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.

  • Dyckster

    Damn! Having all these skilled young men is a both a blessing and a conundrum. I for one think Cogs is an extremely valuable asset. Should he get traded, my fear is he goes to an “up and coming team” (Columbus?) gets some top six minutes and produces numbers we all think he is capable of. Having said that, his competition at this years training camp makes it difficult for me to believe he’ll crack our top 6.

    Summary based on above? Trade him now while his value is still somewhat high. This way we avoid the potential of him playing another season in the bottom 6 and falling farther down our depth chart, as well as the depth chart of any potential trading partner(s).

  • I agree, excellent article.

    I also agree that too many fans are too quick with wanting to toss very promising up and comers to the side too quickly.

    You don’t just toss aside guys with Gagner’s potential and skill at age 20. Many of today’s top end players were not even as good as Gagner when they were 20.

    I suspect the reasons Gagner has been given more opportunity than Cogliano or Brule is likely due to his work ethic and because the Oilers organization sees more potential in him given his skill set and hockey sense compared to Cogliano and Brule.

    Patience will pay off

  • Lowetide

    Although Gagner’s boxcar numbers look like they’re going downhill, his points-per-game totals are very close to his rookie season.

    I’d argue he was better offensively this year due to the fact the Oilers scored fewer goals than they did in 2007-08 (235 that season, 214 this past year).

    Also, I’ve seen this “Gagner was given better opportunities” argument pop up often recently. The counter to it (and I think it makes complete sense) is that Gagner did the things required to earn those opportunities.

    I know the secondary numbers that guys like me quote are “booga booga” in some quarters but the fact remains that Gagner’s indicators (shots for minus shots against) are better than the other kids and improving yearly. He’s the one young player who looks like he’s going to have both wood and leather going in the right direction.

    • Jason Gregor

      LT,

      His rookie season I think he was given a longer leash, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and he produced in the final 20 games.

      His 3rd season, had he been healthy, would have been close to his rookie season, pro-rated to 47 points.

      I like Gagner because he has a bit on edge to his game, and I wonder how much he will improve just by maturing and getting stronger and ultimately faster. He thinks the game very well, and I suspect having the young kids in camp this year will ignite his competitive juices.

    • Jason Gregor

      Good question. Some players just can’t grasp all the responsibilities that go with playing centre. Brule needed to regain his offensive confidence last year, and playing the wing allowed him to think less and just play.

      Renney might try him in the middle this year, but Brule seemed more comfortable on the wing. He says his confidence is back, so maybe he is ready to handle all the middleman responsibility.

      I think he only becomes and option if Cogliano shows he can’t improve his faceoff stats.

      • Mike Krushelnyski

        You mentioned that Gagner has to work on his strength and speed, I totally agree, but do you know if that’s something he has addressed this summer?

        I think one of the obstacles to Gagner putting up big numbers is his absolute muffin of a shot. He’s got great scoring instincts, but it’s tough to get goals when you can’t beat the goalie clean from 25-30 feet. Would strength training equate to a harder shot, or is that more technique than raw strength?

        • Jason Gregor

          Strength helps, but it is strength in the right areas. Guys used to think strong wrists gave you a strong wrist shot, but it isn’t as easy as that. Now guys use core strength, the ability to transfer weight throughtout their body to increase their velocity.

          Repetition will help the most. If he doesn’t have the most overpowering shot he can work on getting it off quicker and being more accurate. That will come from boring repetitions.

          Strength helps, but Steve Serdachny, skills and skating coach of the Oilers, addressed this on my show a month ago and said it comes down to practice. Working on different release points and different angles on the ice to shoot from. Velocity definitely helps, but quickness and accuracy are just as important.

          • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

            There was a feature ran last season – I think on Sportsnet – about Gagner’s stick.

            He purposely employs a thicker blade on his stick for softer passes, and admits that this takes a few km/h off of his shot.

            That being said, Hemsky plays with one of the smallest blades allowed and we’ve all seen at least one or two good passes from #83.

      • Dyckster

        Jason, with all of the apparent forwards who play wing (full or part time) but can take draws on the Oil (Penner, Cogs, Brule, Hall (projected)), could Renney adopt a F1, F2, F3 as opposed to a Winger, Center, Winger system? Do NHL teams ever do this? Or is it more of a Minor Hockey strategy?

        • Jason Gregor

          I don’t see a F1, F2 and F3 system working. Taking draws is one element of being a centre. Guys need to know where to go and how to react in their own zone. Asking guys to know all three positions and the defensive responsibilities with each one would most likely be disastrous.

          • rindog

            The biggest difference between Brule and Cogliano is their versatility. When Cogliano isn’t putting up points, he isn’t doing much of anything else (ala Robert Nilsson). When Brule isn’t producing, he is hitting, agitating, forechecking, etc.

            Cogliano is a soft, one dimensional player – Brule is not.

            That is why it is totally realistic to use Brule’s contact as an indicator as to how much less Cogliano should make.

            Exactly how much less are we talking about?

            That is a good question???

        • Jason Gregor

          They would like to add another veteran bottom six guy, but he doesn’t have to be a centre. Ideally, yes, but a guy who can kill penalties is on their list.

  • Good article.

    I’ve always liked Cogliano. My only question with him has been, will he still fit in here somewhere if we have Brule, Gagner, MPS, Eberle and Hall all playing positions somewhere? It’s tough to fit all those small guys in. So the only reason I ever personally suggest trading Cogliano is because for one he DOES have value (although definitely not as much as he should, which makes a trade a bit tougher), and for two, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to package him in a trade for a size upgrade on the wing.

    But ya, I like Cogliano because he’s been a clutch goal scorer in the past. And really, coming out with as many points as he did playing with an offensive vacuum like Moreau… it’s a miracle!

  • Cosmo

    Gregor – here’s the tough part: with lowered expectations for this season, you almost want to sign Gagner and Cogliano to a 1 year contract to see if they can capture any of that magic a few years back. Of course we won’t do that, but it’s going to be a gamble either way with typical “hockey” pundits a few years from now saying that the Oilers made a good/bad decision with signing Gagner/Cogliano.

    Here is hoping that with a new coach, new direction and new young players that it’s good both of them and afford them to move away from the “rookie” title into more of a veteran role.

    That being said – and so I’m not a fence sitter, I think I put up the contract to Sam and see about giving Andrew an opportunity somewhere else.