We’ve been all over the map today, haven’t we? OK, getting back to Simon Gagne, who was gracious enough — along with his wife, Karine — to sit down for an introductory lunch and chat about his decision to join the Kings and sign a two-year contract. Here are some of the highlights…
Question: Did you have to negotiate at all to get the No. 12?
GAGNE: “I got a call, asking me which number I wanted, and I asked for No. 12. I said, `I think one guy, who was in the minors up and down a little bit last year, had it,’ and they said, `No, we’ll give him another number.’ So I was pretty excited. That’s a number I’ve been wearing since I was a little kid, so I’m very excited about that.”
Question: When guys change teams, there’s always an adjustment to get to know a team team. Does this almost feel like you’re rejoining an old team, with all the people you know?
GAGNE: “Yeah, that’s the way it feels. Sure, it’s going to be a different situation again, but I think the transition to another team was made last year. I went to Tampa last year, and I thought that was going to be easier than what I went through. I was in Philly for 11 years, so for me and my family to move for the first time in my career, it never happened in junior either, so that was a little tougher than we were expecting, even on the ice too. But that’s done. At the end of the season, the last couple months of the season, I felt fine. I think the cord was cut with the Flyers, and all that. That’s going to be a lot easier to do, coming here with a lot of faces I had a chance to be with when I was in Philly. That’s the way I feel. I was talking to Ron Hextall the other day on the phone, and Mr. Lombardi, too, was working with the Flyers, and all the coaching staff. I’ve been working with them for many years. Player-wise, I’ve got Justin Williams. We almost started together in Philly, and we’ve been really good friends, even since we weren’t playing together. Now we’re playing together, so it’s fun again. And Mike Richards was my centerman in Philly for the last three years I played there. So, yeah, it almost feels like a little bit easier of a transition than if I was going to pick another team.”
Question: The system you played in Tampa Bay last season was new to everyone. Are you looking forward to getting back to a system that you might be more familiar with?
GAGNE: “That (system in Tampa) was different. Even for a new player, coming into a new team last year, all the guys had to adjust to pretty much everything, a new coaching staff and a different philosophy. So we had to learn as a group last year, and that was difficult. From the way the Lightning was playing, it was tough to understand, and for the players it was hard early in the season. It’s a tight system that was really difficult to play, but at the end of the day it was pretty hard for the other teams to play against. That might be why we had some success and we did surprise a lot of teams. But on the other side, coming back to the system that I’m used to playing, Murph [Terry Murray] was the coach for defensemen when he was in Philly, and his system is a little different than Guy Boucher. So going back to that system that I think I had a lot more success, maybe offensively, that might be something I’m looking forward to, to getting back to that. I know I had success with that, personally. So I’m really excited about that.”
Question: Other than that familiarity with people in the system, what else made the Kings attractive to you?
GAGNE: “A lot of things. That was one reason, knowing a lot of people working for the Kings. My friendship with Justin. Talking with him just before July 1, and Mike Richards too, those two guys got me a little bit excited. They were saying, `It would be fun if you come here,’ stuff like that. And the city, and the way the team has been playing the last two years. I see a lot of comparisons with the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh, when they won the Cup, a really young team that got better and better really quick. If you look at the Kings the last two years, making the playoffs, yeah they lost in the first round but it’s experience that will help us to get to the next level. At the same time, those guys are getting more experience and they know what it takes to move to the playoffs. After that, you have to work to get to the next level. I think Mike Richards, he is someone who can help the team get to the next level. Everything is possible in the playoffs. The Blackhawks won and Pittsburgh won with teams that are similar to what we have here, and good defensively with two good goaltenders. That’s something that was easy for me, when the offer came to the table. I was really excited, and all those reasons were good enough for me to take the deal with the Kings.”
Question: It seems probable that you and Mike could end up on the same line again. How does that work for you two on the ice? How do you complement each other?
GAGNE: “We had a lot of success the year we went to the Stanley Cup Finals. That might be the time where we had our best hockey. Maybe in the Finals it was not as good as we wanted, especially when you lose Game 6. It wasn’t good enough to win, but just before that, I think we had a lot of success against Montreal and Boston and against the Devils. I think that’s a plus. When you’re coming to a new team, who knows, I’m sure we’ll have a shot to play again on the same line, but it’s going to be up to the coach. We have a lot of talent on this team offensively, and we’ll try to find the best chemistry. (Richards and I) know what we can do, and that’s another plus. You’re adding two new guys to the team, but two guys who know each other already, so we don’t have to work to find that chemistry. You know it’s there. It was there before, and only last year we didn’t play together, so it’s not going to be that hard to get back on the ice and find each other on the ice. I know what Mike likes to do on the ice and he knows what I like to do, so like I said, it worked before and we know it can work again. It’s going to be up to the coaching staff to decide what they’re going to do with the lines at camp and during the season. You know that lines are going to be flexible, you know they’re going to change once in a while. It happened that me and Mike didn’t play together for a couple games, but we’ll see what’s going to happen at camp this year.”
Question: You’ve spent your whole career in the Eastern Conference and played some against Western Conference teams. Do you notice any difference in style between the two conferences, and is it something that excites you, changing conferences?
GAGNE: “Yeah, I’m excited to see. You come to the West every once in a while, but you only play one game against a team and you don’t have a chance to see that team in your building. It’s not the same feeling as being in the same conference, so I’m excited to see the difference. I don’t know as much, and it’s hard to know what is the difference between the East and the West. Sure, when you watch TV it looks pretty intense in the West. It used to be different. It used to be more tight in the East and more open in the West. Now it looks like it’s the opposite, like it’s more open in the East and a little tighter in the West, but I used to play that for many years in Philly, so we’ll see. I’m excited to see the difference. I believe that teams are a little bit better, I think, in the West, but then you look at what happened in the Stanley Cup (Finals) this year. Boston beat Vancouver, which had 100-plus points playing in the West, so who knows? I thought the West was better, but at the end of last year, Boston won. Is that telling us that the East is better than the West? But I’m excited to play a full season and see that.”
Question: And coming to the West, you’ve have a lot more travel…
GAGNE: “It’s definitely something that will be different. That’s totally going to be different than when I was in Philly. Tampa, I have to say, there was more traveling than in Philly. So that was not too bad. I guess it’s going to be a little bit more here, but if you look at our division — Phoenix, Anaheim, San Jose — it’s not that bad. You’re going to face those teams a lot, so I guess travel is going to be a little more when you go to the East but it’s part of the game. When playoffs come, some teams are not used to traveling. This is sometimes when you see the difference. So playing for a team that will travel a little bit more, maybe your body gets used to it a little bit more, and when the playoffs come you know what to expect. You know it’s not something new. It was not a difference last year in the playoffs for Boston, but I guess that could be a plus, to get used to it physically and mentally. But that’s something that’s going to be new. I’ve never played in the West, so that’s definitely going to be different than the last couple years.”
Question: Are you out here looking for a house?
GAGNE: “That’s why we’re here, yeah. We here for two days, two and a half days. We’re not here on vacation. We’re definitely here to spend time looking for a place. We left the kids at home with my mom and her mom right now. We’re spending as much time as we can to find a place for our family. Right now, we like what we see. We like the area a lot. We’re really excited about it. Hopefully today we’ll find what we like, and get a little more time to look around. We’re really excited about the area. Everything looks really close and really clean and really nice, so we’re actually…not surprised, but I’ve never had time to take much time when we came to L.A. (to play). It’s just in and out, so I’m really excited about it, and understand why, talking to Lappy [Ian Laperriere], who played here, and (Eric) Belanger and Justin, I understand why it’s a great place to play hockey.”
Question: How old are your kids?
GAGNE: “My son is 2, and my daughter is a newborn, she’s five months old.”