First, it was announced that he had been cleared for contact – terrific news after he’d been suffering from concussion-related issues over the past five months. Then, it was announced that he had participated in a full practice with his teammates. Most recently, it was announced that Gagne will make the trip to New Jersey with the rest of the Kings for the start of the Stanley Cup Finals.
So what does this all mean for Gagne, who hasn’t played a game since sustaining a concussion on December 26? Well, it may not mean much more than he’s coming along in his recovery; great news indeed, but nothing related to an imminent return.
Or, it just might mean that he could make a return for the Finals.
Gagne is currently in his 12th season with the NHL and is, many would argue, very much deserving of a Stanley Cup. There is a rule in place that states a player must play in at least 41 regular-season games or one Cup Final game to have his name engraved on the Cup, should his team win the coveted trophy. Gagne has only played in 34 regular-season games this season, so playing in a Cup Final game is his only shot to have his name engraved if the Kings reach their ultimate goal.
There are pros and cons to Gagne making a comeback at this point in the season. The biggest con is the risk of re-injuring himself, or of coming back too soon and causing further damage to his current injury. Concussions are no joke, and if he is not fully recovered from the one sustained back in December, he is at risk by being out on the ice. Another con is messing up the chemistry of the lines Darryl Sutter has been rolling out for the playoffs so far.
The Kings have been playing incredibly well during these playoffs, and though Gagne is a great player and can potentially contribute a lot, adjusting the lines to allow for him to play at such a late juncture might cause some problems. One doesn’t have to look further than the controversy surrounding Eric Lindros’ return in 2000 to see how that can play out for the worst.
As for the pros? Well, Gagne brings veteran experience to the Kings. He has gone to the playoffs in nine of his 12 NHL seasons, and has scored 59 points in 105 career playoff games. Despite an injury in the first round of the playoffs in 2010, he was a huge factor in the Flyers’ remarkable comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against the Boston Bruins in Round 2.
Another pro — and this is a personal one for Gagne — is that if the Kings win, he’ll finally get to raise a Stanley Cup. The 32-year-old only has one more year left on his contract with the Kings after this season. He’ll be 33 when the contract is up, but after all of the injuries he’s sustained over the course of his career, it’s unclear whether or not he will retire at that time. If the Kings don’t win the series, Gagne will have at least one more season to possibly win a Cup, but this current Kings run is his best chance for it.
Whether or not Gagne returns for the Finals, the Kings appear poised to win it all. But his return could mean a lot, both on a team level and on a personal level, and is something to definitely keep an eye on as the series approaches.