When Sam Gagner skated with the Edmonton Oilers at Millennium Place Tuesday, he did so on the fourth line. At Rexall Place today, Gagner didn’t even take a twirl. Yet another speed bump in a season fans hoped would help define how and if Sam fits in the long-term plans.

The start of Gagner’s fifth NHL season has been, to understate, a trying one as we approach the quarter-pole. The struggle continues with word from coach Tom Renney today Gagner has tweaked his back and is officially listed as being out day-to-day.

Having already missed six of the 17 games the Oilers have played because of a high-ankle sprain, Gagner returned from a six-game road trip with just two assists to show for the 11 games he’s played.

Already passed on the depth chart by 18-year-old rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and stuck behind Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger, Gagner’s bounced between the right wing and his usual spot at centre. Tuesday, Renney had him at pivot with Ben Eager and Lennart Petrell. Now, this.

What to do with Sam?


While the Gagner debate between backers and detractors often gets nonsensical — he’s portrayed by some as a future franchise cornerstone and by others as destined to become a draft day stiff — he’s an NHL player. The real question, what kind of NHL player? We don’t have that answer.

After back-to-back seasons in which Gagner was limited to 68 games by injury, and points totals of 41 and 42, I counted myself among the group of people who felt Gagner needed to show us something this season that would clarify where he fits in the pecking order. I still feel that way.

With Gagner yet to duplicate the 49 points he tallied in 2007-08 as a rookie and with 28 games missed these past two seasons, my take has been that he needed to stay healthy and play something approaching a full season — say, 78-82 games. Keep projections and what-if out of it.

That’s likely not going to happen this season, even if this back issue proves to be minor and he’s back in the line-up against Ottawa on Thursday and for a rematch with Chicago Saturday.

To this point, those of us hoping Gagner would provide some clarity have yet to see it. If anything, the big picture and Gagner’s place in it, is less clear now than it was when training camp opened. A bad start. Another delay. More debate.

The prudent approach, as always, is patience. We already know that runs thin with a sizeable segment of Oiler fans. What I’m wondering is if that’s becoming an issue with team management.

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  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    In 2007 the big three were to lead us to the promised land Nilsson, Gagner and Cogs, Fast forward 4 years only Gagner is left of that group. Does anyone think he’s been used right? Should he not be at centre with 2 good wingers. How about give him and PRV a chance to pull it together on the same line. I’ve asked R.B. and Gregor a couple weeks ago about Lander to the wing, Would love to see a third line of PRV, Gagner, Lander move Jones, and Belanger down with Petrell. Lets give him a chance with 2 big wingers.

  • Spydyr

    I think Sam is a bonafide NHL player but not on the Oilers. With Nuge being our first line center I can’t see having a small second line center who is slow and not great in the circle.

    What to do? Break up the Kids and put Gagner between Hall and Eberle. Nuge can center Hemsky and Smyth. Horcoff between Jones and PRV. Belanger on the fourth with the flavor of the day.

    This way if Gagner lights it up we can get a descent return when he is traded. Need to build the trade value somehow. Look at those Bruins, we need some size and grit and Sammy just does not fit the bill.

    • True Story.

      I was so looking forward to this season for Gagner. He came in faster and poised to play with some talented guys and between his ankle and the amazing play of RNH he’s been left behind.

      It’s early in his playing career still. I have time for him, even if that means this year is mired playing with the likes of Petrell and Eager while Belanger mysteriously plays with better linemates (Maybe not so mysteriously, but still that guy has been vanilla in the offensive zone).

      2 points is obviously not good enough, not even for a guy who is a notoriously slow starter. Outside of the obvious coming back from injury excuses there isnt much to say.

      I dont want to see him go. I still dont like the depth down the middle at C for the organization. Horcoff cant be expected to keep it up forever. After RNH and Gagner, the under 25 crowd is relatively lacking in offensive power.

  • Spydyr

    “Yet another speed bump in a season fans hoped would help define how and if Sam fits in the long-term plans.”

    He has defined how he fits in.Sam has proved to be the 4TH best center on the team.

    Get something for him whilst you still can.
    Say a package with another small forward for a top 4 d-man.

      • How soon will it be before Gagner is passed on the depth chart by those in the AHL? Gagner should be getting better each year, the improvement just hasn’t been there like the Oilers expected. I know, he is only 22 – there is still lots of time. I believe that he can have a decent career as a 2nd line centre. I just don’t think he will have the opportunity here in Edmonton. And what happens if he never gets better/doesn’t break through? What if he continues with 60-70 games played and 40 points? Is that who we want as our 2nd line centre? How long do you wait for him to have a breakout season? Until he is an UFA and he walks for nothing?

        I think we should move Sam while we can get a decent return. Lots of teams would be willing to gamble if they had an immediate need for secondary scoring with strength elsewhere to spare. Although I think Sam is not fast enough, lacks size and grit, and isn’t strong defensively, I still think he can produce at a decent clip if used in the right situation. With Edmonton’s ‘defense first’ mentality, Gagner’s style doesn’t match with the team philosophy – the same issue Omark is facing.

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

          “How soon will it be before Gagner is passed on the depth chart by those in the AHL?”

          A quick look at how often guys taken outside of the top 15ish turn into top 6 forwards tells us that betting on anyone in the AHL to over take him is a fools bet.

  • Kodiak

    He isn’t going to bump RNH from the top 6 and can’t handle the toughs like Horcoff so he is stuck in a 3rd or 4th line role, a role he has shown he can’t produce in.

    I think we play the heck out of him on the PP and pick and choose games that we can give him some top 6 line mates and minutes so he can show enough to get something decent in return. I think a Gagner for Cody Franson type deal would be better for Gagner and the Oilers as right now he isn’t anything more than a passenger.

  • geoilersgist

    I wanted the best for Samwise but he just can’t seem to get it together. I’m glad I had him picked as one of my goats as the other is already in the AHL. Shouldn’t be long now and he will no longer be an oiler.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I like Gagner and I still think he is a good player but I can’t expect him to do a whole hell of a lot playing on 3rd and 4th lines. He needs to be in the top six same as MPS and Omark. Is it no wonder that people are un happy with all three of these guys but none of them have yet recieved sigificant time in the top six. I would like to Gagner on a line with Eberle and Hall. RNH with MPS and Omark. I think the horcoff smyth and Hemsky line should be used as a third line although I’d rather have Jones on the line than Hemsky. I believe Hemsky would do better on a team that is lacking players on thier top line. There are just too many options here in Edm. I like a 4th line of Belanger-Petrell-Eager/Hordi.

    • wiseguy

      We do not have too many options here in Edm. That is why we’re one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. We have 10 2nd and 3rd line players and no 1st line players. Playing Gagner, MPS and Omark instead of Smyth, Hemsky, Horcoff would result in a lot fewer goals for and many more goals again.
      What we need to do is to package up a few 2nd line players for legitimate first line players. Hall and RNH are at least 1-2 years away from being leginmate 1st liners.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Congrats. You have, by far the best answer I have read on this solution. Thank you for using logic. Unfortunately I think we’re stuck with Hemsky until the deadline so I don’t see much changing so.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      So we should have three of our most unproductive players in the top 6 and 2 (3?) of our most productive players on the “third line”.

      Interesting line of thinking.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Hocoff, Smyth and Hemsky are not the future of the Oilers. We need the younger players to take over and perform at a higher level and right now the way things are they aren’t making progress.

        • Kodiak

          Gagner in Horcoff’s role would get eaten alive. It would be comical but not productive for the team or Gagner.

          The younger players have to step up and show they can take over and play at a higher level. Gagner hasn’t done that. You don’t reward passengers, you trade them.

          • OilLeak

            Beg to differ. Gagner has been in the top 5 in points for the team for 4 years. So far this year he is showing a faceoff% of 57.7. You can’t compare styles of play for a player that is more of a checker to one that is offensive. Just because you put players in the top six doesn’t mean you use them as penalty killers. Over the last two season horcoff’s point production has been falling and he didn’t break 37 points in either season.

          • Kodiak

            So are you suggesting RNH goes head to head against the oppositions top line then? Or you want Gagner take that assignment? Or do you want your third line centered by Horcoff to be playing 18 ES minutes a night against the toughs and have your 2nd line get 12 minutes a night?

            One of your top two lines has to be able to play against tough opposition at even strength. Horcoff can do that and still produce. Gagner can’t and he also isn’t bumping RNH so that leaves him in a bottom 6 role. Not sure why that seems so tough to comprehend?

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

            If you look at Gagners point production over the last couple of years, when Horcoff was hurt and gagner was playing the toughs with good wingers his point production increased by 30% and he seems to have made a step forward on faceoffs so far this year as he currenlty is at 57.7% comprehend as you want but history shows that Sam can step up to the plate if he wants to.

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

            The burden of proof falls on you for making outlandish claims like “gagner was playing the toughs with good wingers his point production increased by 30%”

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

            Oh brother, that’s your proof? a three month sample?

            Also doesn’t show how he was playing the oppositions top competition.

            You’ve had some paper thin arguments before, this one just might top the list.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            what do you think injuries happen every two weeks or something. I suppose if he wasn’t playing the toughs then is must have been Vandvelde or Brule or Omarra because that makes so much sense. Just look it up then. It really wont want what I push out to you you’ll argue it and want more proof. In reality it won’t matter what is placed in front of you you’ll never be satisfied and still argue it because you just don’t like Gagner.

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

            Listen, no one has ever said he can’t produce at a resonable level…. equivalent or better then Horcoff… the argument is that he’d be eaten alive defensively if he was playing where Horcoff does. You’ve done nothing to prove otherwise.

            It isn’t Gagner I don’t like, it’s weak arguments.

          • Really, because over the last two years when Horcoff has been hurt it was gagner that was on the top line as a center and he still managed to be a top 5 on the team. It was also at this time that his point production increased.

          • Wax Man Riley

            ….or wait, maybe I am.

            Horc has been C13 for 2 years? Or just one?

            Gagner isn’t the reason that The Oilers finished 30th over the last 2 years, but he is a factor.

            I have always been a Gagner supporter. I have defended Gagner for being young, for draft pedigree, for being the team’s top producing center, but after seeing real talent playing here, I see him as expendable.

            With RNH, Lander, Horc(here forever), Belanger for another 2 seasons after this year, Gagner no longer fits.

            He has to start producing or he is playing himself off this roster. Now, here is where it gets tricky. Do you play a struggling player in a top 6 role to try to get going? Maybe so, when and if RNH cools off or struggles. But how else do you get him in the top 6?

            Would you rather see Gagner on the PP over RNH or Horcoff? I don’t know. I DO know that I would rather see Gagner on the PP than Belanger. Please. At least put him out there instead of Belanger.

          • If Sam Gagner was drafted 6th in 2011 then your comment would make more sense. I dont think anyone actually believes that the Oilers had a shot at Couturier by dangling Gagner to the Flyers.

            Does Sam Gagner scream “Flyers Hockey” to anyone?

          • Mitch

            The Blackhawks have put Olesz on waivers, you could move Gagner for Olesz just to trade salarys. Sam Gagner has no value and the more Gagner plays right now the less value there is. You would never move Gagner to Philly for Couturier pick.

          • You would ditch a 22 yr old 40 point center that you drafted 6th overall for Olesz over salary reasons? Are you aware that Gagner is making peanuts for a guy who scores 40 points on a regular basis?

            Christ. I need to get my Mojo business off the ground and in a hurry.

          • You said 22 yr old kids typically can’t handle the toughs, which I agree. That’s why I think that Couturier is so amazing.

            By no means was I suggesting Gagner would have landed the 8th pick. I know the Oilers were trying to move up and all I was saying that it sure would have been nice to grab someone who is so mature at 18 that they are instantly ready to take on the best the NHL has to offer. Had they known how ready Couturier was, they would have offered more than what they did at draft day.

          • Wax Man Riley

            Saying Gagner was top 5 in scoring over the last 2 years is like being proud that you got a date with the top 5 best looking girl at the ugly convention.