SAM: A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Sam Gagner.

One of these things is not like the others. At least it wasn’t until tonight, when Gagner stunned a capacity crowd at Rexall Place and tied a franchise record by recording eight points, on four goals and four assists, in an 8-4 romp over the Chicago Blackhawks.

A one-off? Duh! It’s safe to say that’s absolutely the case, given the rarity of the feat and how so few players in the history of the NHL have managed to record eight points in a single game. Lightning in a bottle? Sure. Fifteen minutes of fame rubbing elbows with a bunch of Hall-Of-Famers? Likely.

While the significance of Gagner’s feat in terms of the record books has already been put in context countless times since he took a bow as the first, second and third star to a standing ovation, I’m wondering what this one wonderful, unforgettable game means, if anything, to No. 89 and his future with the Oilers.

Is Gagner, 22, a player who doesn’t fit on the marquee with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Is Gagner a player who does not figure in the plans? Is this a player the Oilers should move along between now and the NHL trade deadline Feb. 27? Let the debate continue.

What to do with Sam?

AN EXCLAMATION MARK

When Nugent-Hopkins went down with a separated shoulder Jan. 2 against the Blackhawks in Chicago, a window of opportunity opened for Gagner, who started his fifth NHL season slowly because of a sprained ankle. Could Gagner step up and seize the day? Would he? Did he?

Before the Blackhawks came calling, Gagner had scored 1-5-6 in the first 12 games Nugent-Hopkins sat out. Not overwhelming by any stretch. Enter Chicago in what will, somewhat ironically, be the last game Nugent-Hopkins sits out with the bad shoulder. Nugent-Hopkins will return against Detroit Saturday to continue his pursuit of a Calder Trophy.

Tonight’s one-off makes it 5-9-14 for Gagner in the 13 games Nugent-Hopkins has missed and gives him 9-21-30 in the 44 games he’s played this season. Gagner backers will insist talk of trading their man is asinine and point out that Gagner looked an awful lot like a second-line centre playing between Hall and Eberle, who both had quiet four-point nights. Critics will bray, "If it wasn’t for that eight-point game . . ."

"Something like this is just really an incredible feeling," Gagner said, allowing himself a moment to enjoy the feat. "It’s something you never expect to do at this level. It’s just one of those things you can’t really explain."

No. No, you can’t.

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

  • Bucknuck

    Was at the game last night and early in the second I had just finished ragging loudly on Gagner for looking hesitant on a pass. The guy in front of me turned around and said, “Come on, man, you’re being too hard on him,” to which I replied, not being a Sam fan, “he just doesn’t have the tools to be an elite player”. Within seconds, Gags feathers that 100 ft pass onto Halls stick for point one. The guy turns to me and says “how’s that”, and I say something brilliant like “Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut”. Then Sam scores. The guy turns and I say, “Hey, maybe he just needs me riding his ass!” The points pile up. The night gets more insane. We are high fiving and hugging and grinning ear to ear. I’m with the crowd chanting “Gag-ner, Gag-ner”. I am converted. Sam for captain! I leave Rexall, realizing that the last regular season game that left me feeling this exhilarated was when Gretzky scored 50 in 39. Magic. Thank you Sam.