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Ryan Malone hands jersey No. 12 to new teammate Simon Gagne, takes No. 6

Sep 13, 2010, 9:45 PM EDT

ryanmaloneno12.jpgWith training camp approaching and the summer bringing a great deal of league-wide change, new teammates are given the opportunity to make a first impression on each other. In a sport jam-packed with unassuming, humble athletes who make some not-so-humble salaries, it’s always great to read about little moments of generosity.

I discussed Drew Doughty’s willingness to hand over his No. 8 to incoming defenseman Willie Mitchell yesterday and a similar story happened with another feel-good team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Damian Cristodero reports that Ryan Malone handed over his number 12 to Simon Gagne and will wear No. 6 next season.

The best part is that Malone didn’t ask for anything return, a far cry from many situations in other sports leagues, like when Deion Sanders gave a Cowboys teammate a car for his favorite number.

“It showed the class of the guy,” Gagne said Monday after his first skate with his new teammates after 10 seasons with the Flyers. “I heard a lot of great things about him, but by giving No. 12 away that just showed the person he is. I’ll try to buy him dinner on the road this year or something like that. It’s a number I’ve been wearing since I was a kid, so it means a lot to me.”

The story, as Gagne told it, unfolded like this:

After finding out Malone was wearing No. 12, Gagne said he would wear 21, which he wore at the 2002 and ’06 Olympics in deference to Jarome Iginla. But after Malone spoke to head equipment manager Ray Thill, Gagne got the news Malone was willing to give up the number.

“I said we’re happy to have him on the team,” Malone said. “He’s done some great things with that number and it was time for a change for myself, I thought, so it was no problem at all. I just said with open arms, ‘Come join the team.’ “

“I called him back and asked him what he wanted for it and he said nothing,” said Gagne, acquired in the trade for defenseman Matt Walker. “I never met the guy. I never met anyone here. It showed the welcome.”

It’s been a summer of considerable change for the Lightning and the team should see some significant contributions from new additions such as Gagne. But let’s not forget that Malone can be an impact player, especially in support of guys who have more talent, as he did quite nicely in his final season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. If Malone, Vincent Lecavalier and Victor Hedman produce improved 2010-11 campaigns, Tampa Bay could be a formidable team even sooner than expected.

If nothing else, their locker room should be a much better place to be next season.

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