Does Brule signing impact Cogliano and Gagner?

EDMONTON, AB - SEPTEMBER 30:  Known as the kid line, are Robert Nilsson #12, Sam Gagner #89 and Andrew Cogliano #13 of the Edmonton Oilers skate in a game against the Calgary Flames in the third period during a preseason NHL game on September 30, 2008 at Rexall Arena in Edmonton, Canada. Calgary beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-0. (Photo by Jimmy Jeong/Getty Images)

Gilbert Brule avoided arbitration and signed a tidy two-year, $3.7 million deal with the Oilers on Tuesday. With Brule under contract that leaves Jeff Deslauriers, who will sign before his August 4th arbitration hearing, Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner as the only remaining RFAs without a contract.

Some wonder how, or if, Brule’s contract will impact the term and salary Cogliano and Gagner receive. It could have an impact, but I don’t think it is as cut and dry as some suggest.

Many have stated that there is no way Andrew Cogliano deserves, or receives, more than $1.2 million. He doesn’t have arbitration rights, but he is only four years from becoming an UFA.

It is amazing how short our memories are and how much perception can blur reality.

Brule tallied 17 goals and 20 assists last year and most think his $1.85 million/season is a fair contract. Cogliano had a career-low ten goals and 28 points last year and now many think he is automatically less of a player than Brule.

Why is this? I’m guessing because Brule is coming off a career-high and Cogliano a career-low in points.

In Cogliano’s first two years he tallied 18-27-45 and 18-19-37, both better numbers than Brule’s career high. ***Please don’t inform me that had Brule played 82 games his totals would have been 21-25-46, because those are only projections, not facts. No one call tell me with certainty Gagner would have produced at that level.***

So Cogliano has had two better seasons than Brule, yet he isn’t worth as much?

Would it be fair to suggest that Cogliano had an off-year possibly? Did all the trade talks affect him? (Yes, because he admitted they did). Like the “over 82 games” argument there is basis for an argument, but regardless of the situation Cogliano didn’t produce like he did in his first two seasons.

But will one down year impact his salary demands more than one good year for Brule impacted his?

I think it will, regardless of whether that is fair or correct, but that doesn’t mean it should.

Hockey and sports in general function with a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately scenario in most cases. Brule comes of a career-high and the organization feels he is on the upswing, while Cogliano sets a career-low and many wonder if he will ever be a top-six forward.

I’ve watched both players, and while I like Brule’s overall game better, Cogliano could easily morph into a 20-25 goal man in the right situation. The big question is if that situation is here with the Oilers?

Last year Cogliano improved, and I use that term loosely, to 43% in the faceoff dot. It’s still well below average, but it was a 6% improvement over his 2nd season, so it was progress. If he becomes 47% in the dot can he be an asset? What if splits some of the faceoff duties with a winger, (Penner, Brule or even Hall) would that be feasible.

I still think it is too early to write off Cogliano just yet. If you want to write him off because the Oilers have too many small forwards, I’ll listen, and agree with that argument, but I don’t think you can guarantee his skill as just being a 35-point player. And trading Cogliano right now would likely garner below market value.

Remember that Robert Nilsson got $2 million/season after a career-high 41 points in 2008. I’m not suggesting the Oilers repeat their stupidity and give Cogliano something similar, but I could easily see Cogliano in the $1.5-$1.8 million range.

Does Gagner deserve $500,000 more?

Sam Gagner has yet to match his rookie season of 13 goals and 49 points, but he has been relatively close. Back-to-back 41 point seasons give him three more productive seasons that Brule, but he has never scored as many goals as Brule’s 17.

Growing up we were always told goals and assists are equal, but a 75-point forward with 40 goals is normally deemed more valuable than a 30-goal forward with 75 points. Sure there are exceptions, Joe Thornton and Peter Forsberg, but even with a Hart Trophy how many of you felt Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were better and made more of an impact than Henrik Sedin last season?

Without looking at the stats, who do you think was a better player last year, Steven Stamkos or Marty St.Louis? Stamkos had 51 goals to St.Louis’ 29, but Stamkos only had one more point.

How many times have people suggested Gretzky isn’t the best goal-scorer of all-time, despite having the most goals, strictly because he was regarded as such a great passer.

I still feel the ability to score goals is harder than the ability to be a great playmaker. They are vastly different, but I would argue a good play maker needs a finisher more than a finisher needs a set up guy. When you pass the puck you have to rely on the other guy to beat the goalie. You can go end-to-end and score without the help of a teammate. You can register and unassisted goal, but you can’t register and “ungoaled” assist. And while landing a saucer pass over a stick or through skates is a great gift, it doesn’t compare to beating a goalie with over-sized equipment.

But I digress.

To date Gagner has produced more than Brule, but I’m not sold that he will be that much of a better player. Gagner will get a better shot to succeed because the Oilers have more depth on the wing than at centre right now.

There are concerns over what Gagner’s production will look like in the coming years. He has yet to improve on his rookie season, and some argue he has regressed. Gagner had a productive rookie season, but I don’t think he has worked hard enough on his foot speed and overall strength and that’s why we’ve seen a slight decline in his production.

Brule skates better and possesses a harder and more accurate shot. Most importantly, he admitted on my show yesterday, “that he finally knows what it takes to succeed in the NHL.” That is major battle for young players, and once it clicks many of them become more confident and more productive.

Up until now the organization has wanted Gagner to succeed, and he has been given more opportunity than Cogliano or Brule. If that trend continues then he should produce more than Brule, and I suspect with the additions of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Pääjärvi that won’t change. He is the centre of the future, while Brule will most likely play the wing and battle for ice-time with those three.

That being said, if the Oilers could lock Gagner up at two years for $2.5 million/season, I suspect they’d rather do that than give him a one-year/$2 million deal. Next year he would have arbitration rights, and if he blossoms into a 60-point player then they’d have to buck up more than $3 million.

They could give him a three year deal, but then Eberle, Hall, Pääjärvi and Gagner would all need a contract in the summer of 2013. That could be a financial disaster.

The Oilers have stated all summer that they are determined to develop their young players, and Gagner is still very young. He’s only nine months older than Jordan Eberle, but with three more years of NHL experience. Why do some fans want to toss him to the side, when it’s been proven many offensive players take closer to four or five years before they become consistently productive.

I find it laughable when some suggest he will “only” become a number two centre. If he is only a number two what’s wrong with that? Only the true elite players become legitimate #1 centremen. The last two years have been a bit of a disappointment for Gagner, but history shows it is too early to accurately determine how productive Gagner will become in the next five to seven seasons.  There are too many intangibles at play; new coach, new teammates, injuries, attitude, opportunity, mental toughness and maturity, to decipher if he will blossom into an offensive force.

Cogliano’s value is hard to determine at this point and Gagner’s is even more of a mystery.

  • @ Max Powers

    Re: Arbitration

    It is not an either/or situation. Here are the required elements in an arbitration decision:

    From the CBA S12.9(n)(ii)

    (ii) The decision of the Salary Arbitrator shall establish:

    (A) the term of the SPC, based upon the Player’s or Club’s election of a one or two year SPC, as set forth in its brief and as consistent with this Article;

    (B) the Paragraph 1 NHL Salary to be paid to the Player by the Club for the season(s) in respect to which the arbitration is conducted;

    (C) the inclusion or otherwise of a Minor League clause (or clauses) and the amount of Paragraph 1 Minor League Salary to be paid under each of the season(s) in respect to which the arbitration is requested;

    (D) a brief statement of the reasons for the decision, including identification of any comparable(s) relied on.