TIGHTEN UP

Lowetide
December 24 2013 10:09AM

Sam Gagner has had a miserable six months. In late September, the young Oilers center suffered a significant injury and it has taken him forever to come back to something resembling normal. In fact, I'd wager most fans would agree with me in saying last night was the first time we got to see Gagner in his typical role: creative, offensive center with an ability to make plays and contribute to offense. It's been a long road.

IN THE BEGINNING

During the summer, new GM Craig MacTavish identified Gagner as a well-respected man about the Oiler room. This was an issue because there were some bad vibes in the locker room:

  • MacTavish: “It’s incumbent on everybody in that locker-room to really work to provide the type of working environment we want. The type of productive, hard-working, non-complaining culture we want. And I’m going to be diligent in my decision-making in terms of weeding out the complainers.”

The problem with Gagner has never been attitude or offense, but rather defense. After returning too early from the injury, Gagner was the culprit on a legion of goals-against and seemed to be ignoring responsibility and turning away from the slot while allowing free looks for opposition snipers. Galling for fans, and this had to be a major problem for the organization.

I mean, riddle me this: what action DO you take with a player known for intelligent play who is making simple, basic errors? The Oilers were extremely patient—too patient—before relegating him to limited duty on the fourth line. The play didn't improve, but the negative impact was reduced because he was now far from the important part of the game. 

Gagner's Corsi For % this season (5x5) is 47%, a smart improvement over last season's 42.9% (source: Extra Skater) which means he's heading in a better direction when on the ice, but these damn massive breakdowns are causing a frigging in the riggin'.

TIGHTEN UP 

Sam Gagner has never been known as a strong defensive center, and the problems he is encountering this season are his natural weakness. Last night, for the first time this season, Gagner wasn't wearing anything that might reduce his comfort and visibility.

It looked better. In my opinion. And I'm not alone.

  • Bruce McCurdy, Cult of Hockey: #89 Sam Gagner, 7. Strong 200-foot game that included some effective & committed own-zone play. Scored a beauty on a tic-tac-toe play. 11/18=61% on faceoffs.

That's a wonderful bit of prose, well-earned and a long time coming.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

I've always believed the worst time to give up on a player is when he's underperforming because of injury or another identifiable reason (I had to throw that in there because once upon a time Ron Low/Miro Satan). Gagner's performance last night suggests the new free range Gagner is back to last season's levels.

I remain convinced the Oilers should keep Gagner, although perhaps a move to wing is a better option than keeping him at center. Agree?

C2a6955161684b5e3189319acfa5ebe4
Lowetide has been one of the Oilogosphere's shining lights for over a century. You can check him out here at OilersNation and at lowetide.ca. He is also the host of Lowdown with Lowetide weekday mornings 10-noon on Team 1260.
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#51 Cynic
December 24 2013, 06:12PM
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Citing plus-minus cheapens an argument? With a fanbase that thinks Peter Gabriel's Volhammer, Closed Fenwicks, and the Queen's Relative's Corgis are real stats? That's funny.

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#52 Saytalk
December 24 2013, 06:23PM
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This team has been abysmal for four going on five years now and you're still serving the KoolAid LoweTide. If we keep small one-dimensional players and pay them $4.8M while the first overall picks keep getting $6M handed to them, how do you expect this team to ever climb out of the toilet?

47% Corsi for any second line player on a big contract is not an improvement, it is grounds for a buyout. Hold this team to a higher standard for at least one article.

Center or winger, Gagner simply isn't good enough to play for a contending team in the NHL. Trade him for whatever you can get and make room for someone else. Upgrading from this crap wouldn't be that hard.

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#53 RexHolez
December 24 2013, 06:24PM
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Cynic wrote:

Citing plus-minus cheapens an argument? With a fanbase that thinks Peter Gabriel's Volhammer, Closed Fenwicks, and the Queen's Relative's Corgis are real stats? That's funny.

Every stat except wins/losses is valuable around here!

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#54 HardBoiledOil
December 24 2013, 08:10PM
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if the Oilers can get a good 2nd line center in a trade or UFA signing and they feel he's an upgrade on Gagner, i'm all for moving him....out!

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#55 Slyers
December 24 2013, 09:37PM
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Saytalk wrote:

This team has been abysmal for four going on five years now and you're still serving the KoolAid LoweTide. If we keep small one-dimensional players and pay them $4.8M while the first overall picks keep getting $6M handed to them, how do you expect this team to ever climb out of the toilet?

47% Corsi for any second line player on a big contract is not an improvement, it is grounds for a buyout. Hold this team to a higher standard for at least one article.

Center or winger, Gagner simply isn't good enough to play for a contending team in the NHL. Trade him for whatever you can get and make room for someone else. Upgrading from this crap wouldn't be that hard.

Agreed! LT. You say "a player known for intelligent play" this might be one of the most ridiculous comments ever! Gagner? the man is lost In his own zone and often makes plays in the offensive zone that lead to odd men advantages. When I think of intelligent players I think Pecca, Pronger, Gretzky, Patrice Bergeron, never, never, NEVER Gagner!!!!! Wow !

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#56 gcw_rocks
December 24 2013, 09:44PM
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Beware small sample sizes. A sample size of one is especially suspect. Until he puts together a run of 15 or 20 games of solid defence, and he does it against real competition and not the weak sisters of the league, I am not sure why we would assume anything has changed.

Slow news day I guess.

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#57 Walter Sobchak
December 24 2013, 09:54PM
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@David S

Re-Comment # 14

Good points Dave, I usually agree with a lot of your entries, but I think we’re going to have to disagree on this.

The first point, how is the Defensemen responsible for Gagner’s man? How does the defenseman actually play into Gagner’s defensive decisions or play?

My issue is this, Gagner’s goes to the wrong man constantly, almost without fail.

He rarely is in the right position in his zone for a center, has repeatedly picked up the wrong man on cycles, is far too easily boxed out by other players & his player positioning is terrible for a center, (he’s always on the wrong side of the puck).

His back checking is as bad, His overall defensive stats are always weak, MC79 has done some great work on this, one thing that’s has been consistent is Gagner’s weak defensive play.

Second point –agree & disagree here, You can only teach defense to players that want to learn defense, there is also some inherent skill in being able to anticipate and read coverage quickly, some have it, other don’t, that instinct can’t be taught. After 7 years the one thing that has been consitant is his weak defensive play, do you think in his 8th year he’ll have an epiphany?

Third point – So the one night they beat the hell out of a tired team with arguable the worst NHL goalie is enough of a sample size to tell you Gagner is going to start playing in the paint?? In 7 years have you ever seen Gagner consistently play that way? I’ve been an Oiler fan since the inception into the NHL; I have never witnessed Gagner as a crease crasher? Not even comparable to a player like Perron, let alone a player like Smyth.

Lastly, even leaving this season out of it, his stats in the NHL for defense is weak, very weak. I do think he’s a really good offensive player, one of our best & most consistent, I won’t argue that.

My take on it – The Oilers need a solid two way center, one that can match up to Thornton, Kopitar, Toews , Backes without being completely dominated.

The Oilers have to get bigger, faster, and stronger. This is not Gagner’s best attributes; they can lose Gagner’s offense to gain a better defensive player.

Management has to decide if they want players that will make the team better or players that have great character & are great people to be around.

Enjoy your holidays.

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#58 D
December 25 2013, 12:13AM
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David S wrote:

Sam Gagner was NEVER going to be a 80-100 point player. Taylor Hall MIGHT be one. Maybe.

Throwing up unrealistic performance goals to prove your point is just dumb.

Your rejoinder is an amateur mistake in logic David (specifically denying the antecedent and post hoc ergo propter hoc).

(Denying the antecedent) - If Sam Gagner has an 80-100 point season, then the statement "he maxed out his potential" would be incorrect. If as you say Sam Gagner was never going to be an 80-100 point player, then the statement that he maxed out his potential is entirely correct, hence no fallacy of the inverse.

(Post hoc ergo propter hoc) - Because Sam Gagner has maxed out his potential "B", move him as part payment for another piece of the puzzle "C". Nowhere was it stated that because Sam Gagner did not score 80-100 points "A", therefore move him for a piece of the puzzle "C". But since your response relies on "if A then C", you have relied on a post hoc fallacy in criticizing my comment.

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#59 papler
December 25 2013, 12:44AM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

Play him at 2C....shelter his minutes.....then when he's hitting his stride. ....trade him at the deadline like you should have done with Hemsky last year!....Not because they aren't good players, but because they are redundant on our team and when they are healthy and playing well they have some value in the trade market.

However, I think that Oilers brass are a little desperate because of the current state of affairs (29th place team) and will not have the good sense and courage to trade a good player while he's playing good. On the bright side, we have no hope for a playoff push, so there is no need to retain veterans to support a playoff run like we did for that dismal 10 game stretch at the end of last season

So no LT, I do not agree. I sometimes think that the stats guys want to win the CORSI Cup while I want to win the Stanley Cup.

They are already playing him at 2C with sheltered minutes. Seems to work out great so far...

merry christmas everyone

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#60 Harvey
December 25 2013, 01:44AM
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Gagner's offensive skills are and have been apparent for some time. What I would like to see is a consistent dedication to his two-way responsibilities. In recent seasons his dedication to defence ressembles defecation more than dedication To have a leadership role on the Oil or any other NHL roster he needs to lead by example in the defensive aspects of the game which by now as a 7 yr vereran he needs to be doing. Standing there doing nothing as opposing forwards charge to the net just doesn't cut it any longer.

Time for the Oil to fish or cut bait on this player.

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#61 MessyEH!
December 25 2013, 04:53AM
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Gagner needs to make defense his primary focus for the rest of the year. If he can't be the well rounded defensively responsible center we need, then he is expendable.

We have an abundance of wingers who don't play a consistent 200 ft game. The top 4 wing positions are full. Gagner at almost 5 million is far to expensive as a 3rd line option. If he can't be the second line center we need, he has to be traded as part of a package to get us one, or dealt for additional forward depth.

Depth that belongs in the NHL. Not the type we received for SMID.

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#62 Spydyr
December 25 2013, 05:48AM
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Ducey wrote:

And if you can't figure out the problems with +/- then you won't change yours either.

Here are a few hints:

1) Gagner came into the league as an 18 yr old. Young players struggle with defense. This tends to improve over time.

2)Gagner has played on a team intentionally trying to tank for rebuild purposes.

3) Gagner has played with other young players. See point 1.

The question is whether he will improve defensively. I think he will. His dad became a very good all round player after also being considered too small to play in the NHL.

He has been in the NHL over seven years and you think he will improve defensively?

Hope you get your Christmas miracle.

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#63 Former Noter Dame Hound
December 25 2013, 08:08AM
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Saytalk wrote:

This team has been abysmal for four going on five years now and you're still serving the KoolAid LoweTide. If we keep small one-dimensional players and pay them $4.8M while the first overall picks keep getting $6M handed to them, how do you expect this team to ever climb out of the toilet?

47% Corsi for any second line player on a big contract is not an improvement, it is grounds for a buyout. Hold this team to a higher standard for at least one article.

Center or winger, Gagner simply isn't good enough to play for a contending team in the NHL. Trade him for whatever you can get and make room for someone else. Upgrading from this crap wouldn't be that hard.

I could not agree more with Saytalk...Gagner has for sure lost his mojo just like Ben Eager did when he got clocked...Gagner is so sh## scared to hold the puck that he just dumps it blindly..and more often than not to one of his own players who is covered and gets decked...if I was a fellow OILER I would refuse to play when Gag_me is on the ice...trade...trade...give away....fire him for being so abysmal...

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#64 wintoon
December 25 2013, 08:53AM
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Gagner is not a 2C capable of helping the Oilers win the Stanley Cup. Many of us know he can't win face offs, can't play defensive hockey, can't play in the corners, the paint or along the boards. He is, however capable of some offense and is a good guy in the room.

Having said this, the Oilers are at a point where they should be trading him for any asset they can get in return. They should also be aware of the top C prospects in the 2014 draft. The way the team is playing we may just get another lottery pick.

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#65 HardBoiledOil
December 25 2013, 10:42AM
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Harvey wrote:

Gagner's offensive skills are and have been apparent for some time. What I would like to see is a consistent dedication to his two-way responsibilities. In recent seasons his dedication to defence ressembles defecation more than dedication To have a leadership role on the Oil or any other NHL roster he needs to lead by example in the defensive aspects of the game which by now as a 7 yr vereran he needs to be doing. Standing there doing nothing as opposing forwards charge to the net just doesn't cut it any longer.

Time for the Oil to fish or cut bait on this player.

that's the thing though...there are many who think we can win a cup with this guy on our top 2 lines. same with Dubnyk, some think we can actually win a cup with this guy as the #1 goalie, and their fanboys will debate on their behalf until you give in. I have wanted these 2 gone for some time, and I think whenever this team hoists a cup, these 2 won't be part of this team.

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#66 HardBoiledOil
December 25 2013, 10:43AM
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wintoon wrote:

Gagner is not a 2C capable of helping the Oilers win the Stanley Cup. Many of us know he can't win face offs, can't play defensive hockey, can't play in the corners, the paint or along the boards. He is, however capable of some offense and is a good guy in the room.

Having said this, the Oilers are at a point where they should be trading him for any asset they can get in return. They should also be aware of the top C prospects in the 2014 draft. The way the team is playing we may just get another lottery pick.

^agree 100%.

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#67 David S
December 25 2013, 12:35PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Re-Comment # 14

Good points Dave, I usually agree with a lot of your entries, but I think we’re going to have to disagree on this.

The first point, how is the Defensemen responsible for Gagner’s man? How does the defenseman actually play into Gagner’s defensive decisions or play?

My issue is this, Gagner’s goes to the wrong man constantly, almost without fail.

He rarely is in the right position in his zone for a center, has repeatedly picked up the wrong man on cycles, is far too easily boxed out by other players & his player positioning is terrible for a center, (he’s always on the wrong side of the puck).

His back checking is as bad, His overall defensive stats are always weak, MC79 has done some great work on this, one thing that’s has been consistent is Gagner’s weak defensive play.

Second point –agree & disagree here, You can only teach defense to players that want to learn defense, there is also some inherent skill in being able to anticipate and read coverage quickly, some have it, other don’t, that instinct can’t be taught. After 7 years the one thing that has been consitant is his weak defensive play, do you think in his 8th year he’ll have an epiphany?

Third point – So the one night they beat the hell out of a tired team with arguable the worst NHL goalie is enough of a sample size to tell you Gagner is going to start playing in the paint?? In 7 years have you ever seen Gagner consistently play that way? I’ve been an Oiler fan since the inception into the NHL; I have never witnessed Gagner as a crease crasher? Not even comparable to a player like Perron, let alone a player like Smyth.

Lastly, even leaving this season out of it, his stats in the NHL for defense is weak, very weak. I do think he’s a really good offensive player, one of our best & most consistent, I won’t argue that.

My take on it – The Oilers need a solid two way center, one that can match up to Thornton, Kopitar, Toews , Backes without being completely dominated.

The Oilers have to get bigger, faster, and stronger. This is not Gagner’s best attributes; they can lose Gagner’s offense to gain a better defensive player.

Management has to decide if they want players that will make the team better or players that have great character & are great people to be around.

Enjoy your holidays.

I'll take that. I'm projecting a bit based on what I believe Sam can be, not so much on what we've seen the past few months. It's a leap of faith based on how I've seen other athletes develop and the psychological effect certain types of traumatic sports injuries can have on performance.

Still, at the end of the day alot of what I'm saying could easily be debunked given the track record. We'll see. Either way, it's just a game so not too worried about the outcome.

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#68 David S
December 25 2013, 12:37PM
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D wrote:

Your rejoinder is an amateur mistake in logic David (specifically denying the antecedent and post hoc ergo propter hoc).

(Denying the antecedent) - If Sam Gagner has an 80-100 point season, then the statement "he maxed out his potential" would be incorrect. If as you say Sam Gagner was never going to be an 80-100 point player, then the statement that he maxed out his potential is entirely correct, hence no fallacy of the inverse.

(Post hoc ergo propter hoc) - Because Sam Gagner has maxed out his potential "B", move him as part payment for another piece of the puzzle "C". Nowhere was it stated that because Sam Gagner did not score 80-100 points "A", therefore move him for a piece of the puzzle "C". But since your response relies on "if A then C", you have relied on a post hoc fallacy in criticizing my comment.

Dude. Really?

Merry Christmas and hope you enjoy your break. Best of luck to you and the entire Harvard debate club in 2014!

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#69 D
December 25 2013, 12:51PM
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David S wrote:

Dude. Really?

Merry Christmas and hope you enjoy your break. Best of luck to you and the entire Harvard debate club in 2014!

You have a great Christmas and New Year as well David.

The best in 2014 and many more great hockey discussions!

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#70 David S
December 25 2013, 03:12PM
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D wrote:

You have a great Christmas and New Year as well David.

The best in 2014 and many more great hockey discussions!

Haha! Anybody who has Paul Coffey's number as an avatar is OK by me.

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#71 @Oilanderp
December 25 2013, 04:37PM
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I think we should trade Cogliano, he is USELESS to ANY team!

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#72 Frank the dog
December 25 2013, 05:19PM
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Can anyone on this board define at what point of height challenged does a player become a Smurf?

The Oilers have 1 D under 6', and that D won a Stanley Cup and got to a Stanley Cup Final series playing as a #1D pairing with Zdeno Chara.

At forward the Oil has 1 Player at 5'8", 3 at 5'11", and all of the rest are 6" or over. Are these 3 Smurfs? That would be Eberle, Yakupov and Gagner.

Does weight come into the equation of not being pushed around? When does heavy start equalling fat or slow?

Does a person need to be over 200 lbs not to be pushed around? If that is the case, then are Eberle, Nuge, Hemsky, Lander, Yakupov, Smyth and Perron all pushed around as a result of being too light?

If we're going to set a standard, then let's see some point south of the median height of all NHL Forwards or Defensemen as being "too light" and validate that standard by taking a look at the relevant stats of those players.

It seems to me that while the Oilers are not a heavy team, It seems ridiculous to me to call this team a bunch of Smurfs. We only have one player who is less than 5'11", and I would have that player on my team all day long.

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#73 Serious Gord
December 25 2013, 10:57PM
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Frank the dog wrote:

Can anyone on this board define at what point of height challenged does a player become a Smurf?

The Oilers have 1 D under 6', and that D won a Stanley Cup and got to a Stanley Cup Final series playing as a #1D pairing with Zdeno Chara.

At forward the Oil has 1 Player at 5'8", 3 at 5'11", and all of the rest are 6" or over. Are these 3 Smurfs? That would be Eberle, Yakupov and Gagner.

Does weight come into the equation of not being pushed around? When does heavy start equalling fat or slow?

Does a person need to be over 200 lbs not to be pushed around? If that is the case, then are Eberle, Nuge, Hemsky, Lander, Yakupov, Smyth and Perron all pushed around as a result of being too light?

If we're going to set a standard, then let's see some point south of the median height of all NHL Forwards or Defensemen as being "too light" and validate that standard by taking a look at the relevant stats of those players.

It seems to me that while the Oilers are not a heavy team, It seems ridiculous to me to call this team a bunch of Smurfs. We only have one player who is less than 5'11", and I would have that player on my team all day long.

Smurfism is much more about attitude than it about ones actual physical size.

Mats sundin is 6'5" and he was a smurf.

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#74 Rdubb
December 26 2013, 06:07AM
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I couldn't agree more!!! I've been saying that as often as possible on your radio show (& other's on the same station) and as often as I could on this website too, but, too often, too many fans (& often, @ least until recently, you too) would disagree with me. But something has changed in the past 3 weeks, more and more fans have become angered @ Gagner's D-zone play and day by day more and more fans have come over "to the dark side" of thinking and some have been screaming for the move to the wing and bring Arco up the 2nd line C... But I don't think Eakins will do that, why? I think he is too hard headed and too stubborn to do that. Hell, it took him an extra 15-20 games to demote Sam after all that poor play. Every single Oiler fan KNOWS who is the laziest player on the roster, the last on the ice, first off, same with showing up to the arena. So why has this player continued to get grade A PP time along with 2nd line play? Not to mention that I still haven't seen Eakins go to last yrs PP and Pk, both of which were in the top 10 (for the past 2 or 3 seasons by the way too), instead he meddled somewhere that didn't need it and that has killed us, we are the worst PP unit in the NHL giving up 8 shorties, not to mention being ranked near the bottom and our PK has been awful @ best (stretches not with standing)... Just my thoughts Peck

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#75 Death Metal Nightmare
December 26 2013, 10:59AM
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Gagner is rarely creative. he is a vulture offensive player that depends on chaos already generated by others to operate in broken defensive situations. show me every single play he has had where he was the one generating the chaos and i'll be that dudes #1 fan if you can find 10 plays this year where he was the one "carrying the water" in goal scoring situations.

that dudes game is bulls**t and always has been

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#76 jybute
December 26 2013, 09:14PM
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@D

OK... The stuff of new the middle is easy enough to follow. But the rest of it??? I'm not even a little ashamed to admit that I'm too lazy to copy and paste your obvious attempt at trying to sound smart into an online dictionary.

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#77 BLAKPOO
December 27 2013, 09:21AM
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Spydyr wrote:

If you cannot see Gagner is weak defensively nothing anyone says can change your opinion of him.

Perhaps you missed the part where I said "Say what you want about Gagner, just don't use +/- to back up your argument."

Not sure how that makes me unable to recognize his deficiencies, or how that solidifies my opinion of him. Just saying using +/- to judge anyone is stupid, especially anyone on a bottom-dwelling team, as it's a flawed stat.

Maybe try reading before you run your mouth.

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#78 Rdubb
December 27 2013, 04:54PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Re-Comment # 14

Good points Dave, I usually agree with a lot of your entries, but I think we’re going to have to disagree on this.

The first point, how is the Defensemen responsible for Gagner’s man? How does the defenseman actually play into Gagner’s defensive decisions or play?

My issue is this, Gagner’s goes to the wrong man constantly, almost without fail.

He rarely is in the right position in his zone for a center, has repeatedly picked up the wrong man on cycles, is far too easily boxed out by other players & his player positioning is terrible for a center, (he’s always on the wrong side of the puck).

His back checking is as bad, His overall defensive stats are always weak, MC79 has done some great work on this, one thing that’s has been consistent is Gagner’s weak defensive play.

Second point –agree & disagree here, You can only teach defense to players that want to learn defense, there is also some inherent skill in being able to anticipate and read coverage quickly, some have it, other don’t, that instinct can’t be taught. After 7 years the one thing that has been consitant is his weak defensive play, do you think in his 8th year he’ll have an epiphany?

Third point – So the one night they beat the hell out of a tired team with arguable the worst NHL goalie is enough of a sample size to tell you Gagner is going to start playing in the paint?? In 7 years have you ever seen Gagner consistently play that way? I’ve been an Oiler fan since the inception into the NHL; I have never witnessed Gagner as a crease crasher? Not even comparable to a player like Perron, let alone a player like Smyth.

Lastly, even leaving this season out of it, his stats in the NHL for defense is weak, very weak. I do think he’s a really good offensive player, one of our best & most consistent, I won’t argue that.

My take on it – The Oilers need a solid two way center, one that can match up to Thornton, Kopitar, Toews , Backes without being completely dominated.

The Oilers have to get bigger, faster, and stronger. This is not Gagner’s best attributes; they can lose Gagner’s offense to gain a better defensive player.

Management has to decide if they want players that will make the team better or players that have great character & are great people to be around.

Enjoy your holidays.

Gagner is NOT a team player!!! He has said many times that he DOESNT want to play wing. What happened when Hall was asked about moving to centre, he said something like; I'll try it if it helps the team even though I haven't played centre in X yrs... A TEAM PLAYER. Gagner thinks he is good enough to be an NHL centre, & everything mentioned above says he isn't, plain & simple. Do what's best for the team Sam, move to the wing. Help your team win more games, thus you'd have a better +/-, more points & get paid more $

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