Sudden Sam

In the decade that began in 1997-98, no Oiler rookie approached the heights reached by Sudden Sam Gagner. Samwise. The young magician posted a big number as a teenager, and has been chasing it ever since. Is Gagner ever going to get better?

By any measure (except for the ones David Staples uses) Sam Gagner is getting better, making progess. Let’s begin with the easy stuff, the boxcars:

  • Age 18 79, 13-36-49 (.620 points per game)
  • Age 19 76, 16-25-41 (.539 points per game)
  • Age 20 68, 15-26-41 (.603 points per game)
  • Age 21 68, 15-27-42 (.618 points per game)

You call that progress? Yes, yes I do. Gagner has never played on a good hockey team at the NHL level. Team wins by season were 41, 35, 27 and 25. Team GF totals per season were 235, 234, 214 and 193. So, using the brain God gave us Gagner was in on 20.8% of the offense as a rookie and 21.8% of the offense this past season.

Sam Gagner might appear to be running in place, but he is now the best offensive option at center for the Edmonton Oilers. His 5×5 points-per-60 numbers are heading in a good direction too:

  • 07-08 5×5 per 60m: 1.96
  • 08-09 5×5 per 60m: 1.69
  • 09-10 5×5 per 60m: 1.56
  • 10-11 5×5 per 60m: 1.91


My Dad always had a saying that worked during arguments with my Mom. It went something like "if you have to work this hard to prove you’re right then you’re probably wrong." Not a strong argument, but it drove my Mom crazy and that was the end game (Mom and Dad were happily married btw, couples niggle away at each other. Some of us enjoy it!).

Gabriel Desjardins supplies us with a steady stream of information from year to year at behind the net. If he charged a dollar for every visit he’d own my house. I promise this won’t hurt a bit, we’re going to look at two measurements here that are easily explained:


Let’s first define Corsi:a stat for all the shots directed for and against while a player is on the ice at even strength. Includes shots, missed shots and blocked shots.

Now Corsi Rel: A players corsi rating versus the rest of his team. Calculated by subtracting the team’s collective corsi rating while he’s off the ice from his on-ice corsi rating. Can be used to calculate the relative corsi rating of his opponents for quality of competition purposes.

Both definitions and a very nice guide here.

  • 07-08: 0.6 (7th among Oiler F’s)
  • 08-09: 6.0 (6th among Oiler F’s)
  • 09-10: 10.9 (second among Oiler F’s)
  • 10-11: 7.0 (tied for 4th among Oilers F’s)

As you can see, Gagner has consistently been among the top 6 F’s by this discipline, including last season when he played with the two rookies after Christmas. These CorsiRel numbers are very good, from beginning to end.


This measures a lot of things, not the least of which is how much does the coach trust you? During the MacT years with that young 07-09 team Shawn Horcoff didn’t see many offensive zone faceoffs (as an example). Pat Quinn and Tom Renney have been less likely to play the percentages but there’s still a lot to be learned from the stat. Progress would be a larger positive gap between end and start.

  • 07-08: 52.8/53.9 (+1.1)
  • 08-09: 55.4/49.7 (-5.7)
  • 09-10: 48.8/49.8 (+1.0)
  • 10-11: 50.9/53.4 (+2.5)

Overall a very positive number, with one season off the rails (Horcoff was off by 4 points this past season, as an example). The good thing about this is that the 10-11 number was posted when he was playing with two rookies (Omark and Paajarvi) and shoud bode well for the future.

There are some negatives in the Sam Gagner resume. His PP number was poor this past season, but so was Hemsky’s and that guy is a ridiculous PP talent. I’m more inclined to blame the coaching/setup for the failure of the PP (same with PK by the way). His faceoff percentages are poor, and if he’s going to have a career at center improvement needs to be made in the discipline.

However, with summer at its peak (it actually happened Sunday. Did you miss it?) I think it’s time to put it out there: Sam Gagner is the best offensive option at center for the 11-12 Edmonton Oilers. All of Gagner, RNH, Horcoff and Belanger should post solid crooked numbers, but Gagner’s age, resume and skill set suggest that it’s a good bet he’ll grade out as the best available centerman in offensive situations this coming season.

Should Nugent-Hopkins surpass him, it would represent an outstanding debut. Should 89 lose offensive playing time (at EVs and PP) to Horcoff and Belanger, we should consider it a major blow to Gagner’s status as a top flight young player ready to emerge as a difference maker.

  • You know what, I’m probably biased for some unknown reason but… whenever I am forced to read Staples, whether it be here or MC’s or LT’s or Treena’s or whenever the Journal is stupidly and infuriartingly listing his blog with actual articles, which sadly is pretty much all the time, I never read anything that ever makes me want to read more. Ever. Not once. I never wonder what Staples thinks about whatever is going on, and I don’t know why.

    I do know I spend a lot less time at the Journal because they place his blog with the regular articles. That and they possibly have the worst website known to man. And I grew up a bigtime Journal fan, pouring over their stats, Jones, Matheson, Short and then Cole, throughout the 70s and 80s, but since then, they have completely lost me.

  • Lowetide

    I have to agree with LT on this one. Good organizations do not give up on propsects with the pedigree of Sam.

    This kid was a 6th overall pick for a reason. Be patient and the cream will rise to the top.

    This kid has talent and as he gains experience and the team improves he is going to show it.

    • justDOit

      First off, I agree JB – I’m more than willing to be patient with Gagner, and I chalk more than a little bit of his troubles up to being on such a bad team. Not just ‘sorta’ bad, but stinking, rotten, G-D AWFUL kinda bad.

      And then there’s the year or two that he should have spent in the AHL. The only problem with that was, at the time, the Oilers had just declared an affiliation with Springfield, and before had only shared a farm team. Maybe the reasoning behind putting Gagner on the big team was the farm team was in a bit of disarray, and they wanted more control over Gagner’s development. A lot of this team’s problems can be traced to their apparent lack of appreciation for how the farm is run and managed. Tambi has certainly turned that around.

      But not every 6th OA pick turns out, and that’s what the detractors are saying – he will be the next coming of Rico Fata (6th overall by the Flambe’s in 1998). To me, Cogliano is more of a Fata, because they both share the curse of more speed than their eyes and hands can handle. Gags shows more game, all around, than that.

      And Omark was drafted in Sam’s year – 97th overall. Now those are the picks that really help build a team!

  • Here’s another fun exercise.

    Take some of your favorite centers and look at their 21 year old year.

    Here’s some:

    Jeff Carter 62gp 14g 23a 37pts -17

    Hendrick Sedin 82gp 16g 20a 36pts +8

    Saku Koivu 82 gp 20g 25a 45pts -7

    Patrick Sharp 3gp 0g 0a 0pts

    Mike Richards 59gp 10g 22a 32pts -12

    Ryan Kessler 82gp 10g 13a 23pts +1

    David Krejci 56gp 6g 21a 27pts -3

    Sam Gagner 68gp 15g 27a 42pts -17

    There are plenty more.

    Everyone who expects Gagner to be like those guys today forget how long it takes for NHL players to develop.

    Last year we should have been seeing Gagner’s 1st or 2nd NHL season. Because the Oiler management have been developmental basketcases up until last year it didn’t happen.

    Don’t hate Sam for it. He’s tracking ahead of a lot guys you would love to have on the Oilers.

    • Kodiak

      Jeff Carter: 82GP 46g 38a 84pts +23

      Henrik Sedin: 76gp 11g 31a 42pts +23

      Saku Koivu: 65gp 14g 30a 44pts -7

      Patrick Sharp: 50gp 9g 14a 23pts +1

      Mike Richards: 79gp 30g 50a 80pts +22

      Ryan Kesler: 82gp 26g 33a 59pts +8

      David Krejci: 82gp 22g 51a 73pts +37 (3rd season)

      Martin St.Louis: 82gp 33g 37a 70pts +10

      Joe Pavelski: 80gp 25g 34a 59pts +5 (3rd season)

      Travis Zajac: 82gp 20g 42a 62pts +33 (3rd season)

      Paul Stastny: 82gp 28g 50a 78pts +4 (as a 21 yr old, drafted 44th overall the year before Sam)

      Sam Gagner: 68gp 15g 27a 42pts -17

      Here’s another fun exercise, let’s compare these players in their fourth NHL season (or prior) when growing pains and age shouldn’t be used as an excuse. Age is an excuse because of lack of experience. If you’ve played 4 years in the league you should have figured out what it’s all about by then and what you need to bring to the table.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        I’m not exactly sure why you are so reluctant to admit that age isn’t simply related to experience but also to the body’s natural athletic development.

        Go ahead and google “peak athletic ability and age”, you’ll quickly find that for the most part the human body is at it’s highest athletic potential in the 23 – 30 range…. and that it isn’t, in fact 18 – 21.

        • It’s not as if these guys werent playing elite organized hockey before they were 21 either. They were also gaining valuable experience playing in the CHL, AHL, and European leagues during those years. The difference is that Gagner was good enough to play in the NHL during those same years.

          The argument that Gagner has 4 years experience therefore he should be breaking out is warped. The guys trotted out as breaking out after 4 years in the NHL also had 2 to 3 more YEARS of development time.

          It takes TIME and reps to get better. The difference here is that Gagner’s time and reps have been taking place in the NHL vs the developmental leagues. It’s not like Kesler/Sedin/Krejci/Whomever were sitting stagnant until they made the NHL and THEN the development started. We’re talking about several YEARS extra to work on parts of their game with considerably less pressure to deliver.

          Years in NHL vs Years Developing shouldnt even be an argument, yet here we are.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Ya I don’t get it either. Pretty simple concept, look accross almost every major sport and outside of the odd freak exception the guys playing at the highest levels are in that 23 – 30 sweet spot.

          • Kodiak

            So you are saying a 21 year old rookie won’t have to make any adjustments in his game, will be used to the speed of the NHL game, understands the physical requirements of the game, and that the CHL and AHL provided him with the best competition to hone his game so a 21 year old rookie is on the exact same learning curve as a 21 year old 4 year veteran? Really? Seriously?

          • No, I’m saying a 21 year old rookie will have had 3-4 more years of development time to work on aspects of his game before entering the league with lower expectations than a 21 year old 4 year NHL vet.

            Really. Seriously.

            Look at Eberle’s numbers and look at Gagner’s numbers. Do you feel the same about them? Because they produced roughly the same, except Eberle did it playing with better players.

          • Kodiak

            If there are no advantages to playing 4 years in the NHL as opposed to playing in Jr and the AHL, why would there be increased expectations? Just admit a 4 year NHL veteran should be farther along in his development than someone playing Jr/AHL hockey even if they are the same age.

            By your thought process, all players are supposed to improve at the same rate at the same age, regardless of experience and I don’t buy that.

            Enough with the Gagner was stuck with rookies and therefore has an excuse BS. He played half the season with Hemsky, some with Hall and some with Penner. Eberle played with another rookie and Horcoff, who you suggest isn’t the offensive dynamo Gagner is. I see why you want to compare Eberle and Gagner to prove your point, Eberle is already a better player on both sides of the puck. It must be all his extra time in Jr. , right?

          • I’m comparing them because they put up almost equal numbers but one is a star on the rise and the other has plateaued and wont amount to anything (according to you). Jordan Eberle is not heads and tails better than Gagner defensively, you just think that because you have much lower expectations for him than you do for Gagner.

            I never said there werent advantages to playing in the NHL, but what advantages there are for developing your game in the NHL dont make up for extra years to work on deficiencies with little to no pressure.

            By my thought process players do NOT improve at the same rate, but they do keep improving past the age of 21 no matter how many years they played in the NHL.

            By YOUR thought process all players should develop equally based on years in the league, completely ignoring the total amount of development post draft or physical maturity. It’s completely unrealistic.

          • Kodiak

            Where have I ever said Gagner won’t amount to anything? Please enlighten me as to when I ever suggested that? There’s a difference between suggesting he doesn’t fit a role here and saying he won’t amount to anything? (you aren’t his Mom are you?)

            I’m not counting on Eberle being a star but I do think he has a higher ceiling than Gagner because of his more rounded skillset and yes, I feel Gagner has plateaued. Nice touch on telling me why I feel the way I do, you are starting to sound like my wife.

            I’ve never suggested Gagner won’t improve either but I don’t think its realistic to expect big improvements in his skating and physical abilities after 4 primetime improvement years in the NHL have gone by with marginal improvements to date. And yes, I feel he needs to improve his game a lot for him to be a second line center on a Cup contending team.

            Can you name one center on a cup contending team that has Gagner’s skillset and style of play? Do you think beyond his maybe 50ish points that he will ever improve enough to be as solid defensively as Kesler, be as effective on faceoffs as Bergeron, be able to kill penalties efficiently, or strong enough to handle the tough, grinding playoff games? I don’t and I also don’t see one dimensional 2nd line centers on successful teams.

          • How many dimensions did many of the names we’ve bantied about have at the age of 21? Many lacked scoring or defensive responsibility as well. They rounded their games out. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Gagner’s game cant improve as well.

            You can make up an issue with his skating that has been a non issue his whole career, or question his heart despite any evidence that it’s deficient, but in the end you are of the belief that he has plateaued. This flies in the face of all common sense and historical evidence but it is your opinion and youre entitled to it, even if its dead wrong.

          • 24% body fat


            Eberle can skate effectively.

            Gagner cannot skate effectively.

            This is the heart of the matter.

            It is why Eberle is as good or better after 1 season, which to me is not ok.

          • Enough with the Gagner was stuck with rookies and therefore has an excuse BS. He played half the season with Hemsky, some with Hall and some with Penner.

            You did see the splits Lowetide posted showing Gagners numbers early in the season, when he played with the guys you just mentioned, and his numbers after teaming up with Omark and Paajarvi didn’t you?

            You’re right though, he did play with those guys, and he was having a very good season until he had to go and try to float 2 rookies by himself.

          • Kodiak

            Gagner got primetime PP minutes and didn’t do a whole lot with it so it looks like maybe it was a case of the rookies not being able to carry him 5×5 like Hemsky and Penner did moreso than him not being able to carry the rookies.

          • Pick a position.

            First we say that he played with rookies and you say that he also played with good players and still sucked.

            Then we demonstrate that this is not true, that he performed when playing with good players, and you change your argument to “they were carrying him.”

            Make up your mind.

            Is it really your opinion that Renney played him with rookies to see if they could carry him? You aren’t even making sense, you’re just arguing for arguments sake.

          • I don’t really understand your insistence on making this solely an experience issue when much more than that is involved in player development.

            Otherwise we should just put as many draft picks immediately on the NHL roster so they can get as much experience as early as possible.

  • CanaDave


    I know, but, but, but….


    For me The Sunms recent change was awful too. I much preferred it before. If I’m on a print site, it is for a reason. The best ones have blurbs or hover over blurbs, load quick, are easy to navigate, restrict animated ads, scale, are word heavy, good writers, great content, don’t parrot the corporate view, don’t waste clicks. Print is quick, efficient. Video and Audio painfully slow.

    Journal scores about a half on writing and another half on content. Problem is, it’s a difficult site to be selective about what one reads because of the way it’s set up… no blurbs, no authors up front, no dates… it’s all about clicking through… And then hitting the muthafrickin Back button. There are so many other better free news sites out there that the saving of the dime becomes very quickly irrelevant.

  • CanaDave

    What is the average age of second line centers in the NHL?
    Gagner = Not the oldest, proably one of the youngest.
    Gagner = Not the best in both columns (defence/offence) or the worst.
    Ganger = MADE THE NHL AT 18. All without looking at stats.

    ALL = 4 years and only 22. What seems to be the idea now a days?? RE-BUILD.
    What better idea then to have the rookies come in and see someone that is established at there age when they have entered the NHL to realize they have someone to grow with that in-turn is already a veteran precence to them.

  • 24% body fat

    Jordn Eberle is only 6 months younger, and plays a position with less defensive responsibilities. Yet at the age of 20 both had very similar point totals.

    Eberle has not accomplished what Gagner has in the NHL yet either.

    So why are you not running Jordan out of town.
    Or is that the plan for next year.

    • If that is intended for me well… I was not trying to be sarcastic in my post.
      – If you are indeed stating Eberle could be a centermen in the future (since he was amazing in Vegina, Saskatchewan) I agree. If there could be a true 2 way center on the oilers in the future Eberle (if given a shot) is already a year deep and should be given a shot to do so. Noticed how I said 2 way, and not second line. It is all about business. Think about it like a poker game. If we have Eberle playing center and showing up the Oilers 4-year veteran (that we have signed for over 2 mil) how will they ever be able to trade that person to another team? Every team will low-ball you, and the Oilers would not get anything in return. There are special circumstances though…. The Oilers would like to get the best return on investment possible, and right now it has not been about winning hockey games.

  • WeepForTheSin

    Just spent a couple of hours chewing the fat with the former GM of the Kitchener Rangers who also was Director of Player Development with Hockey Canada.

    Scathing in his assessment of Gagner’s sense of entitlement.

    • Wanyes bastard child

      And my girlfriends sister is besties with your ex’s and word through the grapevine is you have a small pencil*

      *edited for ON’s sake

      Disclaimer.. sources or it ain’t true, just like the guy spouting off a few threads back that he new “reliably” that Hemsky and his girl want out.

      • SuntanOil

        Far be it from me to ever defend DSF, still it takes little effort to put two and two together to know who he is referring to. If you need to know, this link should give a final clue:

        It’s a credible enough name, yet hearing that an amateur hockey official feels an NHL player has a sense of entitlement is not really surprising. What is more curious is to why Gagne’s name came up at all.

  • LT, I completely see what you are trying to get at with this post. After having read it and sublimating it into that which is mine, I hereby decide to carry on with whatever it was I was going to do before you posted in the first place. Having completely ignored everything, I therefore OBVIOUSLY reaffirm exactly whatever it was I believed. Thanks Thomas Hume, and don’t trade Gagner. [insert crap ppl will ignore anyway here taking up 4 paragraphs].

  • 24% body fat


    no that is not a shot at you. I am just stating that no one thinks eberle is underperforming and he is not much younger and the stats are relatively the same. There have been articles that have shown the difference in eberles play with and without hall. needless to say he is better with hall. Also he was much more protected with his linemates and icetime (other than penalty killing) than gagner every was. And again eberle was older in his debut and not playing center.
    regardless of the chemistry in the short time, gagners numbers would be better ir he played with hall all year/

    Also i think eberle will be a great all around player but why is everyone so keen on his defensive game. he go a few beuaty shorty goals last year but did you see how bad our pk was with him and horcoff on. didnt get better until they were taken off.

    Starting at Jrs, Eberle has had the same amount of development time as gagner, they have just have had different paths, and i think it is wrong to crucify gagner because he was on a crappy team and expected to carry an offensive load with the teams best winger consistantly hurt all while trying to maintain his defensive game under three different systems.

  • Darrenski

    I believe Gagner is lacking very much in terms of strength and grit. Both of these traits would help him win draws and be better defensively, which is where he is falling short to be a center in the NHL. Even though he is a “skill” guy he needs to be able to win battles and be stronger on the puck. Not to often he goes into a corner and comes out with the puck. I don’t get it, the Oil have stronger centers coming up in the system, and they are not 21. Gagner + whatever it takes(a pick or two) should be traded for a top 2 D. I bet ST does this before the deadline. I hope.

  • Clyde Frog

    I think this is simple, reading over the posts I am going to generalize 2 camps. Group A can talk amongst themselves and Group B can do the same.

    If you title your post Group A or B, it will help stop cross posting and ensure people don’t get stuck trying to change someones world views.

    Group A believes Second Line Centres should:

    Post 50-60+ points.

    Be roughly 6’2″, 220+

    Demonstrate an excellent 2-way game

    Be gritty, energetic, greasy

    Have demonstrable stats that indicate they increase the play of their linemates.

    Player’s with these qualities are easy to aquire and develop.

    Sam Gagner’s inablitiy to post 50+ points in his first 4 years means he is a 3rd liner at best.

    Sam’s +/- is directly related to him being tiny and having no commitment to the defensive game.

    He is too small and slow to produce and his current productin levels come from (Sorry I’m not clear on this one, but I’ll try my best) coaches and linemates just gifting him said points.

    4 years in the league means we should expect him to be at full physical and skillset development. In the 8 1/2 years between now and him turning 30, he will not progress, just slowly regress into obscurity.

    Group B believes Second Line Centres should:

    Post anywhere from 60 points (On teams blessed with 2 first line quality centres) to 35 (On the not so blessed teams.

    Size is relative to skillset, that the players ability to compete and produce should be the only factor when rating kids. (We feel the burn of Zach Parise versus MAP too close in our hearts)

    2nd line traditionaly makes up the 2nd teir scoring players and should focus on putting points on the board, being defensively responsible should be a goal but not THE goal.

    Have the ability to score over all other intangibles. If the first line centre goes down with injury, having a 2nd line centre step up and keep producing versus having Toby Peterson slot in… …. Nough said…

    Finding players who can line-up at centre and produce 40+ points consistently is difficult and teams search high and low for kids with this ability.

    Sam is producing as a second liner already, and has shown marked improvement on his ranking as compared to fellow centres each and every year.

    Sam played on the last place team and no-one managed a pretty +/-…

    There is no such thing as gifted points in the NHL, you earn each and everyone.

    Physical maturity is something that starts peaking in your late 20’s not at 21. Skill development never stops, the players who make 10+ year careers will all atest to that. When you look at the fact that the kid has almost a decade before he hits 30 and a history of producing already, his stats become even more impressive.

    Recap Read through, decide your group and talk amongst yourselves. Because it boils down to you either hate the kid or respect him and no-one is going to change your mind…. Mainly because its not what the kids done, its the filter of how you view hockey in general that skews it one way or another.

  • I like Gagner and I think he can improve (This is his make or break year 5 seasons in he should have it figured out) but at the same time I dont think the argument should be is Gagner a good player (He clearly is) but is he the right fit for the Oilers? And that is where I have my doubts, but if RNH shows he is the number one center and we are stuck with Horcoff (Like what he brings hate the contract) and we have Belanger and Lander for 2013 than Sammy doesn’t fit but should bring a valuable piece on D.

    I still want the Oilers to swing a deal with the rangers for Dubinsky then I would trade Gagner this year for a top 4 Dman.

  • 24% body fat

    i am starting to think that horcoffs contract may soon be trable once the cap hit is higher than the salart. those cap floor teams are always looking for those contracts and a veteran with experience and a two way game. if we find a gm looking to save his skin and doesnt have much to spend this may work.

    the next question is, in the 12-13 season is horcoff needed on the oilers

  • Zarny

    In Sam’s defense the team was a lot worse the previous 2 years than his first two.

    He’s had 4 years of 2nd line production. He’ll have to take the next step soon to be a bona fide 1st line C.