Can the Edmonton Oilers afford to trade Sam Gagner? Can they afford not to?

Jonathan Willis
March 18 2014 10:13AM

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There is no more controversial player in Edmonton than Sam Gagner. The payoff for the difficult 2006-07 season, the still-young forward was supposed to be a primary piece for the Oilers to build around at centre. Instead, nearly 500 games into his NHL career, he continues to struggle.

What should Edmonton do with him?

The Case for Moving

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The argument for moving Gagner is that he isn’t a two-way hockey player.

Scoring isn’t really Gagner’s problem. He hasn’t lit the world on fire but he’s been posting very respectable second-line point totals since day one. On a team with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, that’s good enough (or should be eventually), even if it isn’t what the Oilers had in mind when they picked him sixth overall.

Gagner isn’t big, but that isn’t really a primary problem either. History is full of teams that have won Stanley Cups with centres roughly the size of Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner (fun fact for the ‘every team needs size down the middle!’ people: of the 10 centres to play on the Cup winners from Detroit (2008) and Boston (2011), not even one of them was listed at over 200 pounds). There are plenty of ways to win hockey games, and having a bunch of 6’4” guys who can play pivot is one of them, but not the only one.

What every Stanley Cup winner has in common is good players. And while Gagner is certainly an NHL player, it’s fair to wonder if he’s really the guy a team wants in the No. 2 pivot slot. Chicago won with Martin Hanzal (edit: Michal Handzus) there last season, but very few teams can insulate their No. 2 centre with Jonathan Toews in the No. 1 role and people like Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the wings.

Watch Gagner on this goal against from Edmonton’s last game in Carolina:

Justin Schultz grabs the puck at the blue line and jumps up ice. Gagner’s in the middle of the zone, behind the pinching Schultz and his two wingers, and sees it all happen. At about the two second mark, he’s at the far left of the screen about halfway up, watching a battle on the side boards. There’s a Carolina player just above and to the right of him. A good centre knows that, knows that Schultz (smartly) pinched, and covers for the defenceman. Gagner wanders past the Hurricanes forward and suddenly there’s a two-on-one, and eventually a goal against.

Every player makes mistakes, and thus any player can be made to look terrible on video. But from what I’ve seen, this is a mistake typical of Gagner. He doesn’t have the defensive commitment a centre needs. He cheats for offence.

The Case Against Moving

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The argument against moving Gagner is equally simple. It’s a stupid idea from an asset management perspective to trade players during low ebbs in value.

The following are Gagner’s totals (projected over 82 games) for the last five seasons:

Season  G A PTS +/-
2009-10 18 31 49 -10
2010-11 18 33 51 -21
2011-12 20 31 51 5
2012-13 24 41 65 -10
2013-14 10  36 46 -31

Gagner is at a low ebb in goal-scoring, a low ebb in point-scoring and a particularly low ebb in plus/minus. I think that in this case the basic statistics reflect reality. He started the year injured, he came back and was brutal, and while he’s improved a little bit lately he simply hasn’t been the Gagner of past seasons.

If the Oilers had traded Gagner two years ago, they likely would have had a better return. Ditto for last season. This year? We’re talking about the Oilers retaining salary and getting back Kyle Clifford.

Bad NHL teams typically bleed talent. One of the reasons is because bad teams generally have managers who make bad decisions, but there’s more to it than that. Bad teams are under more pressure than good teams to move players in off years, because they need everyone performing at a top level just to get within visual range of respectability. Bad teams tend not to have a support system, so when the bottom falls out on a player it really falls out.

Moving Gagner right now will see the Oilers get a 50 cents on the dollar return.

What Should Edmonton Do?

Craig MacTavish10

We are in a situation where the team has competing interests. It needs to get better in the No. 2 centre slot, which means trading Gagner away. But it also needs to get full value (or as close to it as possible) to improve the roster, which means retaining Gagner.

There are all kinds of real world problems here (is Gagner pushing for a trade, which free agents will consider Edmonton, what does the trade market look like) but in theory I think there’s an obvious two-step best course here:

  • 1. Add a replacement for Gagner to the roster.
  • 2. Keep Gagner until his trade value rebounds.

Let’s call Gagner’s replacement “Brandon Dubinsky” (we’re picking on Columbus here because they have Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner and Artem Anisimov and because virtually any of their four good centres would be a nice fit for the Oilers – but the general idea is just to add a player-type, not a specific player). If the Oilers add “Dubinsky” in the off-season without off-loading Gagner, they could start next year by putting him at centre on the third line and bumping Boyd Gordon down into the role of fourth-line defensive specialist (it’s the role Manny Malhotra played in Vancouver).

That puts Nugent-Hopkins’ line in the power-vs.-power role, the “Dubinsky” line in a secondary tough minutes role, the Gordon line in a defensive zone role, and leaves all kinds of soft minutes for the Gagner line. In that situation, it’s pretty conceivable that Gagner recovers offensively and his trade value increases dramatically, at which point Edmonton’s free to deal him for something else and bump “Dubinsky” into a more offensive role.

As we said, there are real-world considerations that might make this scenario an impossibility. But if possible, I think it’s the best route forward for Edmonton.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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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#151 oilerjed
March 18 2014, 01:54PM
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** wrote:

Well there is talk of Bogdan Yakimov coming over this summer. He's Yakupov's homie, plays center, is a massive human being at 6'5, 210 pounds and did some scoring on depth minutes in the KHL this season (7 goals and 12 points in 33 games). It would be interesting to see him at training camp.

On a side note, keeping with JW's awful recommendations, he suggested to trade for David Clarkson back in December:

http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2013/12/14/should-the-edmonton-oilers-trade-for-toronto-maple-leafs-forward-david-clarkson/

These are Clarkson's numbers so far: 47 games, 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points, plus/minus -7, $5,250,000 cap hit until 2020.

So, there's that.

Thanks for that. My next question was about Yakimov. How ready is he?

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#152 gcw_rocks
March 18 2014, 01:54PM
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I think you want to put the money into the defence, not the fourth line.

Bring in Kulimen, Moss, or Winnik to work with Gordon and Hendricks on the third line. Let them do the heavy lifting. Give hall, RNH and Eberle second toughs and give Perron, Gagner's replacement and Yakupov softer minutes.

Spend the money on defence. Your whole fourth line should not cost more than $3m. Dropping Gordon and Hendricks to the fourth line is cap suicide.

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#153 Casey
March 18 2014, 02:07PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Why are people so hard for Draisaitl. Ya he is big and talented, but I just got a bad feeling that says bust. I still think if we go with a center it has to be one of the sams. Pick the best player not the biggest.

I agree BUT 105 points in 64 games does not say bust at all. Still though I would prefer Sam Bennett over Draisatl. 91 points in 57 games is a good resume BUT add that with his 118 penalty mintues

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#154 Tikkanese
March 18 2014, 03:23PM
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** wrote:

That is your interpretation, and I don't appreciate it when someone puts words in my mouth (or my fingers, for some overly grammar junkies).

Then don't claim I said the Oilers should keep Gagner on the "What if" scenario.

When I clearly asked the question "What if Gagner suddenly learns to play two-ways? Do you still trade him?"

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#155 Maggie the Monkey
March 18 2014, 03:40PM
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** wrote:

I never liked Clarkson, and I am the one you're replying to. And you giving credence to the people running a team 8 years out of the playoffs, hmmm.... I know you can make a better argument than that. I can assure you Mac. T. is praying hail marys every night thanking the heavens Clarkson didn't sign here. Pretty much what you are predicting for Hendricks is what is happening to Clarkson right now. IF you are talking about khabibulin then I'm confused as to what your point is.

I'm going to release my inner "Steve Smith":

I don't think giving credence means what you think it means.

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#156 Tikkanese
March 18 2014, 04:22PM
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** wrote:

You are asking "What if?", I am not claiming anything, that's what you wrote. The only way to answer your what if is for the Oilers to decide not to trade Gagner and let him play here next season. Unless you are asking what if Gagner learns to play two-ways in the 13 games left in the season. IF that's the case then good luck with that.

Did you even read the article or my statement? It appears that you have not.

I said I agree with JW that unless there is a decent underperformer for underperformer trade out there that selling low on Gagner this summer would be a bad idea and to keep him until his value rises. While also asking "what if" he suddenly develops a two-way game, do we still want to trade him?

It was hardly rocket science jargon that I was using.

Your insitance on trading Gagner for whatever to dump his salary or whatever reason just continues to subscribe to the sell low/buy high philosophy.

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#157 Maggie the Monkey
March 18 2014, 04:48PM
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** wrote:

Nice try, points for originality, sadly, in the words of Inigo Montoya:

"I don't think it means what you think it means"

Here:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/credence

"b : credibility 1 "

My work here is done. Another bites the dust. I like this game.

My previous comment was perhaps a bit too obscure. Although I love The Princess Bride, it was not the reference to which I was pointing. "Steve Smith" is a treasured yet infrequent commenter on LT's site who stopped posting here ages ago. (I think he lost one of those poisoned drink challenges where his opponent had built up immunity.)

The reference to him and one of his jokes was not meant as an insult, and if you must consider it as a challenge, then this is my formal letter accepting defeat.

Your happy monkey,

Maggie

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#158 fasteddy
March 18 2014, 05:10PM
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FuManShu wrote:

Did you happen to see Draisaitl at the WJC? If you're basing your viewings on that, remember the supporting cast he had around him compared to Ekblad or Reinhart.

Just saying.

No, just in WHL games. He looks like a shinny player; flashy against inferior competition. Im worried that won't fly against the big boys. Virtanen looks much more like a pro than Draisaitl too..... (and while we're on the subject, if Greg Chase plays one game for the Oilers I'll stop admiring soccer moms!)

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#159 TKB2677
March 19 2014, 08:35AM
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I live in Red Deer and watched the Rebels - Raiders play in game so I got to watch Draisaitl in person. Wow that kid is big. He's listed at 6'1, 208lbs. He's every bit of that and more. When he took the puck to the net, he took it to the net, there was no stopping him. When he wanted to shield the puck, he did it with no trouble.

I got into a debate with someone yesterday in here about Gagner not being that small and apparently he's 202lbs. I'd like to see Gagner and this kid stand side by side. Apparently Gagner is only 6lbs lighter than Draisaitl. Apparently 6lbs must make a gigantic difference because he would tower over Gagner both in height and width. Granted this is junior but there is no chance in hell Gagner can take the puck to the net like this kid will be able to do or shield guys off the puck like this kid can do with his size.

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#160 Manfly
March 19 2014, 10:44AM
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^i really want the Oilers to take this kid if they lose out on the Ekblad sweepstakes!

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#161 Tikkanese
March 19 2014, 11:45AM
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TKB2677 wrote:

I live in Red Deer and watched the Rebels - Raiders play in game so I got to watch Draisaitl in person. Wow that kid is big. He's listed at 6'1, 208lbs. He's every bit of that and more. When he took the puck to the net, he took it to the net, there was no stopping him. When he wanted to shield the puck, he did it with no trouble.

I got into a debate with someone yesterday in here about Gagner not being that small and apparently he's 202lbs. I'd like to see Gagner and this kid stand side by side. Apparently Gagner is only 6lbs lighter than Draisaitl. Apparently 6lbs must make a gigantic difference because he would tower over Gagner both in height and width. Granted this is junior but there is no chance in hell Gagner can take the puck to the net like this kid will be able to do or shield guys off the puck like this kid can do with his size.

Maybe the bulk of Gagner's weight is in his legs. Bure & Forsberg were all like that.

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#162 TKB2677
March 19 2014, 04:00PM
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@Tikkanese

Gagner must have one hell of a big set of legs and ass because even if you look at the first picture for this article - Gagner lined up vs Toews. According to the numbers Gagner weighs 202, Toews is 208. You telling me Gagner is only 6 lbs lighter than Toews? Look at how much wider Toews back looks compared to Gagner. 6lbs difference doesn't do that. 15 lbs difference does.

I could easily be wrong and Gagner is 202 but where he puts it I have no clue. That picture doesn't lie.

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