SO, WHAT ABOUT SAM?

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?

TOUGH START

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.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Wolverine_Oiler

    To me they traded the wrong player. I thought Cogliano should have stayed and Gagner should have been traded.

    Cogliano plays 82 games, has a lot better speed, and seemed to have turned a corner last year, accepting the 3rd line role and got a lot better defensively. I think he adapts to the wing much better as well.

    Call me crazy but the Oilers got rid of the wrong player. Now they might have to give up both.

  • D'oh-ilers

    Being demoted to the 3rd & 4th lines isn’t going to help him contribute to the team much, especially with next to no offense being generated on the bottom two lines. If the plan is to keep him there, it might be best to move him for a young defenseman with a similar level of experience.

  • Jerk Store

    ~ OK. Enough Gagner talk. Let’s start the bus going to get Hall out of town. The guy was brutal on the road. Hell he is already in his twenties and can’t play in the tough road games. Let’s package up him and Gagner for Skinner.~

  • OilFan

    @Robin

    Did I say something about Gagner playing on the fourth line or being a healthy scracth during the road trip ?

    I thought they won’t put a 22year old former 1st round pick on the fourth (CHECKING LINE) .

    Gagner doesn’t fit this teams new style, why would people think he fits the teams future ?

    ~gagne~

  • OilLeak

    The kid line has got all the protection and offensive zone starts and they’re still not world beaters. Gagner coming back from some serious injuries has had to play against stiffer competition with inferior line mates and is automatically the goat, of course!

    Gagner probably came back from the high ankle sprain a bit soon, and has suffered from a bit of bad luck, BUT there is still a hockey player there. Why is the fan base in such a hurry to unload Gagner for less than what the return will bring back in return?

    Those who want to ship Gagner out for pennies on the dollar need to bang your heads repeatedly against a wall, god knows that you couldn’t possibly do any more damage.

  • John Chambers

    On the bright side if he bombs out this year we can sign him for a reasonable dollar on a 5 or 6 year contract after this season.

    Cap management is key, and Gagner getting snakebitten in a contract year is good for business!

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    “Outside of the obvious coming back from injury excuses there isn’t much to say”

    Arch how’s your star Sam doing? Its great seeing you have a slice of humble pie and being at a loss for words.

    • Cleary turned his career around because he realized he’d pissed away chances in Chicago and Edmonton and might not get any more if he blew it again. Dan stopped being distracted by life as an NHL player and commited himself to actually becoming one. He grew up.

      Nothing in common in Gagner or Paajarvi. Their commitment level isn’t an issue. They are young players struggling as young players tend to do from time to time.

  • Chris.

    I used to complain that the Oilers didn’t have the budget to compete with New York, Philedelphia, New Jersey… now there is a salary cap and the Oilers have an owner with deep pockets.

    I used to complain that Lowe was a bad general manager: a larger, more professional management structure has since been put into place.

    I used to complain that we had no AHL affiliate. Then I complained that we had a crappy AHL affiliate. Now, it seems, that OKC is a well financed, well supported, effective developmental machine.

    I used to complain that we had very poor amateur scouting. In 2007 I nearly lost my voice bitching to anyone who’d listen about the stupidity of picking another small center (Gagner) 6th, Plante (a guy most agencies projected to go in the 2nd or 3rd round) at 15th, and then (most incredibly) trading up to grab a BCHL player at 21st (Nash). I mean really: nobody from the BCHL had ever been drafted in the first round before… and you trade UP to get him? But Now we have Stu… and I need not complain about amateur scouting.

    Last year I complained about ELPH. (Didn’t find it that exciting)…

    This year, frankly, there isn’t that much to complain about… The players, the team, the total organization is night and day better than it was 5 years ago.

    So I’m not going to complain about Sam Gagner. I’m not going to complain about how Renny is using Gagner. I’m not going to complain about whether or not the GM waited too long to get the best return for Gagner. Gagner will be fine. Things are good. Things will get better. I await tommorrows game with eagerness and genuine optimism. We will probably beat the Senators. We will give the Blackhawks a good game on Saturday.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    That draft stunk. Kane obviously turned out, JVR is coming along and Turris doesn’t even have a contract and has done nothing so far in his career to earn the one that he wants. What’s Thomas Hickey up to these days? Karl Alzner is steady but unspectacular. I would argue that Sam is behind Kane, Couture and JVR right now but among the forwards in that first round (unless I am missing somebody), I think that Gagner has been one of the best so far. Gagner made a weak team as a teenager. Now, he might not even be good enough to hold a regular spot in the lineup. That speaks to an improvement in depth. Now might not be the time, but it’s hard to see him holding off the surge from our upcoming prospects for much longer.

  • Wanye: OK boys, we’ve got some big-time potential advertisers coming in next week and we need to show them some humongous site traffic numbers. Any suggestions?

    Kent: Well I suppose we could start randomly seeding the words “Justin Beiber” throughout the articles to fake out the search engines. But there’s only one thing I know of that’s a sure-fire way to get the sort of traffic you’re looking for Wanye…

    Wanye: (Raises half-empty beer mug in agreement ) Now you’re talking my language Kent!

    >Kent and Wanye slap each other on the back, spark some fresh Cubans and power up NHL ’12 to do some “research”. They both yell out so loudly the deaf lady in the next building calls the cops. “GAGNER ARTICLE!”

  • Ah but seriously. Sam’s problems are most likely the result of having too many younger guys in need of prime minutes for development purposes. Those minutes used top be his. Now he’s stuck with whatever leftovers the team can spare. No wonder his confidence is shaky right about now.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Seguin is putting up some numbers this year and is going to be a very good player. I am not ready to say that he is better than Hall. not even close to ready.

  • Oilers4ever

    Love the kid to death.. but we have enough players who are always hurt (Hemsky, Whitney, and yes, it will happen again this year, Khabibulin). I hate to say trade the kid because I do think he has the talent… but he`s in tough in Edmonton to be a number 2 center in my mind. Lander to me could fill tha role if given the chance, but they play him with crappy players who have no finish…

    People can say I`m nuts.. but if it`s me I find a time to dance with that has a package of Gagner, Omark, Petry and potentially the Oilers 1st round pick for this upcoming draft in return for a top 2-3 dman, a top 6 power forward (like a Lucic type) and a 2nd round pick coming back. There is no way if the Oilers play like they did for the first 15 games that you are giving up a lottery pick.. and they have enough players stocked at forward and D right now that you can risk that first round pick. These players are all young with low salary cap hits… so a trade with a team like say Columbus… Call me silly.. but don`t you think Rick Nash has had enough playing for a team that is going nowhere? They brought in Carter and they are still the trash team of the league right now.

    Nash and Methot coming back with the pick. Methot may not be an offensive guy but he`s big, can play big minutes and clears everything from the front of the net. And he`s young and would fit the mould for the Oilers… Columbus needs to do something… it was their coach that should have been fired, not St. Louis`s and look how the Blues are doing now with the change. How about a line of RNH, Hall, and Nash… Eberle, Hemmer, and Lander… yes Lander. The kid will be that good. Horc can play with Smyth and Magnus.. and have your fourth line of Belanger with Jones and Eager.. although realistically.. you should call up Hartsky and play him there…. Lander has proven he has grit.. so all lines with have that… all lines with the potential to score.. especially the top three… pick your poison on who you want to put your checking line against… one of the other top two will do damage as well…

  • Slow, weak, soft, timid guys make for poor bottom sixers. The ongoing argument when discussion between Cogs and Gags were in vogue, the trump card was always how much better Gags “thought” the game.

    And then along came a kid who has shown an affinity for processing the game REALLY well.

    And now, soft, weak, timid Sam must re-invent himself. I give him a slim chance as he has been making the same garbage mistakes for 5 years. Yes he is young and he doesnt strike me as stubborn but perhaps he is locked into a version of himself that doesnt work.
    Or

    Hes dumb.

    Figure it out Sam… your 2.5 million dollar hourglass is getting harder to tip over.

    • Wax Man Riley

      I’m still waiting. I wanted him to rip it up so I could say: “See! Told you that Sammy wasn’t too small, too slow, too easy to knock off the puck!” You could look back at articles over the last year where I have defended Gagner for being young or not surrounded by good enough players, but (to paraphrase me)”He is going to have a long and productive NHL career.”

      After seeing Hall, RNH, Eberle, and Hemsky play on the same team, I have seen some real talent. I forgot what it looked like after watching Gagner over the last few years. Even seeing Smyth, Horcoff (yes Horcoff), and Jones (yes, Jones) play, I am re-discovering what a good (or even regular) NHL player looks like…

      …And to me, it looks like Gagner is too small, too slow, and too easy to knock off the puck to be effective in a role with this team.

    • Wax Man Riley

      Its all good to “showcase” Sammy but its also good to WIN hockey games, and its also good not to suck the talent out of Hemsky and PRV. In regards to me saying this I don’t think Gagner is a bad player but he needs quality linemates but the problem is RNH is better already and Horcoff can play defense and do pretty much whatever is needed. Sams place is solidified on the 3rd line.

      Unless he moves to RW (where he should be) then I might give him a chance with Horcoff and Smyth.

      • Theoretically we were winning games at home with that lineup. Those top two lines were the only ones doing anything. So adding Hemsky to PVR and our friend “the Gagne” might actually work and we could still win some games (home games at least)