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Back in NHL, Gagne comfortable being a flexible forward for Bruins

10/24/2014 10:44 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST
BUFFALO, N.Y. - A year ago Simon Gagne waited for the call that never came. A deal to return to the Philadelphia Flyers fell through, and the veteran winger with almost 800 games of NHL experience and just under 600 points was left out in the cold.

Gagne came close to an NHL contract only once, in December, but decided to sit out the year. At the age of 34, the Ste-Foy, Que., native is now with the Boston Bruins and could be an important, malleable piece of their lineup.

The winger has already played on the first and fourth lines and is at the point of his career that he doesn't mind changing responsibilities from game to game.

"You always picture yourself where you could fit at one point during the season," Gagne said in a recent interview. "I think it's good for me. I'm looking at myself a little bit like that, maybe a player that could be put pretty much everywhere on different lines, (in) different roles."

In five games getting his legs under him for the Bruins, Gagne has one assist. But coach Claude Julien didn't hesitate to experiment with him on the first line alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci for parts of a few games.

"When Looch and Krejc in the past have had guys like (Nathan) Horton (and Jarome) Iginla — all guys with experience — they've always felt real comfortable," Julien said. "The little bit I've put Simon on that line, they've seemed to really feel comfortable."

Gagne is still getting comfortable as he settles in with Boston. It took a ton of patience for him to get there.

After breaking into the NHL as a 19-year-old, Gagne spent the first 10 years of his career with the Flyers. A victim of the salary cap, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning and later went on to sign with the Los Angeles Kings and get his name on the Stanley Cup.

Traded back to the Flyers during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Gagne thought he had an agreement to return last year. Amid the Dan Cleary contract mess and more, it didn't happen.

"It'd be easy if everybody had a crystal ball and could look into it and see the future," Gagne said. "It would be easy to go back and change a couple things. But at that time I felt that was the right thing for me to do and for me and my family, where I was in my career, but it didn't work out. Everything happened for a reason and that (was) meant to be."

Gagne, who has four points in four games against Philadelphia, goes there Jan. 10 and could put on a show. The Bruins are in Toronto on Saturday night to face the Leafs, against whom Gagne has 10 goals and 15 assists in 35 regular-season games and five goals and four assists in 13 playoff games.

But it was his more recent playoff experience against the Bruins that helped Gagne decide joining them on a training-camp tryout could be a good opportunity.

"I had a chance to play against that team in the past and I know what I can bring and I know what Claude liked to have from his players," Gagne said. "The system, the way they play reminds me a little bit of the way the Flyers played when I was in Philly. All that together was a good fit for me to come here."

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli offered the training-camp invite in August, and during the pre-season he called Gagne a "clutch player, fast player, smart player." Gagne was just excited to lace up his skates in the NHL again.

"I had the feeling that if I had a chance to come to camp — that was the only thing I was looking forward to and hoping that a team was going to give me a chance," he said. "I know in my mind that if a team gives me my chance, at least I'll be able to get ready and show what I can do again."

Still, when the exhibition games were over and even after the Bruins traded defenceman Johnny Boychuk to clear salary-cap space Gagne didn't have a contract.

Opening night came and went, but Gagne stayed with the team as Chiarelli told him to be patient. He skated with the Bruins but was more of an unpaid intern than a professional hockey player.

Waiting a whole season made a few extra days feel like nothing.

"At that point I was in a great situation," Gagne said. "I stayed really positive the whole time and I'm really happy that I stuck around."

Having earned over US$40 million in his NHL career, Gagne didn't need a big-money contract. He signed for one year at $600,000 and gives the Bruins, who lost Iginla in free agency, another offensive option.

"Every game he's a threat, and I think we need that on our hockey club," Julien said.

So far, so good for Gagne and the Bruins, who have won three straight but will be without captain Zdeno Chara for the next four to six weeks because of a torn ligament in his left knee.

"He's a tough guy to replace — he's irreplaceable," Lucic told reporters in Boston on Thursday night. "But as a unit, everyone can do a little extra to fill in for what he does."

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said he doesn't think surgery is an option right now.

"I'd rather have 4-6 weeks, than 4-6 months," he told reporters Friday.

It'll be up to the likes of Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton to fill in for Chara during his absence. Meanwhile, Gagne hopes to keep doing his job, whatever line he winds up on.

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