Patrick Kane and What He Tells Us About Sam Gagner

Jonathan Willis
November 07 2009 12:18PM

Over the past few years, Patrick Kane has been one of the league’s most-touted young stars. Not in the same vein as a Crosby or Ovechkin, but still he has been generally recognized as a superstar in the making. Still, it might surprise many to know that Sam Gagner (also recognized as a good prospect, but not at a similar level) hasn’t been far behind him in one key area: even-strength scoring.

That sentence no doubt set off some alarm bells. After all, Kane’s been averaging 70 points a season since day one; Gagner, bless him, has yet to crack the 50-point barrier. But a funny thing happens when you take a look at their even-strength production. Let’s do that now.

  • 2007-08: Kane – 44 points, Gagner – 39 points
  • 2008-09: Kane – 35 points, Gagner – 30 points

A five-point gap. Interesting, yes?

Now, that’s not to say that Kane isn’t a better player than Gagner. Those power play points do matter, and with 35 last year, Kane led a strong Chicago Blackhawks power play. That said, I think there is a tendency for people to look at point totals and say ‘well, Kane’s a bonafide star first-liner, and Gagner’s sort of a fringe second-liner at this point’ and comments like that just aren’t true. Kane, by the numbers was only slightly ahead of Gagner at even-strength last year (the gap was wider in 2007-08, as Gagner had more ice-time at even-strength) and against that to must be considered the relative strengths of the teams they played on – Gagner, on the perpetually sub-par Oilers, and Kane on a Western Conference power.

There has been a noticeable difference in the early going this year, though. Sam Gagner has six even-strength points and four power play points so far this year. Kane has 11 even-strength points, three power play points, and one short-handed point on the season. We could be witnessing Kane’s breakout into a dominant five-on-five player, and so far there’s no sign of that from Gagner.

On the other hand, there’s something most people don’t consider when they compare these two players. Because they were in the same draft class, many think that Gagner and Kane are the same age – and that isn’t close to being true. Kane was born in November, 1988, and Gagner in August, 1989. That’s almost a full year of age difference – so it’s probably fairer, all things considered, to compare Gagner’s 2008-09 with Kane’s 2007-08 (another player to watch for on this – Jakub Voracek who also has an August/89 birthday). This is a good thing – people apply the sophomore slump to Gagner based on scoring numbers, but to put it bluntly that’s complete and utter nonsense. In his rookie year, Gagner was minus-21. In his sophomore season, he was minus-1. Anyone who can look at a positive 20-goal shift and see a slump should move into a different profession, because there’s a lot more to the game than just scoring numbers, and Gagner took big steps forward in other areas of his game last year.

If we make two assumptions: a) that Gagner’s career path follows Kane’s to some extent and b) it’s fair to compare Gagner’s seasons to Kane’s one year earlier, than we’d have some modest expectations this year. We’d expect little improvement in Gagner’s even-strength offensive production, but we would see improvement in his power play production. We would also expect his breakout year to come next season.

Now, this is hardly written in stone; basically I saw some things that caught my eye and decided to write about them, so there’s plenty of room to debate what I’m saying. Since there might be some confusion about what my conclusions are here, I’ll make it simpler:

Sam Gagner was born at the tail end of his draft class, and allowance should be made for that. Middling power play opportunity and production should not blind us to the fact that Gagner’s been a decent even-strength scorer.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Ogden Brother
November 07 2009, 12:45PM
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Good right up, ive always found Gagners youth compared to the rest of his draft class encouraging. He's actually not much older then John Tavares.

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#2 Librarian Mike
November 07 2009, 12:45PM
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You're not a star in this league until you bag your first cabbie though.

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#3 rickithebear
November 07 2009, 12:50PM
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Kane is one year older.

Gagnar's totals for 18 and 19 year old season were the 20th best start to a career in history. Sandwiched between Lecavalier and Gordie howe.

Kanes 19 and 20 year old start was 25th best in history. Sandwiched between Arnott and Modano.

Comparing one special to the next only works if you know what kind of talent they are historically.

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#4 David S
November 07 2009, 01:04PM
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I think this is a difficult comparison because it assumes both players have access to the same level of talent surrounding them. Obviously Kane has far more opportunities to rack up points playing in Chicago with a real NHL calibre team. Imagine if you will, Sam playing on Detroit's third line.

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#5 David S
November 07 2009, 01:05PM
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"GAGNER"

Its in the post title.

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#6 Ogden Brother
November 07 2009, 01:15PM
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@ David S

The Oil have scored 4 more goals then the Hawks this year, Hawks scored 30 more last year. Hawks scored 4 more their rookie years.

I find it hard to believe 30 more goals over 2.25 years would make a big difference in their production.

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#7 Ogden Brother
November 07 2009, 01:29PM
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I think the 5 on 5 vs PP breakdown gives us a real look at the quality of hockey player. PP points count and are obviously important. But the true test of how good of a hockey player you are is scoring (and more importantly outscoring your opposition) in 5 on 5 situations.

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#8 SkinnyD
November 07 2009, 01:38PM
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The bit of him that I've seen this year has been impressive. He's going to the greasier areas, but rolling off checks instead of absorbing them - this says to me that he's more aware of his surroundings. He's definitely a cerebral player like Kane, but when you get some physical (and, hell, emotional) maturity it's amazing what happens.

And now that he's playing with better linemates (because he's earned the right to), even better!

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#9 Robin Brownlee
November 07 2009, 01:39PM
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20 Cent is far and away the better and more complete player.

You can pick out segments of any player's game for the sake of statistical comparison to make an argument, but the actual player comes as an entire package and it's not close between Kane and Sam now -- and, I'll say without a lot of reservation, it'll stay that way.

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#10 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
November 07 2009, 01:40PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

@ David S

The Oil have scored 4 more goals then the Hawks this year, Hawks scored 30 more last year. Hawks scored 4 more their rookie years.

I find it hard to believe 30 more goals over 2.25 years would make a big difference in their production.

I guess that would depend on... what would you call it... scoring concentration? If you ranked the top-6 forwards on each team based on goal production, you'd have to look to see if the bulk of the goals are scored by 3 people or 5? We're really looking for the quality of the linemates that had time with Kane, and the same for Gagner.

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#11 SkinnyD
November 07 2009, 01:42PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

20 Cent is far and away the better and more complete player.

You can pick out segments of any player's game for the sake of statistical comparison to make an argument, but the actual player comes as an entire package and it's not close between Kane and Sam now -- and, I'll say without a lot of reservation, it'll stay that way.

Do you think if Patrick Kane was playing in Edmonton he'd be doing just as well?

I will say that perhaps Kane was NHL-ready right out of junior, and that Gagner would have benefitted from a year or two in the AHL...

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#12 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
November 07 2009, 01:46PM
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You mentioned Gagner's +/- improvement - is there a similar improvement in Kane's history?

How do their assists stack up?

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#15 jeanshorts
November 07 2009, 01:53PM
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SkinnyD wrote:

Do you think if Patrick Kane was playing in Edmonton he'd be doing just as well?

I will say that perhaps Kane was NHL-ready right out of junior, and that Gagner would have benefitted from a year or two in the AHL...

Agreed. Thankfully he didn't drown when he was tossed in the deep end during his rookie year, but I think a season playing against men in the AHL would have done wonders for him. Last year he probably would have looked more like he does now.

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#16 TigerUnderGlass
November 07 2009, 02:00PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

20 Cent is far and away the better and more complete player.

You can pick out segments of any player's game for the sake of statistical comparison to make an argument, but the actual player comes as an entire package and it's not close between Kane and Sam now -- and, I'll say without a lot of reservation, it'll stay that way.

I agree with your overall assessment on this point, but I disagree with the idea that comparing 5X5 scoring is cherry picking stats.

It is a pretty essential element for evaluating a players game. It just needs to be looked at in context.

However back to your main point; I too have a hard time imagining Gagner closing the gap between the two of them.

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#17 Ogden Brother
November 07 2009, 02:13PM
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@ Oil kings and pretty things

I don't put much stock in the whole "line mates matter" argument, if it really was such a defining imput into players #'s then you should see a handful of guys every year who's numbers go noticebly up and noticebly down simply from going from bad to good or good to bad teams, when that simply isn't the case. For every player you can show who's production moved up with the quality of his team, I can show a guy who seen little to no impact in his numbers (or in fact go the opposite way)

Couple quick examples:

Mark Striet went from the highest scoring team in the league (with the number 1 PP) and seen almost no change in produciton.

Jokenin has gone from Florida to Pheonix to Calgary and watched his #'s plummet.

Mark Savard put up near identical #'s playing with Heatly/Hossa/Kovalchuk as he did in the lean years in Boston.

Guerin's PPG his last season with NYI was .59 and now he's on a .625 pace in Pits. So .035 boost going from the worst team in the leaugue to playing with arguably the best playmaker in the league?

Heck even Kurry put up similar numbers his first few years away from Gretz as he did his last few years with Gretz.

Now I do think certain players will complement each other well, increasing both of their numbers, but it's not so sweeping as "well if only player X was on good team Y his numbers would be noticebly better"

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#18 AO
November 07 2009, 02:16PM
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Dear OilersNation,

It may not be time to panic but it is time to accept the reality we deal with. We are at a fork in the road. Do we continue to "develop" the skill we have with the hopes that 3 years down the road they will round out a nice roster or do we part with some of our raw talent in search of some more established NHLer's while hanging onto a select few we think have potential. Current Oiler management seems to like the first choice, carry on with what we have. I prefer the latter. Sure we may trade Cogs and he becomes a nice 70 point man on another team ( I doubt it) but the choice has had to made. Him or Gagner. It is obvious.

And in no way am I suggesting that Cogs will get us some superstar talent. We need 3 or 4 established players (comp I am thinking of is Daymond Langkow).

Make the deal, shake it up... Otherwise this team is going nowhere and I am cheering for the Hawks.

At least they have Patrick Sharp like roster players.

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#19 Senator Theo
November 07 2009, 02:23PM
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A little off topic for this post, but does it seem like Gagner has somewhat abandoned those crazy shootout dekes he showed in his first 2 years? He seems like he's always trying to pick corners/spots now.

Overall, I love the kind of player he's turning into. Showing lots of "crust" on his toast.

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#20 Pinto
November 07 2009, 02:26PM
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Where does quality of competition fit when you compare the two numbers. From an uneducated view without any research, I would assume Kane has faced a higher quality of comp while still putting up better numbers while Gags is facing opposition that is below what kane has had to face night in, night out. Does anyone have any numbers to associate with this?

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#21 Senator Theo
November 07 2009, 02:30PM
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@AO

See ya later AO.

Most Oilers fans are not interested in only cheering for the team when they are winning. No one likes a guy that abandons ship when the going gets tough.

Yes, the team is going through a rough patch right now, but that's when they need *real* fans the most.

There is nothing worse than a fair weather fan that has no balls and only cheers for a winner. I suppose you bought a Penguins jersey after they won last year?

That kind of no-junk behavior makes me sick.

Grow a pair - that's a prerequisite for riding on the bandwagon.

By the way - you know how many years of sucking the Hawks had to go through to get those "roster players"? You wouldn't have lasted as a Hawks fan.

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#22 Chamucks Deluxe
November 07 2009, 02:40PM
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If Lowetide's Doug Gilmour comp pans out I'll shart my pants with glee. I'm gonna get started even.

*Gets off nice couch, sits on the floor and leans to one side. Waiting.*

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#24 Chamucks Deluxe
November 07 2009, 03:06PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Either way, good work on the #'s. Your stats always bring up some interesting points. Whether I understand them or not.

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#25 jeanshorts
November 07 2009, 03:45PM
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@AO

Please tell me who the Oilers have a legitimate chance of trading for. Why the hell would another team trade a Daymond Langkow or a Patrick Sharp for players you consider to be works in progress? "Gee, we have a guy who consistently contributes and is a huge part of our team, but on the other hand the Oilers have guys that may be pretty good someday. I'd be stupid not to make the trade!" The only GM I can think of off the top of my head that trades away bonafide NHL'ers for players with "potential" is Kevin Lowe. And last time I checked a team can't trade within itself.

There are without a doubt still holes in this team, but it's mouth breathers like you who think all it takes is a phone call and all of a sudden Tambo has any player he wants. It doesn't work that way. It takes two teams to trade, and right now the Oilers are playing with a very short stack of chips.

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#26 AO
November 07 2009, 04:19PM
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@ jeanshorts

The thing is I agree with you. Well except for the mouth breathing part... little harsh I thought.

I am not saying we would get Sharp or Langkow. I am just pointing out that this commitment to development isn't going to work. Your point about Lowe is right. It is sad fact that our chips are very low. I know it isn't going to be easy to make a trade but the writing is on the wall. We aren't the Penguins with Malkin, Crosby, Staal and Fleury in the wings. I am simply advocating a path of making some tough decisions.

Right now I don't agree with the makeup of this team... Patience is wearing thin everywhere I guess...

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#27 Robin Brownlee
November 07 2009, 04:37PM
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Stats can say many things depending on how you frame them and sectioning off even-strength scoring might suggest the gap between Kane and Gagner is not that great.

I can take numbers -- all points produced at the NHL level -- and show Kane has outscored Gagner by 57 per cent over almost an identical number of games.

KANE: 177 GP 50-107-157 GAGNER: 171 GP 33-67-100

Any argument 57 per cent in not close? Kane is the better player now. Kane will remain the better player by a substantial margin whether we measure at age 20, 25, 27 or 30.

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#28 TigerUnderGlass
November 07 2009, 05:10PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Stats can say many things depending on how you frame them and sectioning off even-strength scoring might suggest the gap between Kane and Gagner is not that great.

I can take numbers -- all points produced at the NHL level -- and show Kane has outscored Gagner by 57 per cent over almost an identical number of games.

KANE: 177 GP 50-107-157 GAGNER: 171 GP 33-67-100

Any argument 57 per cent in not close? Kane is the better player now. Kane will remain the better player by a substantial margin whether we measure at age 20, 25, 27 or 30.

Agreed. I only dispute your apparent implication that he pulled a meaningless stat to make an argument.

I don't think he was claiming Gagner to be as good as Kane, just that there is some evidence (edit: make that hope) that the gap may be a bit smaller than many fear.

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#29 Zamboni Driver
November 07 2009, 05:11PM
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Not for nothing, but this only reinforces those of us who glaze over (and are tempted to provide atomic wedgies) when stats geeks aficionados provide their insight.

To speak about Kane and Gagner in the same sentence is one of the dumbest 'debates' I can think of.

One of them is going to be a franchise player (probably already is) - the other is hopefully going to be a better #1 centre than the seven million dollar face off guy.

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#30 TigerUnderGlass
November 07 2009, 05:16PM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

Not for nothing, but this only reinforces those of us who glaze over (and are tempted to provide atomic wedgies) when stats geeks aficionados provide their insight.

To speak about Kane and Gagner in the same sentence is one of the dumbest 'debates' I can think of.

One of them is going to be a franchise player (probably already is) - the other is hopefully going to be a better #1 centre than the seven million dollar face off guy.

Why do you call it a debate? At what point did anyone claim that Gagner is as good as Kane?

Do you always dispute claims that were never made? That's the only thing here providing a "dumb" debate.

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#31 Zamboni Driver
November 07 2009, 05:20PM
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@TigerUnderGlass

Uhm.

Let's say 'yes', yes I do.

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#32 Librarian Mike
November 07 2009, 05:24PM
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@Zamboni Driver

~Yeah Zamboni, you big jerk.~ (just kidding)

@Glass Tiger: Hey, we're all just talking here. There's no need to hammer a guy for giving his opinions. Let's have fun, please.

*runs and hides*

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#33 TigerUnderGlass
November 07 2009, 05:40PM
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Librarian Mike wrote:

~Yeah Zamboni, you big jerk.~ (just kidding)

@Glass Tiger: Hey, we're all just talking here. There's no need to hammer a guy for giving his opinions. Let's have fun, please.

*runs and hides*

That would apply if he just gave his opinion on the subject. Instead he decided to give his opinion on other people who were expressing their opinions.

Do you really consider this just giving his opinion?

(sorry I have no idea how to use quotes)

"Not for nothing, but this only reinforces those of us who glaze over (and are tempted to provide atomic wedgies) when stats geeks aficionados provide their insight.

To speak about Kane and Gagner in the same sentence is one of the dumbest 'debates' I can think of."

I should also add that the opinion he provided was in opposition to an argument nobody has made. How is pointing that out considered "hammering"?

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#34 TigerUnderGlass
November 07 2009, 05:52PM
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@Librarian Mike

On a side note - I would have though a librarian of all people might have a better read on the reference in my name than "Glass Tiger" :)

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#35 Shifty203
November 07 2009, 06:34PM
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Nylander is on waivers. If we were interested, do we grab him now, or take a chance and wait for re-entry?

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#36 Robin Brownlee
November 07 2009, 07:16PM
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Shifty203 wrote:

Nylander is on waivers. If we were interested, do we grab him now, or take a chance and wait for re-entry?

Why not just slam the car door on your thumb a couple of times or jab yourself in the eye with a sharp pencil? Please resist the HF thing . . .

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#37 Wanye
November 07 2009, 07:44PM
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AO wrote:

Dear OilersNation,

It may not be time to panic but it is time to accept the reality we deal with. We are at a fork in the road. Do we continue to "develop" the skill we have with the hopes that 3 years down the road they will round out a nice roster or do we part with some of our raw talent in search of some more established NHLer's while hanging onto a select few we think have potential. Current Oiler management seems to like the first choice, carry on with what we have. I prefer the latter. Sure we may trade Cogs and he becomes a nice 70 point man on another team ( I doubt it) but the choice has had to made. Him or Gagner. It is obvious.

And in no way am I suggesting that Cogs will get us some superstar talent. We need 3 or 4 established players (comp I am thinking of is Daymond Langkow).

Make the deal, shake it up... Otherwise this team is going nowhere and I am cheering for the Hawks.

At least they have Patrick Sharp like roster players.

Dear AO,

I reserve negativity for the post game commentary of GDB82. Until then it's "woooooo" or at the very least "don't other teams suck?"

Helps the winter pass quicker. Give it a try.

Wanye

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#38 mowgli
November 07 2009, 08:14PM
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@Robin Brownlee

ok! we know you like the big Kane

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#39 Hatecoff
November 07 2009, 09:06PM
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i asked this earlier and i got no responses.

if you aren't allowed to make line changes on a icing. why when you pull a goalie and ice the puck, is he allowed back on, and for whom ?

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#40 Shifty203
November 07 2009, 10:19PM
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@Robin Brownlee

I never actually said we should take him. I was just wondering what people here thought. I honestly don't even know who to move to make room for him, if management was interested in aquiring him.

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#41 esa tikkanen
November 07 2009, 11:11PM
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does anyone else here think it would have made more sense to bring up O'Marra than either Potulny or Reddox? While he is no star scorer, from the interviews on the radio with stauffer and gregor Rob Daum has said he is becoming a very good defensive center. He is 6'3, 225, is feisty and a good defensive center? Isn't that what this team needs more than another smurf, even if he is feistier than the other smurfs?

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#42 David S
November 07 2009, 11:28PM
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esa tikkanen wrote:

does anyone else here think it would have made more sense to bring up O'Marra than either Potulny or Reddox? While he is no star scorer, from the interviews on the radio with stauffer and gregor Rob Daum has said he is becoming a very good defensive center. He is 6'3, 225, is feisty and a good defensive center? Isn't that what this team needs more than another smurf, even if he is feistier than the other smurfs?

He might be a feisty and good AHL center. But Potulny and Reddox at least have some NHL experience.

Regardless. The fact we're so deep into our reserves means we're in a whack of trouble. Just watching the Calgary game tonight made me realize what bad shape we're actually in. If anything, I think Robin's prediction for the next while might be optimistic.

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#44 Ogden Brother
November 08 2009, 10:37AM
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@ Willis

I doubt he made it that far. Numbers seem to hurt his head.

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#45 dragon
November 08 2009, 11:55AM
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David S wrote:

He might be a feisty and good AHL center. But Potulny and Reddox at least have some NHL experience.

Regardless. The fact we're so deep into our reserves means we're in a whack of trouble. Just watching the Calgary game tonight made me realize what bad shape we're actually in. If anything, I think Robin's prediction for the next while might be optimistic.

speaking of O'Marra: cannot help but wonder what prospects we would have now if KLowe would have traded Smitty for a couple of 1sr round draft picks instead of Nilsson and O'Marra...

i suppose we're all smarter in hindsight.

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#47 Doug Otway
November 08 2009, 12:24PM
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Nick Kypreos did a nice little piece on Gagner in one of the Oilers first games this season in between periods. He listed the gp-g-a-p for Sam Gagner at this point in his career. He then listed the same totals for Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and someone else I can't remember. The funny thing about it was that the numbers were very similar for all the players listed. Kypreos was just making good insight into the talent level of Gagner and that he believes that he is a bonafide star in the making who is still just a kid making his mark.

Let's Go Oilers

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#48 AO
November 08 2009, 01:46PM
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@ Wanye

You are right... Way to early to start with the negativity.

BTW - your posts are spot on and good to read... I will defer to you in keeping the Nation grounded...

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#49 Ogden Brother
November 08 2009, 02:06PM
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@ Dragon

Has their ever been a rental traded for 2 1st rounders?

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#50 Death Metal Nightmare
November 08 2009, 03:08PM
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this article is crap. the cumulative stats look nice but outside of the last 20 games of the season what were Gagner's EVS points? Farts? thats 3/4 of the season he was just wasting time. he was getting a LOT of chances and ice time through MacTavish (16:45 and 3:03 of PP time). all this really shows is that theyre both small, wimpy players who do OK even strength but will need major PP time to use their skills effectively. Filppula had more ES points than Kane, Hemsky and Gagner last year. what does that make him? both Kane and Gagner are highly overrated. the Oilers just need some icon of hope because the present is so crappy.

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