SIMON GAGNE is not old - by sport or society standards - at age 33. Yet, after 794 NHL games and 109 Stanley Cup playoff games, there are days when his body betrays him.
He has endured at least four career concussions, groin injuries, a double hernia repair and a scary surgery to remove a 2-inch bony mass in his neck.
"You wake up and you feel it," Gagne said. "You look at all of the stuff you have gone through - the playoffs, all the games you've had to play, all of the injuries, the surgeries. It's part of the game. I'm not the only one who feels that; there are a lot of guys in here who feel the same way."
Healed and happy, Gagne is 22 games into his return to the organization that raised him - and he's playing his best hockey in nearly 5 years. Gagne has six points in his last eight games and was one of the most noticeable Flyers against both the Canadiens and Rangers this week, skating on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.
"I'm starting to enjoy the game again, that's been the main issue," Gagne said in a candid interview in Montreal. "The last 2 years have been a little bit tough. Health was an issue. Not playing as much as I wanted was an issue. I'm back to being healthy again. I'm starting to feel good on the ice.
"Even when we're losing right now, I'm having fun coming to the rink. That's something that, to start the season, I lost a little bit. All that helped me get a good feeling again about the game."
Coach Peter Laviolette complimented Gagne on Monday, saying he has been one of the few players to consistently get in on the forecheck in an attempt to generate offense. It finally has paid off - as the Flyers have scored 11 goals in their last two games.
Laviolette also has said repeatedly that he would rather try to avoid evaluating with a focus toward next season. Not thinking about the future, as a player, is something tougher to do.
Gagne has five games remaining on a 2-year, $7 million deal. He has no home for next season. With his wife, Karine, and two young kids, Gagne is renting a house in South Jersey not far from the one he used to own.
His agent has not had any discussions with Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, he said, but Gagne would like to remain a Flyer. He never wanted to leave in 2010.
"This is a place, I always say, that's maybe the best place for me to play," Gagne said. "Is that because it's the only place I've really played? I don't know. Philly is one of the places that I have good memories, good friends, and my family is comfortable there.
"It would be an easy choice if 'Homer' would come to me and ask me to stay. We'll see. I'm not sure if they're going to want to make a lot of changes, or what they are thinking. It's tough to look at our team, tough to judge why we play so poorly sometimes. We don't have a full lineup, it's a shortened season."
For veterans accustomed to high salaries, money can be a sticking point, especially with a salary cap dropping nearly 9 percent this summer. Gagne vows money will not be an issue, saying he's willing to accept less than the $3.5 million he's making this year. Perhaps, somewhere in the $2 or $2.5 million range would work for all.
"I'm at the point of my career where I made really good money for a while," Gagne said. "As a player, your goal is to win the Stanley Cup. I did that [with the Kings last season]. I still want to win the Stanley Cup. At the end of the day, money is just a small question. Being happy is important. If I like the place, I'll make things work - for everyone to be happy, to make sure that it doesn't hurt the team."
Tuesday's impressive performance against the Rangers was a night of firsts for new Flyers goaltender Steve Mason. Not only did Mason capture a win in his first start at the Wells Fargo Center since joining the team on April 3, but he also netted his highest save total (38) in more than a full calendar year.
After the game, Mason was lauded for two things that we haven't heard often (if at all) about Ilya Bryzgalov this season: puck- handling and rebound control.
"He's able to play the puck behind the net," Kimmo Timonen said. "He broke up a lot of plays like that. That's a big plus for us. He looked calm. When he looks like that, he makes hard shots look easy."
"Right now, I think he's in control of the net," Laviolette said. "He has a good glove. He seems to be seeing the puck really well, rebounds are going off to the side or none at all."
Luke Schenn logged 57:30 in back-to-back nights against the Canadiens and Rangers and may have been the Flyers' best defenseman both games . . . Montreal's Ryan White was suspended five games for his head shot on defenseman Kent Huskins on Monday night. He is eligible to return for Montreal's final game of the season and playoffs. Huskins, out with a concussion, is likely sidelined for the season . . . The Flyers took their annual team photo Wednesday but did not practice . . . Defenseman Matt Konan was reassigned to Adirondack after sitting as a healthy scratch Tuesday.
On Twitter: @DNFlyers