Comparables: Sam Gagner

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

With all of the young prospects coming up the system and the first overall pick for this summer’s draft in the bag, it’s easy to forget about the importance of the Oilers’ best young forward currently playing with the NHL team, Sam Gagner.

Part of that is the apparent lack of development; Gagner has yet to match his scoring totals as a rookie, although his overall game has improved by leaps and bounds. That lack of offensive development has some wondering what kind of player Gagner projects as. We’ve seen different names tossed out there; Jim Matheson suggest Stephen Weiss while Lowetide generally prefers Vincent Damphousse as a benchmark.

Gagner’s track record is far better than Weiss’s was at the same age, so I suspect that Matheson’s comparable is underselling things, but I think the Damphousse comparison is realistic. Still, I also think we need more players to compare

One of the difficulties of comparing players across different years is that league scoring hasn’t been consistent; in 1981-82 NHL teams scored four goals per game on average, while immediately prior to the lockout they were just a hair over two and a half.

To make comparisons a little fairer, I went back to the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and looked at all the forwards who a) were 6’1” or shorter b) played in the NHL in their first year of eligibility and c) didn’t have a truckload of penalty minutes. I then took those players and adjusted their offence to reflect an NHL season in which teams averaged three goals per game, and projected that offence over an82-game schedule. I did the same with Gagner, and ended up with a list of five players who had comparable scoring over their first three NHL seasons:


Player Year One Year Two Year Three
Sam Gagner 15-40-55 18-28-46 19-33-52
Jim Fox 16-22-38 24-30-54 23-33-56
Bobby Carpenter 25-27-52 25-29-54 22-31-53
Vincent Damphousse 18-21-39 11-32-43 21-35-56
Pat Falloon 22-28-50 23-23-46 20-28-48
Tim Connolly 16-22-38 11-34-45 11-40-51

Carpenter, Connolly and Fox all have roughly comparable birthdays to Gagner. Damphousse is seven months older over the seasons in question, while Pat Falloon’s birthday makes him almost a full year older than Gagner.

Jim Fox was a tremendously talented player who managed to survive 1980’s hockey despite standing only 5’8” tall. He spent just over eight seasons with the Kings, scoring just under a point per game in each of them, before injury ended his career. He missed the entire 1988-89 season recovering from a knee injury suffered during the stretch drive the year before; he attempted to make a comeback the following year but only played 11 games before being forced to retire.

Bobby Carpenter was the first high school hockey player to jump directly into the NHL. He had a strong start to his career and in his fourth season scored 53 goals and 95 points. Unfortunately, it was a one-off; his scoring returned to its previous levels and more or less stayed there for the majority of his career. After Carpenter turned 30 he became more of a defensive specialist, but in the end he managed to play 1178 games at the NHL level, recording 728 points.

Vincent Damphousse was the sixth overall selection in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft, and after three seasons of decent results in Toronto he broke out in his fourth year, scoring 33 goals and recording 93 points for the Maple Leafs. He would either near or surpass the point-per-game mark every season for the next eight years and ended his NHL career with 1205 points in 1378 games.

Pat Falloon had some up and down seasons after a promising start to his NHL career. He struggled during his fourth season, rebounded the following year with a new team, struggled some more and was dealt again, struggled some more and then got signed by Edmonton; he was okay for the Oilers before getting shipped off to Pittsburgh, and he eventually found himself playing in Switzerland.

Tim Connolly has had an occasionally brilliant career that has been plagued by injuries; when healthy he’s an excellent offensive player and when healthy has been a number one centre since the NHL lockout. Unfortunately, he’s not healthy all that often.

It’s a fairly nice group to be compared to, especially since Falloon’s a full year older and I’m probably stretching to include him in the group anyway. Connolly and Fox both would have had significantly better careers if they were healthy, Damphousse was a very good player for quite a long time, and Bobby Carpenter had a long and relatively successful NHL career.

  • @ GSC:

    Defend your position.

    All I did was take the scoring over the entire league by year, adjusted it down to 3.00 goals per game per team, and used the ratio to adjust the player’s individual statistics.

    I don’t think anything is wrong with that, and you’ve given me no indication of what you think is wrong with that. Surely you don’t think playing in ther mid-1980’s is the same as now, and surely you realize that goaltending and team defence have improved by leaps and bounds over your time period.

    So if you have a problem with the article, please stop generic pissing and moaning and give me a concrete reason for why the premise is flawed. If you can’t do that, feel free to keep your completely unsupported comments to yourself.

    Edit to add: I don’t have a problem with criticism, but you haven’t supported your statement at all. I know I’m not perfect, and I’m open to logical rebuttal. But moaning about math simply doesn’t cut it.

    • GSC

      Because you’ve manipulated the actual stats in order to “prove” your point. It doesn’t prove anything, just that you know how to work with numbers. My comments are unsupported? I called them for exactly what they are, altering numbers to paint a flattering picture of Gagner as if he played in a different era (which he doesn’t).

      Sure, the game was more offensive in the mid-80’s, no one is disputing that. But changing the actual stats to reflect how Sam might have fared in a different era doesn’t say anything. It suggests that he could’ve scored more in the 80’s. Well duh, players like Rob Brown scored in triple digits at that time. Stats were inflated back then, we get it. And to venture off point for a second: what’s to say Gagner would be any better during that era? Would he not be on the same level as those around him? What would make him so special?

      But comparing Gagner to a player like Damphousse, who managed to maintain a high level of offensive output throughout his career (0.87 points per game) is more than reaching. You mean to tell me that Sam might well be on his way to scoring at that rate (roughly 71 points per year)? I’m not buying it.

      • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

        The stats (when you adjust for scoring discrepancies) give you an idea of where Sam Gagner sits relative to the other players in the league. It doesn’t say that Gagner is going to follow Damphousse point-for-point in production. It says that .87 points per game in Damphousse’s first 3 years in the NHL put him in Xth place when ranked by point production. The person in today’s NHL who is roughly in that same Xth spot is Sam Gagner.

        Gagner’s point production is lower, and that stands to reason because point production in general is lower, but relative to the other players in the league they’re ranked fairly close.

          • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

            Let me approach this a different way:

            When you are comparing players now to players then, do you compare the stats straight-up?

            Pick a player from this year, and slot him into the 1991 league roster, ranked by point production. Do you think that creates an accurate comparison?

          • GSC

            Obviously not…but comparing a player like Gagner to a player like Damphousse? Really?

            Damphousse – who is arguably 2 inches taller and anywhere from even in weight to 10 lbs heavier than Gagner, by the way – managed to continue a high level of production throughout his career, as I mentioned previously. He didn’t just put up big numbers in the 80’s, he did it throughout the 90’s and into the new millennium, as I mentioned previously.

            In fact, here’s Damphousse’s production through the 80’s (4 seasons): 315 GP, 256 PTS, 0.81 PPG, rough average of 66 PTS per season

            And the 90’s (10 seasons): 690 GP, 673 PTS, 0.97 PPG, rough average of 80 PTS per season

            And the 2000’s (5 seasons): 373 GP, 276 PTS, 0.73 PPG, rough average of 60 PTS per season

            Career: 1378 GP, 1205 PTS, 0.87 PPG, rough average of 71 PTS per season.

            So, again, what purpose does placing Gagner in the 80’s era serve? It doesn’t account for Damphousse’s best years in the mid 90’s when the average goals per game in the NHL dropped nearly a full point from the 80’s. It also doesn’t account for the fact that Damphousse scored 70 PTS in 82 GP (.85 PPG) in the 99-00 season and 46 PTS in 45 GP (1.02 PPG) in the 00-01 season, where the average goals per game were down to around 5.5 and he was over 30 years of age. Pretty impressive for a player in the twilight of his career and facing a more defensive-minded league, yes?

            What I’m saying is that Damphousse was a proven, high-level scorer throughout his career, and to compare Gagner to such a player because the stats may be changed to reflect the higher levels of offence in the 80’s doesn’t at all tell the whole story. It also doesn’t account for the fact that Damphousse showed consistency and productivity throughout his career. Hell, he still averaged 60 PTS per game when the goals per game average were down in the 5 goal range. I don’t see a Vincent Damphousse in Sam Gagner, and that’s why.

          • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

            A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have been fine.

            If you agree that comparing stats straight-across in different average-scoring eras is unreasonable, it logically follows that stats need to be normalized prior to objective comparison – doesn’t it?

  • Vinny Damphousse wow I hope so but really 90+ points. Who was the last Oiler to do that ( Doug Weight ) ? Is Gagner comparable to Weight ? I think Daymond Langkow would a more comparable name. 65-70 point if he does increase his numbers which has yet to be proven. 90 points is a huge stretch HUGE

  • GSC

    2007-08 Edmonton Oilers NHL 79 13 36 49
    2008-09 Edmonton Oilers NHL 76 16 25 41
    2009-10 Edmonton Oilers NHL 68 15 26 41

    40 points is 40 points is 40 points.

    This is a classic case of creating hokey stats to boost a struggling player.

    It’s getting pretty pathetic.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Not really sure how a comparison that comes up with Pat Fallon as a comparable can be classified as “Boosting a struggling player”.

      The point is to show what guys that had similar circumstances as Gagner for his first three year (adjusted for league wide scoring trends)have gone on to do…. ie maybe give us a range of possibilities for what we can look for from Gagner over the next 15 years.

  • He’s getting stronger and more defensively responsible. This year he started on the 4th line and worked his way to the top. I fully expect that with a better supporting cast and a top 6 spot all year, Gagner will surpass his career highs next year.

  • Sure hope you’re right about the Damphousse comparison with Gagner. Vinny was a helluva player for a long time in the league. Bit of a streaky scorer, but a heady player. Remember when he scored four goals in the 1991 (or 92?) all-star game? That was considered a big deal back then because All-star games were still relatively low-scoring affairs and, at the point, only Nos. 99 and 66 had scored four goals in a game.

    Anyway, I’m thinking Gagner is more like a Jim Fox than a Vinny Damphousse and I’d be OK with that, too.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I like the Marc Savard comparison for Gagner…..if 4 or 5 teams give up on you and someone else is willing to give you a shot then you he must be doing something right. This has to be a big year coming up for Gagner, i still hope he can have some success here in Edmonton.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Since the article is taking on a slightly more statistical bend, it would be nice to see the results normalized by player ice time, QoC, and team scoring. Obviously some of that information won’t be available but I wonder if taking those other things into account would hurt or hamper Gagner’s case.

    Nonetheless it looks like Vinny D is a good comparable. Lets hope for the equivalent of his 93 point season for Gagner next year.

  • Poo Czar

    Y’know, for all the doom and gloom surrounding this franchise, the fact that a kid this good and this young can be this overlooked is actually a pretty good sign.

    Oh, and Willis – I think you owe Papa Lowetide a beer for this article title alone. (Yes, I get that it’s an homage)

    hehe, Fat Balloon…

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Also, with all the hype over current (and soon to be)Oilers prospects, I’d still say Odds are Gagner will be the teams 2nd best player in 5 years.