I tracked down Sam Gagner at Perry Pearn’s 3-on-3 camp, two days after he signed a two-year, $4.55 million deal with the Oilers, and his appearance and attitude were noticeable different.

Gagner turned 21 on August 10th, and celebrated with a trip to Vegas with some buddies and their fathers, so it is fitting that Gagner showed up in Edmonton looking more mature. Gagner trimmed his hair and shed a few pounds in the off-season, and if looks mean anything he should get off to a better start this season.

“I feel like it was a good summer. I’ve always been taught if you put in the work you’ll be rewarded and I feel I worked really hard this summer and I can gain confidence from that.” After Dave Mitchell from CTV got the lowdown on Gagner’s barber of choice amongst other things, I had a chance to find out why Gagner feels less will equate to more this season.

JG: You mentioned your focus was to lose some weight this off-season. You didn’t seem big last year, so was it a matter of putting it (weight) in the right places or lowering your body fat percentage?

GAGNER: My body fat was always low, it’s just that when you look at me in my equipment I don’t look that big, but I’ve always had bigger legs and been a little bigger everywhere. I think the biggest thing for me is I came into the league at 190 pounds and I want to get back to that. Everyone is telling you as an 18-year-old kid that you have to put on weight and get bigger, stronger. It’s true you have to get stronger, but I don’t think it can compromise your speed either. I’m not a guy who goes out there, runs around and tries to take people’s heads off, so an extra five pounds only hinders me. I tried to drop a little (weight) and I feel good out there and from there it is more mental than anything, so I just need to be in the right mental mind set and go from there.

JG: What elements of your game did you work on specifically this summer?

GAGNER: I obviously want to continue to get more well-rounded, but at the same time I’m an offensive guy and I need to find a way to break out offensively. I worked on my shot a lot this summer to improve that. I put in a shooting pad in my backyard and I was just working on my shot all the time. That is an element of my game that I felt I needed to improve at, but I’m still a passer. When I was younger I had one goal for every three assists, it is just the way my mindset is, as I’m looking to make my linemates better. If I can shoot and have that as a weapon it gives you more space, and more time to look for plays, and I have to be able to get that shot off.

JG: Have you worked on your faceoffs, and if so what did you do specifically?

GAGNER: It’s hard to work on faceoffs specifically, other than gaining strength, and I tried to do that this year. When I skate with my Dad throughout the summer I work on those types of things, the little facets of the game that help you be more successful. Obviously I want to be a guy that plays in all situations, who is looked at by his teammates that can go out in any situation and get the job done. I’m always prided myself on doing that in junior and I want to take that step at this level. It’s an exciting opportunity to fill new roles (faceoffs) and for me I have to work hard be sharp in the small areas and things will work out.

Gagner looks more fit in his face, having lost the baby fat under his chin, and he looked quicker on the ice. There will be lots of focus on Taylor Hall, MPS and Jordan Eberle when camp opens, but Gagner can’t be overlooked.

If first appearances mean anything, Gagner looks determined to take that next step in his offensive growth and become a bonafide two-six forward. If he accomplishes that it should take some of the pressure off his younger first-round-pick teammates and Gagner could become a 60-point player for the first time in his career.

  • PabstBR55

    “Obviously I want to be a guy that plays in all situations, who is looked at by his teammates that can go out in any situation and get the job done”

    Young leaders. Priceless.

    Nice interview, Gregor.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    All i can say is that this season cant come quick enough!!! Being out here in Vancouver and still a die hard OILERS fan has its draw backs. It’ll be exciting to see the young guns play! GOOD read! Cheers!

  • Dyckster

    He can probably live with the 30 days, ~but the $250 fine is going to hurt him financially.~ That’s GOT to be one tank of Premium fuel in the Ferrari…

  • Jamie B.

    I expect the comment section is about to be taken over by Khabibulin talk unless a new article’s put up, but nice interview, thanks, Gregor. Good to see so many guys back in town already. Let’s get this season going!!

  • A more physically mature Gagner who wants to take a leadership role. I like it. The guy is about to play his 4th NHL season and is only a year older than Eberle. Somehow that seems lost on a lot of people. I hope he has a great season.

    • The signs of increased leadership were there at the end of last season…

      I think we’re looking at our captain to be in the very near future.

      I hope he has a great season too….need the coaching staff to stick with him even if there are struggle times.

      Go Sam…

      • Blue Blooded

        Agreed… sounds like like Sam could do well with the “C”. He even proved his character to Quinn; giving Conroy a run for his money in a fight and pulling himself off the fourth line in the 1st couple weeks last season. Go Samwise!

    • Chris.

      That’s the differnce between a 6th overall pick and a 22nd overall pick.

      I kinda felt that Gagner was rushed into the NHL a bit… but probably only by a single season.

      I wonder if the Oiler managements philosophical shift toward signing and drafting tougher bigger players gave Sam the mental freedom to focus on his offensive game: get fast, lose weight, and stop worrying about contributing to team toughness. Maybe a little?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    holy crap are his feet touching the floor?

    what the hell’s with the big furniture?too funny

    looks like he’s waiting his turn at the brothel!

  • Grumpy OM

    I am glad to see Sam has a good attitude and is looking forward to getting the ball rolling. I hope Cogs get his deal done soon, so we are all set. One word of advice Sam, when you score a goal , look like you have done it before. Save the big celebrations for the real important ones.

  • Jason Gregor

    I so like the maturity of Samwise If he and Penner really rock and Hemmer stays healthy it will be entertaining to say the least. I was surprised as well at the loose weight statement but bigger is not always better as person can be stronger but not bigger. Working on the shot is always a good thing as it will open up the Ice for him. I really do not understand the face off thing Is strength really all there is to winning face offs? I though knowing your opponents tendency’s and weaknesses as will as hand eye coordination would all help. Seams like an over simplistic answer to me.

  • I’m reading the breakdown of the new Kovalchuk deal on Sportsnet, and if the numbers are accurate then it seems fishy. When Kovalchuk is 38, 39, and 40 he will make 1 million a season, then it jumps up so that he makes 3 and 4 million when he’s 41 and 42.

    It looks like the Devils and Ilya were told that more money needed to spread out in the final years, but there is no way that they expect anyone to buy the argument that Kovalchuk will play through 3 million dollar seasons to play for 3 and 4 at the age of 41 and 42.

    • Then why doesn’t Gary Bettman just sign everyone’s contracts?

      Kovalchuk’s new deal takes himto age 42, just like Marian Hossa.

      Kovalchuk’s last 3 years has an average salary of 2.6M… that is higher than Roberto Luongo’s last 3 years (1.2M), Hossa’s last 3 years (1M), Marc Savard’s (850k), Johan Franzen’s (1.333M), Henrik Zetterberg’s (1.783M).

      Kovalchuk’s final season is at 4M… Luongo’s – 1M, Hossa’s – 1M, Savard – 525k, Franzen – 1M, Zetterberg – 1M.

      Seems to me some people have a bone to pick with Kovalchuk specifically. Why? Because he turned down 101M in the black-hole known as Atlanta? So what!

      Bottom line: if Kovalchuk retires early, he’s now leaving significant money on the table (especially in comparison to the rejected 1st deal & to the other guys mentioned).

      FFS, approve the damn deal already and if they want, make amendments to keep this from happening in the future at a later date… like 2012.

      • All I’m saying is that it doesnt look right. When Hossa is 39-42 he’s earning 1 million a season, but that’s actually in line with what players that age should be making. Players generally dont go through 3 seasons late in their career where they are valued at 1 million and then rocket up at the age of 41 and 42. The two contracts arent really that similar.

        My only bone to pick with Kovalchuk is that he doesnt want to even pretend to follow the same rules as everyone else. I hope that I didnt lose a year of hockey for nothing. That’s all.

        • Having the $1M salaries at the end is even worse though and more fishy. Those bring down the cap hit a fair margin (although, of course having those a few years back doesn’t help either) in addition to give the player very little incentive to finish out the entirety of the contract.

          At least with Kovalchuk’s deal, he’ll be leaving some big coin on the table if he retires early. And really that’s the big concern by the league… that a team will just lower the cap hit intentionally with low tail end salary and with the player fully intending to retire before that period.

          With this current structure, I wouldn’t say it’s clear when Kovalchuk would retire.. he might stick out the entirety of that deal to earn a decent pay. I can’t see him retiring at 37, but I guess you never know.

          At any rate, Hossa’s contract is definitely more suspicious.

          Personally I think the league has it all wrong.. there must be another league they can learn from (how does the NFL do it?).

          • See, I think that the fact the Hossa contract goes to 42 is fishy, but the salary at that time makes more sense to me than Kovalchuk’s.

            If it was up to me then any contract over 5 years long would have to have the money distributed evenly across the board, like the DiPietro contract.

          • Personally I agree.. I wish the cap was even across the board exactly like you said.

            But I think it’s a bit of a moot point to say whether the salary makes more sense to pay a veteran a cheaper amount in the twilight years of the deal. Really, the only reason they’re doing that is to lower the entire cap hit, not because they think he’s worth $1M at age 40-42, unfortunately.

            Really you can’t have it both ways where you have a balanced, fair contract, and one that pays a guy fair value. The NHL has to figure out a better way of doing things.

            I had an idea earlier for having cap hit recalcuated for years before 35 and years after 35. And perhaps in the 35+ years, you could even change things around so that cap hit is based purely on salary. So for up to 34 years of age and when a player is more likely to live up to value, you’d have a pretty significant cap hit, but as the player got into that territory where they weren’t likely quite as valuable, their cap hit would probably come down to a more reasonable level.

            It might sound complicated, but I think it would be pretty easy to do. All you need to know is from age the “average cap calculation” of today’s cap only counts for years pre-35 years old, and after that your cap hit is based on salary. So at this point it doesn’t really give anyone advantage to front load a contract, since most players are going to stick around til 35.

          • I like that idea. Whatever they come up with, it’s clear that something needs to be done to keep this from happening. Otherwise the league is right back to where it started pre-lockout. It sure doesnt help out the have-nots of the league to see the haves shell out 10+ million dollars a year to a guy that only has a 6 million dollar Cap hit.

          • PabstBR55

            I think the DiPietro contract was the worst contract in someways. Ken Dryden only played 10years, and many hall-of-famer goalies of his caliber never played past the 14 year mark I’m sure, and that was Rick D’s second contract…LOL crazy.
            Forget about the dollars and sense of this particular contract, and take a look at the length …make you scratch your head. Must’ve been C.Wang’s wishes.

          • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

            Here i go spouting about something I heard with no actual evidence to back it up, but, I remember watching Doug Maclean on sportsnet and he was commenting that in the old CBA there were limits percentage-wise to the rise and decline of year to year salaries. Now i know DM is not the most popular guy, but he’s been a GM before and has been to a couple Rodeos so he must know what he’s talking about.

            I guess what I’m saying is that it seems weird to have fluctuations in salary, to that extent, even to former GMs. The CBA must have changed an awful lot when they re-did it.

          • Yah, I think even the current CBA has some sort of limitations there too (at least I thought it did).

            Personally I would love it if the fluctuations were very minimal to keep things pretty even and prevent teams from using this front loading trickery 😛

      • PabstBR55

        I agree with Racki and Indiana Jones. Not to knock your post, RC, but consider what is an incentive vs what is camouflage.

        This contract is structured to have Kovalchuk retire at age 37 or 38. I doubt Kovy plays more than 1 season at $1M per, and reason that since there are 3 seasons of $1M paycheques, he won’t have the patience to play these seasons just to reach a $3 or $4M payday in his early 40’s.

        He will still earn approx $8.5M a season through the first 10 years of the deal, with a cap hit under $7M, and a serious incentive to stop playing hockey.

        It is very clever. But it is not equitable. The 3 x $1M years should be thrown out altogether because it suggests that the player will be more valuable at age 42 than he is at age 38.

        Doesn’t pass the smell test.

  • Legoman

    What I want to know is did Brownlee set Gagner up with Herbal Magic? Keep it up Robin! the smaller you get the more sarcastic you have become and I did not think that was possible. Love it!

  • Legoman

    Great!! Just when Dustin got away from the fat talk. Now the skinny guys are losing weight. Mr Penner you can’t win. Don’t stand to close to sam anytime soon. Cheers NATION!!!!

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Very good article JG, loved it. Gagner is the forgotten one. Everyone talks about MPS, Eberle and Hall, but we forget the original wonderkid. I still think that he can and will fit in with these kids in pedigree and skill. I think his development was stunted a bit, but he will bounce back this year, and won’t look out of place with the other kid geniuses. IMO.

  • Puritania

    It’s a great interview, with good insight into a key young Oiler. With so much anticipation I would love to see an article on what a reasonable INFORMED look at next season might be like.

    It feels like people are getting very hyped, and I am too! I don’t want to spoil it…but what does the Nation Writers think the most frustrating, or disappointing part of the season will be?

    I am not trying to be negative, just curious what most would say.

  • Can some one please explain why Comrie is not being brought back. I know we have a great youthful team but this is anedmonton guy who is not to old to relate and who could easily guide any one of these kids through the highs and lows of a nhl season. Not to mention how to deal with us crazy fans..

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Keep on pushing Jason….well done.

    I would have all the forwards putting extra time on winning draws,with guys getting kicked out left right and center of the face off circle, everyone should put in the effort to start the play with possession of the puck. Out of a dozen guys working on draws there’s bound to be one or two guys that could find themselves above the 60-65% range. Nothing wrong with a right or left winger winning 65% of the draws he takes.

  • I have been saying all along Gagner should be C13. If not this year then next for sure. If they don’t want a captain this year give Samwise an A, and he will earn the C.

  • bored

    One suggestion might be that the league needs to just do away with averaging out the cap hit, ie. the cap hit is the exact number that the player gets paid. Doing this would eliminate the loopholes regarding cap circumvention. That’s the only reason teams do these long term contracts, to reduce the cap hit up front…well if the Devils want to pay Kovy $11M this year – that’s how much it should affect their cap. Seems like a simple solution to an ongoing problem.