs. If he's healthy, he is going to look very, very good in a Tampa Bay uniform.
"I'm healthy," Gagne said. "I feel 100 percent. The foot is feeling better. The concussions were three years ago. As for the groin, I'm on a special program that I work on 30-40 minutes a day."
So, Simon. Here's the question. If you were an NHL general manager, would you take a chance on you?
"The way I feel right now? Yeah, any time," Gagne said, laughing softly. "If I'm a GM, and I trade for myself, I know I'm on the end of my contract with one more year to go. That means I'm getting a player who is looking for a strong year. Yeah, I had some injuries last year, but I'm healthy since the surgery."
Now, imagine this trade at its best. Imagine speed. Imagine impact.
Imagine that Gagne, 30, is healthy enough to remind everyone he's a player who has had two 40-goal seasons, four seasons with at least 30 goals and seven with at least 20. Imagine him mentoring Steven Stamkos. Imagine him playing beside Vinny Lecavalier. Imagine him bedeviling opposing defenders with Marty St. Louis.
"He's one of those guys who changes your team," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "What I like best about him is that he shows up in the big moments."
Yes, Gagne could help the Lightning. In turn, the Lightning could help Gagne.
"I'm not stupid," Gagne said. "When I was wondering where I might go, I was looking around to see what kind of players I could play with. I need a big year. With the Lightning, I see a team that is willing to make some moves to get back into the playoffs. I like the way Steve Yzerman is thinking. They're a young team with Vinny, with Marty, with Steven Stamkos. That helped me make the decision to waive my no-trade contract."
No one questions Gagne's speed. No one questions his grit. No one questions how well he played for the Flyers during the playoffs.
For Gagne, the doubts are only about his injury history. Still, the Flyers allowed the Lightning to examine Gagne's medical history.
"I know what I'm getting," Yzerman said. "And I know Simon Gagne. I'm comfortable he's healthy, and he'll start healthy."
So what did Gagne's potential impact cost the Lightning? Nothing much. With his contract, the Lightning was going to have to move Matt Walker anyway (and lately, the Flyers seem to be collecting former Lightning defensemen. Who knew the Lightning defenders were such monsters?).
If you still doubt this trade, spend some time on the Flyers' blogs, where fans were horrified to see Gagne gone. That's a pretty good message.
It's another message, also good, that when the Lightning says it's building for the future, it isn't afraid to take on additional payroll for this year.
In some ways, this was a move toward the future. Moving Walker's contract will help when it comes to re-signing Stamkos and, after that, Victor Hedman. That alone makes this deal worth making. (To be fair, Oren Koules and Len Barrie might have traded for Gagne, too, but Koules would have given up more and Barrie would have extended his contract.)
Yzerman has had a nice summer. No, he hasn't plugged all the leaks yet, but he has restored order. The Lightning is better than when he arrived.
Imagine this deal working out, and who knows? You might even be able to imagine the Lightning in the postseason.