Gagne: If it’s safe, NHL players willing to go back and play

Simon Gagne

Take it from a Flyer legend, getting hockey back on its skates again doesn’t promise to be easy.

Simon Gagne, who spent more than a decade playing in Philadelphia and ranks 12th all-time in scoring, believes there will be sticks and pucks this summer – but only if conditions are quite safe.

In a Monday media conference call, Gagne talked about a variety of subjects, from competing for Alain Vigneault as a 16-year-old junior player to his thoughts on the “Miracle at Boston’’ playoff comeback which celebrated its 10th anniversary last Thursday.

But the headline topic had to be the Quebec native’s take on the state of the sport, whether it can recapture the intensity of a season cut short by the pandemic as well as if players are willing to put themselves somewhat at risk in a return’s proposed environment.

The league is expected to present the NHL Players’ Association with a return-to-play proposal sometime this week.

Much of that proposal will have to do with what precautions will be taken at the various playing sites.

Gagne, who retired from his NHL career in 2015, said he believes the players understand what they’re getting into and want to play badly enough to accept the possible consequences.

So, are the players going to feel safe?

“Me, personally, it’s hard because right now here in Quebec, the goal almost was trying to scare us as much as they can to make us understand it’s really serious what’s going on,’’ Gagne told reporters.

“This is dangerous and after that you have the guys that go on the ice, playing and hitting each other.’’

At this point, nothing is a given.

“It’s hard to believe that hockey will come back,’’ said Gagne, who is in quarantine with his family in Quebec, “when right now they ask us to stay six feet apart and you’re hitting someone. You ask hockey players to hit each other, battling for pucks.

“At the same time, I’ve been talking to players who are still playing and they are willing to do whatever it takes to finish the season and play the playoffs. If it’s safe, I’m sure guys are willing to go back and play.’’

Gagne, the Flyers’ 1998 first-round draft pick (22nd overall), believes the players would need a two-week training camp or more to get back up to speed.

“If you think about it, the only way you can keep yourself in shape is riding a bike or go in a gym, if you have a gym at your house,’’ he said. “But you can’t go to a (public) gym, everything is closed.

“You can’t skate, all the rinks are closed, except maybe in Sweden. To me, that’s going to be hard to come back and play right away. You will need at least two good weeks of skating and practicing on the ice and getting the feeling back.’’

Even then, it might be difficult because playoff hockey is more demanding than the regular-season stuff.

“But even two weeks of that, when we left the game, the game was at the peak,’’ said the 40-year-old Gagne. “The Flyers were at their peak, they were ready for the season to end and starting the playoffs. They had the momentum, so all that is gone now.

“Everybody is starting at zero again. I had a couple concussions in my career and I see this almost as a concussion. You never know when you’re going to start and you never know one day when you’re going to wake up one day with no headache. . .or start playing again.’’

At best, it’s going to be a feeling out process. A comeback like this has never been attempted before.

“You go little by little,’’ Gagne said. “It’s weird but I see it like that because when you have a concussion, you can’t really train as hard as you can to get back and play.

“That’s going to be special. The good thing is everybody is going to be in the same boat. Everyone is training the same way.’’

Playing in empty buildings will present its own unique challenges.

“If we do play, it’s going to be in front of nobody,’’ Gagne said. “That’s another thing; fans are important in our game. You want them to give you some energy. That will help you when you’re tired in the third period, give you that extra push to backcheck.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2473 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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