Last Friday Sam Gagner and the Oilers avoided arbitration when they agreed to pay the 6th overall pick in 2007 $3.2 million for the upcoming season. Most felt it was a fair deal, but some wondered why only one year.
I caught up with Gagner and got his thoughts on his new deal, heightened expectations for the team, Ralph Krueger and some lighthearted comments about Ted, "Hall and Ebs" and Breaking Bad.
JG: When you woke up Friday morning were you thinking you would get a deal done or were you expecting to go to arbitration?
SG: I don’t know, it’s hard to say on both ends. I don’t think that anybody really likes to go to arbitration. I think for myself I had a lot of people tell me it’s a tough thing to go through and I just wanted to be prepared in case it did go down and I tried to be as prepared as I could. I’m obviously glad that it didn’t and that we were able to get something done. I’m happy to be an Oiler for another year.
JG: Most players are always looking for a longer deal, why do you think that a one-year deal was the best deal for you?
SG: I think it just works for best sides. At the end of the day, I obviously love the city of Edmonton and I love the fans, love everything that goes along with being an Oiler and Edmonton is where I want to be. And so I want to get my chance to stay long term and another year just gives me another opportunity. I’ve got to make sure that I run with the opportunity. I’m excited for the challenge. It’s a great team to play for, especially with all of the up and coming players we have and it’s time to turn things around, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
JG: When you left at the end of the season, you were very upfront and honest about the fact that you needed more guys to “buy in.” You were very vocal about the “buy in” factor; do you plan on being more of a leader this year?
SG: Yeah I hope so. I felt like I’ve taken strides in that area of my game. I’ve always been a guy that tries to lead by example and through my work ethic and the way that I approach the game both on and off of the ice. I think that it’s important for guys to step up into that leadership role. Obviously with the way that things have gone, simply it’s not good enough. And we have to find a way to turn things around and get into the playoffs it takes a lot of guys pulling at it and it takes the leaders doing their jobs the right way. I’m excited for that challenge going forward.
JG: Give me your thoughts and impressions of Ralph Krueger as your new head coach.
SG: I’m really excited about it. I think, you look at the way that our power play went last year and he was the guy running it. He’s a really creative mind and I think that with the amount of really young skill that we have, that it’s going to bode really well for us. Obviously he’s a guy who’s very passionate about the game and he wants to succeed and he wants to win. And I think that if you don’t have that attitude playing for a guy like that that you will get left behind so for the guys that are really passionate about playing and want to succeed Ralph is a perfect fit and I think that we’re all really excited about playing for him.
JG: He’s a fan of duos rather than trios. He mentioned Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle, he mentioned yourself and Hemsky as a pair and then possibly rotate Yakupov and Hall on the left side. Have you ever had conversations with him about what he likes about Hemsky and you as a duo?
SG: I really haven’t. That’s obviously something that you deal with in training camp and there is obviously so many line combinations that we can throw together. As a centreman you just have to be excited about the amount of quality wingers that we have. I’ve played a lot of different position over the years and I’ve got to play with a lot of different guys and develop some chemistry. And so no matter who I play with, I’m excited about the opportunity.
JG: Ideally though you’d like to have at least one consistent winger?
SG: You know what, I’ve gotten used to, and I think everyone has, playing with different people. At the end of the day things aren’t going to go unbelievably every night. There are going to be changes and you have to be ready for that. It’s part of the process of playing in the NHL and especially with the amount of depth that we have. We can obviously roll with different guys throughout the lineup and have some success with that. So it’s important for us to remain sharp and to play with anybody and just have that winning mentality. I think that if we can do that, it’s going to make things better for all of us.
JG: Things have been difficult every since you came into the NHL; you’ve never been in the playoffs. Do you have a sense that this year might finally be different?
SG: You certainly hope so. I think that with the acquisitions that we’ve made and with the young guys getting older and getting more mature and raising their games, I think that it’s about time that we change the ship here and actually there’s a lot of guys that are going to help push it. I hope to be one of those guys that are going to help push it. I feel that if I can step my game up, it’s going to help a lot and I’m excited for that challenge and I’m excited to make the playoffs.
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
JG: What do you need to improve in your game?
SG: Well obviously everything. I think that the biggest thing for me is my consistency. I’ve had stretches where I’ve played really well and stretches where I haven’t played so well. I think that I’ve made strides defensively and I want to continue to make strides there. I also need to continue to improve my faceoffs and playing that gritty two-way game and hopefully find that consistent level offensively. If I can do that it will be a better year for me and for the team.
JG: I know that last summer you worked very hard on improving your foot speed, you felt faster, you looked faster and then an unfortunate an injury set you back. Ethan Moreau and Jarret Stoll worked on their skating and they said that it was a three or four year process, doing it every summer and then they noticed differences. You’re now halfway through the second summer of doing this. Have you noticed that you’re faster this July than last July?
SG: Yeah, I feel better. I’ve switched up my training and I’m doing the same sort of things on the ice and I feel healthier than I have and that’s a great sign. I just want to continue to push it and continue to get faster and just have that motivation through the summer to get better. And be excited for September.
JG: When you’re working on your footwork, how much of it is on the ice and how much is off of the ice?
SG: A lot of it right now is off of the ice, just doing a lot of agility work and making sure that just body is working properly. I’ve been working with a different guy this summer out of Calgary and he has a guy in Toronto that is helping me out. It’s been great. I’m excited to see how it translates to my on ice stuff and so far it’s been going very well.
JG: I’m not sure how much you follow the pulse of the fans, but you are the most polarizing player amongst Oiler fans. Do you sense that, do you ever see that, and where do you feel you stand in your development?
SG: Obviously I think that I haven’t reached the level that I’m going to finish my career at, that’s for sure. I felt like last year was my best year in terms of my all-around game, and I went through different things earlier in the year where I was trying to find my game. I came back from injury and different things went on and then I found my stride halfway through the year. And then I played really well up until the last 15/20 games and that’s something that I have to continue to work on mentally and if I can do that, then I’m pretty confident that I can reach a new level and I’m excited for that challenge.
JG: What happened in those last games that you felt your play dropped off?
SG: I think that it becomes a reality that you’re not going to make the playoffs again for the fifth year in a row and that’s kind of tough to deal with. And I think that as a professional you have to handle it the right way and find different ways to motivate you to play. I tried to battle through it, but it made it a little more difficult. That is something that I can improve upon and I’m excited to come into this season and rectify that, and like I said I’m happy to be an Oiler for another year to help make this team make a push for the playoffs.
JG: With that one-year deal is there a sense at all from you that maybe you have to prove to the organization what your worth is and how reliable you can be?
SG: I think regardless of if it was a one-year deal or a ten-year deal I have to prove myself that I can reach that next level that I’ve been trying to reach. This is an exciting year for me to get a chance to do that. I’m excited to get a chance to do that as an Oiler and excited for the challenge, I feel I have something to prove.
TED AND BREAKING BAD
JG: You’re a big Family Guy fan, have you seen the movie Ted yet?
SG: I saw it last night, and I was in stitches. It was hilarious.
JG: Was it hard when you looked at Ted to not see Brian?
SG: I have this one buddy who kind of acts like Ted, so I was seeing him the whole time. I think that that was the reason probably why I didn’t see Brian.
JG: What was your favourite line?
SG: I thought that at the end when he says that they put the stuffing in the wrong areas and then he snapped back to reality and said ‘ah naw, I’m just kidding.’ I thought that that was pretty funny and that stuck with me because it was right at the end of the movie. There were so many good lines. It’s hard to pick one.
JG: What about Breaking Bad, that seems to be one of the hottest shows on T.V. right now. Are you a fan of Walter and Jesse?
SG: Ya, I’m about a season behind where it’s at right now, but I watched the first few seasons pretty quickly. The first season was a little tough to get through but once you do that it’s a great, great show.
JG: Looking at some of the characters, out of your Oiler teammates who do you think would be Hank?
SG: Who would be Hank? I don’t know. Maybe Whits? [Ryan Whitney]
JG: He would like to be the authoritative guy?
SG: Ya, he would have a lot of fun with that.He likes to think he’s in charge.
(Sidenote, Ryan Whitney tweeted me that Darcy Hordichuk would be Walter)
JG: Who would be Jesse?
SG: I’m going with Hallsy on that one for sure.
HALL AND EBS
(Listen here. Scroll down to bottom of the page, "Hall and Ebs 420 lessons," is hilarious.)
JG: Speaking of Hall, have you ever heard Hallsy and Ebs on the Bear?
SG: Yeah, I’ve heard pretty much every one of them. They’re bang on. They’re bang on and pretty funny.
JG: We had Hall on the show and he’s not really a big fan of the skits.
SG: Yeah I know, that’s why I like saying that it’s bang on. (laughs)
JG: If they would have had a Gags and Cogs version five years ago who would have been Hall and who would have been Ebs?
SG: Oh Cogs would have been Hall for sure. No question.
JG: Why’s that?
SG: That’s the way that it went in our house.
JG: Are you saying that you were more responsible even though he was the older one?
SG: Cogs acts more responsible, but at the end of the day, behind closed doors it was always me that was the more responsible one.
I’ve noticed in the past year that Gagner has become much more direct in how he views his play and that of his team. He is sick of losing, and considering he’s only 22, turns 23 in August, he still has many years where he can be a part of a winner, but he wants win now.
That is a great sign. The Oilers need more guys who are sick of losing and will put in the hard work in the off-season so when they come to camp this team will be strong enough to compete.
With only a one-year deal, I expect Gagner to arrive at camp feeling he has lots to prove and accomplish.