SAM: CRICKETS FOR THE CRITICS

Robin Brownlee
February 07 2013 07:54PM

If Sam Gagner scored 40 points for the Edmonton Oilers this season, and he might despite playing just a 48-game schedule, somebody would be sure to sniff: "See, Sam still hasn’t even managed 50 points in an NHL season. He's not that good."

As polarizing a player for a rabid and playoff-starved fan base as the Oilers have had in many years, Gagner draws raves from some and criticism from many no matter how well, or poorly, he plays.

Those who appreciate Gagner for what he is – a reasonably productive second-line centre with a hint of grit and a competitive streak – are quick to point out these days the former London Knight is off to the best start of his NHL career with points (3-8-11) in 10 straight games.

Those fixated on what Gagner is not – a smooth-skating pivot who produces big points as a bonafide No. 1 centre, which the Oilers have lacked since the team drafted him sixth overall in 2007 – are less impressed. He doesn't skate well. He's lousy on face-offs. He's not as good as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who already better fits that top-billing in the middle.

Given Gagner's start to his sixth NHL season – amid the pitiful state the Oilers find themselves in with Shawn Horcoff, Nugent-Hopkins, Eric Belanger and Anton Lander on the limp – his detractors have found themselves woefully thin on new material so far. Wait awhile. They'll come up with something.

SIUTBOHC

"I felt like I was in a good spot coming into the year," says Gagner, who played with Klagenfurt AC in Austria during the lockout. "I tried to put in a lot of good work during the summer and you get confidence from that. I was excited for the start of the year and I've had the opportunity to play with some great players."

With Nugent-Hopkins playing between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle before he tweaked his shoulder, Gagner's spent most of his time between rejuvenated and healthy Ales Hemsky and rookie Nail Yakupov. The trio has been both good and opportunistic through 10 games. Given Edmonton's injury woes at centre, Gagner's torrid start has been timely.

"I've worked a lot on just staying even-keeled," said Gagner, who inked a one-year deal that pays him $3.2 million this season. "There's different things that can go on during a year that are tough to handle at times with the way the last few seasons have gone.

"We couldn’t seem to gain any traction as a team. That wears on you. The whole reason you play this game is to win and get a chance to play in the playoffs (something Gagner hasn't done since turning pro in 2007). This year, we have a great opportunity to do that. That's exciting for everyone in here.

"For me, I wanted to keep the same attitude no matter how things were going and I worked a lot on just focusing on that this summer. I've done a good job of it so far, but it's a long season and you have to stay with it all the time."

SO FAR SO GOOD

Surpassed by Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle and rookies Justin Schultz and Yakupov on the marquee, Gagner's stayed on task and is leading the Oilers in scoring despite the team's recent slide, punctuated by a 3-2 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars Wednesday.

Of course, Gagner's still small. He's still not particularly fast, even if he's half-a-step quicker than he was as a rookie. He's minus-3 and his face-off percentage is a sub-par 37.8 per cent. And, history suggests -- he's had seasons of 49, 41, 41, 42 and 47 points – he's destined to fall off the point-a-game scoring pace he's on.

I wonder, though, where the Oilers would be right now without Gagner and his two wingers, even if he's not the type to waste time and energy giving that or the naysayers much thought. I wonder what role he'll play as the season wears on if the playoff push fans long for materializes.

"We haven't been very good, but we're better than we've shown," Gagner said of the expectations of improvement fans have for this edition of the team. "This year, people are optimistic about our future. We want to turn it around right now. That's our focus."

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 jeanshorts
February 07 2013, 08:17PM
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OHMYGOD I LOVE YOU SAM!!!!!! *Drowns in a puddle of his own hysterical tears*

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#2 Jamie B.
February 07 2013, 09:51PM
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That's my biggest annoyance with people who want to replace Sam Gagner: who do you replace him WITH? I agree a bigger, faster centre would be better for the team. Find me that guy and I'll personally drive Sam to the airport. Until then, what's the benefit in trading him? Y'all want to watch Yakupov play with Belanger?

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#3 ryan
February 07 2013, 09:52PM
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Always liked gagner and hope the oilers reward him with a reasonable 5 years deal. Smid and gagner both deserve some sense of security

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#4 michael
February 08 2013, 08:56AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Can't say for sure what this start means for Sam in terms of "the next step." I just know what I see now.

There are still lapses in Sam's game and he is benefiting from Hemsky's resurgence. Bottom line is he's producing.

Despite the early season numbers that Hall,Eberle and RNH have produced also has to factor into how good Gagne's numbers arecurrently. When the "top" line of the Oiler's begins to produce more regularly we'll see a significant decrease in the matchup that teams are currently presenting to Gagne,Hemsky, and Yakupov. I would suggest that once Eberle and Hall find their range that Gagne's numbers will continue to stay steady. He has the benefit of 2 top 6 wingers to be able sustain the numbers we are seeing now. The only question is when will Hall and Eberle and RNH find their game. Its been good.But it hasn't been clicking at 100% just yet.

As far as the fourth line goes. Couldn't care less if Belanger and Petrell get another point all season. The way elanger has played his role this year has been sufficient for me. Petrell. The guy gives you everything he has every game and does not take nights off. Is reliable,great on the PK. As seen the other night with Dallas.They moved the puck away from his point side to avoid letting him block the shot. Says something when the opposing team is making adjustments to one player on the PK. It will help the PK in the long run knowing that teams only have one point option when Petrell is on the ice if they see that he is abe to block shots that well.

3rd line. The return of Jones will be welcome. Nuff said.

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#5 The Towel Boy
February 07 2013, 08:33PM
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It's easy to forget how young he is still. God, what a baby he was when he made the team.

There's always room on my roster for Sam. I just like the kid.

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#6 Butters
February 08 2013, 08:30AM
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I think trading Gagner would be problematic. The Oilers would need a center back. Most teams who would want a second line center aren't likely to trade the Oilers their's, they would be looking to move a dman or winger.

They might trade center for center if their center is about to be a UFA and won't sign there.

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#7 Dennis
February 08 2013, 12:19PM
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@DSF

You do realize that people score goals because their team mates did some work prior to the puck going into the net, right? Very few unassisted goals happen. Someone needs to do some puck movement and passing to the goal scorer. Good grief. So what if he's not making the final pass. The puck needs to enter the zone to set up the play somehow. I doubt you'd be ripping on Whitney if he had 2nd assists. You'd just be happy he was doing something. Good god man, are you ever a positive person or are you always just going to look for something negative to say?

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#9 Butters
February 08 2013, 08:36AM
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Add to my commnet, the other teams second line center would likely not be as good as Gagner, which is why they would be willing to trade for him.

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#10 Mikey
February 08 2013, 08:41AM
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DSG wrote:

Points are great... But you only have to look to Gagner's left and right to see why he is putting up numbers... Add the fact that the line as a whole is a minus and it is not a good mix... Lots of bottom feeding teams have lines which score a lot but get scored on even more.

I am a firm believer that Gagner is at best a 2nd line WINGER in the NHL... and that would come on a bad team... Get the bigger center for Yak and Hemksy and watch him pile up the points with a better plus/minus

So being big automatically makes you good at D?

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#11 Dan the Man
February 08 2013, 11:39AM
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We should trade Sam Gagner for Simone Gagne, and then at least people would spell his name right.

Yes, I am talking to you "comment #33 michael" and "comment #5 DonDon".

He's been an Oiler for 5 years and he has a 6 letter last name.

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#12 Bucknuck
February 08 2013, 12:51PM
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@DSF

Love how you sneak Turris in there, who was taken before Sam.

Also, please look at the video of Yakupov's first goal as an Oiler and see who slipped the puck to him through a press of Bodies. It was #89. that is called a primary assist.

I implore you all to look at Yak's first goal and tell me it wasn't set up by Gagner. Quit making sh!t up, DSF.

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#13 charliedont
February 08 2013, 02:08AM
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Gagner has been on the ice for the majority of the Oilers goals AND the opponents goals. In the first couple games of the season, he was often right beside the opposing scorer with no intentions of lifting a stick. Whitney might be the whipping boy for now, by you can find Gagner doing a lot less on game film in the first 10 games (his line mates share in this problem).

When Sam takes a faceoff and loses it, he puts his team at risk at being scored on because of how defensively deft his line is.

I'm not saying I want to trade his 10 game point streak for anything, but if Edmonton is going to lose every game by one goal, this becomes fairly important. The game is hockey, NOT point-streak. Win some games.

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#14 Dennis
February 08 2013, 08:38AM
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Spydyr wrote:

When was the last time Sam blocked a shot?

Won a battle along the boards for a puck?

Had a faceoff percentage above 40%?

Sure he has the point streak .Lots of second assists.Hemsky is on fire and is the one making that line go.Not Sam.

He is not a playoff type centre.He just isn't.

If the goal is to win the Cup Sam will have to go before that time.Trade value is high.Wait till the off season and move him.

Actually, it's probably here in Willi's piece (the puck battles) and he's been a lot grittier than in years past. He's won several puck battles that he's not given credit for. Most notable when he dove for the puck and wacked at it while sprawled on the ice, and sent it to Yak, but hey people will complain no matter what.

http://oilersnation.com/2013/2/1/the-intersection-of-creativity-and-elbow-grease

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#15 j
February 08 2013, 08:43AM
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As noted many times over the years, it has been really hard to accurately judge the true value of any Oiler because the team has been so imbalanced. The exception being last few years/this year as we have seen the emergence of the fab 5. The team has had good talent but very little in terms of supporting cast/structure/synergy. I am a minor sympathizer for Gagner given his pedigree, efforts, age, and output - I think he is a player. Sadly, we haven't been able to capitalize on his (or others') talents. This is changing. Albeit slowly and painfully at times.

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#16 Rama Lama
February 08 2013, 09:21AM
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Leave Sam alone.......he is not the problem with the Oilers. Listen folks we are still rebuilding under Tamby's plan.........finish last and draft first plan.

His other plan is even better.......wait for great hockey players to fall out of the sky like JS.

I could think of at least 8 other players who should be moved ahead of Gagner. This kid has heart and is still learning the game. Getlazf however impressive is not the only solution ...........as this year's draft has some real centerman available.

Our problem is everyone that post here is smarter than Tamby.

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#17 Hair bag
February 08 2013, 11:46AM
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This is the first year Gagner has played with legitimate top 6 wingers - lets see what he can do for a full season. The kid was brought in way too early because of the lack of talent on the Oilers and his great year in jr and at the WJC. He is only 23 and has more experience than half the guys in the league because of the situation. And the #1 thing he has going for him is heart, #2 is loves being an Oiler - in my mind two intangibles that say keep him. The simple fact of the matter is that big physical centre that can put up points in this league are in short supply - even if you overpay it will be tough to find one. On another note, Detroit doesn't have a big physical pivot in their top two but they still have success due to a great cast of complimentary players that buy in - maybe this should be the focus instead of trying to find the Loch Ness Centerman that doesn't seem to be available out there...

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#18 Bucknuck
February 08 2013, 01:05PM
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@DSF

You said "Gagner does not have even ONE primary assist on the season." and that statement is false. Whether it is PP or not is irrelevant. It is a primary assist.

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#19 Bucknuck
February 08 2013, 01:23PM
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@DSF

You are really cherry picking.

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#20 Bucknuck
February 08 2013, 01:54PM
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DSF wrote:

Yeah, it's awful when the facts get in the way of a good story.

How about this fact. He's leading the Oilers in Scoring. He's tied for nineteenth in league scoring (and ninth amongst centres). That is the story as well.

If you want to quibble about even strength primary assists and ignore everything else then you are cherry picking.

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#21 James
February 08 2013, 02:19PM
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DSF wrote:

Some hockey league's don't award second assists.

And yet the best, and therefore most prominant and important league in the world does. Hmmmm.

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#22 Toro
February 07 2013, 08:17PM
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I like Gags , but I think we need a bigger two way center , I'd love too see Getzlaf become and Oiler , and I think if Gags isn't gonna be in the long term future of the team maybe this year is the year too deal him , I don't think his value in a trade has been this good since his rookie year. Jus sayin

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#23 DonDon
February 07 2013, 08:45PM
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Toro wrote:

I like Gags , but I think we need a bigger two way center , I'd love too see Getzlaf become and Oiler , and I think if Gags isn't gonna be in the long term future of the team maybe this year is the year too deal him , I don't think his value in a trade has been this good since his rookie year. Jus sayin

Pretty tough to argue with this statement.

The Oilers' situation at centre has gone from bad to worse. There has to be some lingering doubts about the career of Nuggent-Hopkins based on his recurring shoulder problems (bad omen). Both Horcoff and certainly Belanger are at the end of their productive careers. There is a big question mark about Lander's future in the NHL and little or no hope on the farm system. Presently, the one serviceable centre is Gagne.

So how does the club address its failure to produce NHL-calibre centres, a critical component to become a contender for the SC? By the draft? Too slow, considering their need for at least two NHL-calibre centres now. By acquiring free agents? A crap-shoot, expensive and probably short term. By trade? Probably the best route, but Tambellini's history doesn't offer much hope for success. But he does have some assets.

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#24 Poolanov
February 07 2013, 08:50PM
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Hey Robin, how do you feel about, when our centers return (or sooner), using Taylor Hall to take draws, yet slip over as a winger as the play commences. He seems to have a knack for it and it may lead to him playing full time center like his speed and skills dictate.

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#25 Shaun Doe
February 07 2013, 09:14PM
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Now I want to start this out letting you all know I am a Gagner fan and supporter. Now, having said that, Robin, do you think that Gagner's hot start might have something to do with the fact that he has been a second half performer for most of his NHL career? This is based on my own observations (having picked him three times for my hockey pools in the past) and mirrored by JG's 2011 article here: http://oilersnation.com/2011/3/8/sam-gagner-second-half-player/page/1

Just wondering if you think there is a connection or if we are witnessing Gagner taking "the next step"

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#28 Quicksilver ballet
February 07 2013, 09:51PM
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Sure like to see Hopkins spend some time between Hemsky and Yakupov. Edmonton needs to get Ryan kickstarted. I'm sure Gagner wouldn't mind spending some time between Hall and Eberle as well.

Too much focus is placed on who gets 1st/2nd/3rd line billing on a team with still this many holes in the lineup. On a competitive team there's no line that is unimportant.

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#29 Hayek
February 07 2013, 09:54PM
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Why not sell high if we can get an appropriate return? If you only ever trade guys at their low points, you are a horrible GM.

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#30 Bonvie
February 07 2013, 10:04PM
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Jamie B. wrote:

That's my biggest annoyance with people who want to replace Sam Gagner: who do you replace him WITH? I agree a bigger, faster centre would be better for the team. Find me that guy and I'll personally drive Sam to the airport. Until then, what's the benefit in trading him? Y'all want to watch Yakupov play with Belanger?

I really like Gagner myself, but if we need to trade him to bring size on the top six. I like Colin Wilson.

I wouldn't want to pay Getzlaf his big pay day. He seems like a guy that is going to get his cash and fade away into the sunset like Lecavalier. A guy like Colin Wilson would be a possible option, to give us size at center, and be more in the age group of the core players.

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#31 Sorry
February 07 2013, 11:27PM
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If we are rebuilding to something better then I say that a championship team needs a big centre if and when we can get a good one. Should have been last summer but I assume that none was available. If something comes our way in a trade and since Sam is not an untouchable then I hope they make the deal. It is a compliment that he can be traded to a team that needs a playmaker-shoot out guy and is willing to part with a big strong centre who is good at face-offs.

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#32 Bushed
February 07 2013, 11:57PM
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Sam's "lapses" seem to be magnified by other holes on this team; he strikes me as a good player (with some limitations) on the wrong roster. I can't help but compare him to Kane; both small skill players whose talents are primarily scoring. But Kane's so-so board work and D play are compensated for by the deeper, more balanced roster in Chi-town. (Also more size and grit.)

I think Sam will ultimately be moved because he will have value in a trade and because he will have had the bad luck to be the wrong small guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. With a different team he may cause angst for Oilers fans down the road, but if the Oil can get a good return it may turn out to be the best outcome for all?

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#33 Wanye
February 07 2013, 11:59PM
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Great piece!

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#34 Rob
February 08 2013, 12:08AM
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Sam is skating a little faster and his overall quickness seems to be sharper. He may also be benefiting from quality linemates. Neither Gagner nor Hemsky seem to involve Yakupov and he seems lost out there somewhat. As a center Gagner needs to learn to use both of his wingers more effectively.

However, I still see him gliding around or standing stockstill in front of the Oiler net watching opposition forwards knock pucks past the Dobber-meister. Sam is just a little too much of a spectator in his own end to suit me.

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#35 geoilersgist
February 08 2013, 12:17AM
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Gagner is playing lights out right now at the 'start' of the season. Imagine what he will do after the halfway point when he gets fired up fights and goes on a tear. I hear what people are saying sell high, but why?

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#36 DSG
February 08 2013, 05:57AM
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Points are great... But you only have to look to Gagner's left and right to see why he is putting up numbers... Add the fact that the line as a whole is a minus and it is not a good mix... Lots of bottom feeding teams have lines which score a lot but get scored on even more.

I am a firm believer that Gagner is at best a 2nd line WINGER in the NHL... and that would come on a bad team... Get the bigger center for Yak and Hemksy and watch him pile up the points with a better plus/minus

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#37 DSG
February 08 2013, 05:58AM
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@charliedont

"The game is hockey, NOT point-streak. Win some games."

Amen....

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#38 Walter Sobchak
February 08 2013, 06:39AM
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I’m completely indifferent on Gagner, I do however find it funny for those that say Gagner size would get exposed in the playoffs…………………How would they know the answer to that?

Meanwhile, if the Oiler’s continue to play this way we can get a shiny brand new center from this year’s draft………….so far looks to be a real good one too.

At any rate the Oilers have/had much bigger issues then Gagner. I suspect when the Oilers get Weber and Clowe here next year players like Gagner can run wild like the pent up stallions they are!

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#39 yawto
February 08 2013, 07:32AM
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Would a package of gagner, omark and a pick get you getzlaf? Aren't getz and ebs friends as well?

As far as trading Sam, if the return isn't someone getzlaf like I'm not interested.

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#40 Spydyr
February 08 2013, 08:10AM
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When was the last time Sam blocked a shot?

Won a battle along the boards for a puck?

Had a faceoff percentage above 40%?

Sure he has the point streak .Lots of second assists.Hemsky is on fire and is the one making that line go.Not Sam.

He is not a playoff type centre.He just isn't.

If the goal is to win the Cup Sam will have to go before that time.Trade value is high.Wait till the off season and move him.

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#41 Spydyr
February 08 2013, 08:21AM
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yawto wrote:

Would a package of gagner, omark and a pick get you getzlaf? Aren't getz and ebs friends as well?

As far as trading Sam, if the return isn't someone getzlaf like I'm not interested.

Getzlaf is UFA this summer that is a massive over pay.

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#42 bdiddy18
February 08 2013, 08:49AM
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trade the little centre at his peak for two big centres... i kid...sorta

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#43 Butters
February 08 2013, 09:01AM
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@michael

Well said, if I wasn't to lazy to sign-in i would prop that comment.

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#44 andrewmk20
February 08 2013, 09:38AM
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Wow an article standing up for Gagner. I think now that he's starting to get older and mature into his body he's looked much stronger and quicker this season. He's not getting knocked off the puck as much anymore and he's actually doing a good job winning puck battles and keeping the play alive, and those were probably the two weakest areas of his game in the previous 5 seasons. Also this year he's finishing his checks and being much more diligent in the 200ft game. No he's not perfect but I don't know why everyone's touting Getzlaf. Yes he's a better playmaker but he's not particularly physical and he's not a good faceoff man. I think he's consistently around the 49-50% mark. Also he's not always motivated and at times is sleepy out on the ice. I can only shudder at how Oiler fans would eat him alive if he actually signed here for say 6-7 million per year and played that style. Much like Gilbert, Poti, and Arnott he'd become Edmonton's whipping boy. Believe me I was a big Arnott fan back in the 90's and his +/- was criticized as well as his lack of attention/focus/drive in his game. Not a great idea. Honestly the production from their top two units is pretty good. I'd prefer the Oilers amnesty Smyth and Horcoff and reshape the bottom 6 to give this team more balance and allow them to potentially tweak each of their lines to give some skill and jam on each line.

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#45 Bonvie
February 08 2013, 10:44AM
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yawto wrote:

Would a package of gagner, omark and a pick get you getzlaf? Aren't getz and ebs friends as well?

As far as trading Sam, if the return isn't someone getzlaf like I'm not interested.

When you say like getzlaf you mean a UFA who will be looking for a Parise like contract, and the oilers can have a chance to be saddled with that huge contract for the next 10 years.

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#46 Rogue
February 08 2013, 11:15AM
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Robin

My solution, in a perfect world, would be to have 2 big centers on the 3rd and 4th lines, if you have Gags and Nuge here. To solve the "soft" issue of the top 6, you get 2 wingers for the top 2 lines who are up to the physical task AND can contribute offensively.

Like I said, perfect world.

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#47 Quicksilver ballet
February 08 2013, 11:21AM
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DSG wrote:

"The game is hockey, NOT point-streak. Win some games."

Amen....

Quoted for truth.

Individual success 5v5,5v4, it's just a bunch of bullship. Its the W that counts.

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#48 DSF
February 08 2013, 12:12PM
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Let's look at some other centres that were either drafted lower or after Gagner.

Conacher - undrafted - 5G 7A 12P

Tavares - 1st round - 5G 7A 12P

Couture - 1st round - 6G 5A 11P

*Gagner* - 1st round - 3G 8A 11P

Hodgson - 1st round 5G 5A 10P

Skinner - 1st round 5G 5A 10P

Turris - 1st round 4G 6A 10P

Ennis - 1st round - 4G 5A 9P

Kadri - 1st round - 3G 6A 9P

Duchene - 1st round - 2G 7A 9P

Now, P/60 5V5:

Galchenyuk - 4.22

Duchene 3.58

Hodgson - 3.46

Kadri - 3.41

Couture - 3.19

Henrique - 2.93

Etem (small sample size) -2.73

Hanzal - 2.65

Tavares - 2.50

Gagner 2.37

Skinner - 2.36

Of all those players above Gagner is far and away the leader in second assists/60 at 1.42

So, while Sam continues to rack up points, the bulk of those points are second assists.

Gagner does not have even ONE primary assist on the season.

He's riding Hemsky's coat tails.

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#49 DSG
February 08 2013, 12:15PM
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@Mikey

"So being big automatically makes you good at D?"

Nobody said getting a bigger center was going to be easy... But if Gagner is all that he is cracked up to be and the rest of the NHL is happy to add them to their squad, hopefully in the near future we can package him up for a C that we need... Again my belief is all these points are a mirage and Gagner is the equivalent of a slighty better Cogliano; who we traded way too late to extract any value.

The guy you want is Sean Courtier. Am I saying you are ever going to get him... No... but you want to design your team a certain way and pick your spots when they come... I am just saying work on fixing it.

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#50 Bucknuck
February 08 2013, 12:33PM
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Spydyr wrote:

When was the last time Sam blocked a shot?

Won a battle along the boards for a puck?

Had a faceoff percentage above 40%?

Sure he has the point streak .Lots of second assists.Hemsky is on fire and is the one making that line go.Not Sam.

He is not a playoff type centre.He just isn't.

If the goal is to win the Cup Sam will have to go before that time.Trade value is high.Wait till the off season and move him.

He had a faceoff percentage of 47.6 last year, taking 701 faceoffs. He's had a bad start to that this year, though.

He does win battles on the boards and I have seen him block shots, though not as much as a warrior like Petrell (love that guy).

He's made some sweet passes that resulted in goals this year, and I believe one was a point shot by him that was tipped (EDIT - I was confusing the Fistric point shot that Sam tipped in). Not to mention his three goals. The observation that he has mostly second assists is asinine.

We have no kind of idea what kind of playoff performer type he is. I see him in front of the net taking punishment and I can't help but think we haven't seen all that he can do. His weight has been increasing as he adds muscle. He's at 199 lbs this year, which isn't bad for a guy of his height.

Having said all of that, IF they are thinking of moving him, then now is the time, when his value is highest. Don't wait for him to slump and then move him. They just better get someone terrific in exchange, because Sam is a damn good hockey player, and at his age he will only get better.

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