LOS ANGELES – Well, this one certainly is a head scratcher, to say the least. According to several reports, the Kings plan to activate Simon Gagne for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.
This is the same Simon Gagne whom coach Darryl Sutter insisted would not be playing during the Stanley Cup final, the same Simon Gagne who has not played since suffering a concussion the day after Christmas. None of that is particularly unique – coaches mislead people all the time during the playoffs and veteran players are occasionally brought in when the circumstances call for it.
But it’s a curious decision by the Kings to say the least. Aside from a power play that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire and that they’ve had some troubles finding goals in the final, the Kings have been a buzz saw through these playoffs. Do you really want to mess with what they have going right now?
It’s doubtful Gagne will see any time on the power play. The temptation would be to minimize this move, since Gagne will likely replace Brad Richardson on the Kings fourth line. The only problem with that is the Kings fourth line has been very effective and in fact was an enormous difference maker in Game 1 of the final.
Part of the reason for that is with Colin Fraser flanked by Richardson and Jordan Nolan, the Kings fourth unit uses its size and tenacity to create loose pucks. It gives the Kings a huge advantage in terms of physical play, the way it did when Nolan knocked Devils defenseman Andy Greene off the puck and set Fraser up for the first goal in Game 1. In fact, you could argue that goal set the tone for the series.
It’s doubtful that Gagne, with all his experience and offensive talent, is going to provide the Kings with that kind of physical presence. And since he hasn’t played a game in five months, will he be able to provide the 11:37 and 10:56 of solid ice time that Richardson gave the Kings in the first two games of the final?
Having Gagne appear in the final will assure him of getting his name on the Stanley Cup if the Kings go on to win. Although the NHL sometimes makes exceptions for extenuating circumstances and injuries, rules state that in order for a player to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, he has to have played 41 regular season games for the championship team or one game in the Stanley Cup final.
But it’s hard to believe a coach such as Sutter would do anything like this out of sentiment. He must truly believe that even though Gagne hasn’t played in five months, he can make the Kings a better team. And with what Sutter has done with the Kings since he took over, it’s difficult to argue with any of his coaching moves.
But it’s also difficult to see the upside with this one.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur knows it will be almost impossible for his team to recover from a 3-0 deficit in this series. All he has to do is look at the history books to see how rarely it happens.
But unlike any of his teammates, Brodeur can also call upon the experience of the 1995 Stanley Cup final, which his team won in a sweep over the Detroit Red Wings. He reckons the Kings are probably thinking along the same line as the Devils did 17 years ago.
“We didn’t want to give them one sniff of life,” Brodeur said Sunday afternoon. “We were scared of doing that. That’s why we swept them. We were so scared of them. We knew if we gave them life, we would have been in trouble. I don’t know what kind of attitude they have, but I’m sure they don’t want to give us any life.”
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.
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