Sam Gagner vs. size

Does Sam Gagner struggle in games against bigger teams?

Last week we looked at how the Oilers’ top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle fared against individual teams, and found that there seemed to be no link between how big the opposition was and how well they played. However, many in the comments wondered if the same would hold true for Sam Gagner – so I decided to look.

The Scoring Chances

The above are the Oilers’ scoring chances at even-strength with Sam Gagner on the ice this year – and the overall trend is interesting. The correlation between scoring chances and team points is -0.47, meaning that as the teams got better, Gagner’s scoring chances declined. However, the correlation between team weight (as put together by James Mirtle) and scoring chances was -0.65, meaning that Gagner was more likely to play poorly against a big team than he was a good team. (There is some overlap here, the correlation between weight and point totals for the Oilers’ opponents is 0.21, meaning that bigger teams were generally a little better than smaller teams). The correlations aren’t definitive, but they certainly seem to suggest that Gagner’s line had trouble against bigger teams. What happens when we look at some specific examples.

The Matchups

We may as well start with St. Louis, since Gagner’s line was terrible against the Blues. On March 1, Gagner played with Ryan Jones and Ales Hemsky and saw pretty much the entire opposition rotation. That line held its own, going +4/-4 in even-strength scoring chances that night. On March 23, Gagner found himself with Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, and again saw a pretty even rotation of the opposition; this time his line was out-chanced 4-0. The trend holds in the third game; this time Gagner, Paajarvi and Hemsky played together and once again saw a variety of opponents. The line as a whole wasn’t good and Gagner in particular gout out-chanced badly (8-2). It’s a small, three game sample, but it’s noteworthy because Gagner wasn’t hard-matched either at home or on the road against a particular line; he just saw a mix of (mostly larger) opponents and got hammered.

What about San Jose? Things got off to a bad start – Gagner, Hemsky and Nail Yakupov played together in the Oilers’ home opener against a variety of opponents and were out-chanced 5-2 as a line. Things got worse in the next game – the same trio was out-chanced 9-1 together (Gagner was +1/-10 on the night) despite barely seeing San Jose’s top line. San Jose coach Todd McLellan’s decision to match Clowe/Gomez/Couture or Wingles/Handzus/Havlat paid off here. The third game was the first one where Gagner did okay (+6/-6 on the night); he played with Yakupov and Paajarvi while McLellan hard-matched Couture, Pavelski and Havlat against them. Defence might have had something to do with this, too – in the first two games, Gagner saw lots of Dan Boyle and Matt Irwin; in the third game he saw some Boyle/Irwin and a little more Doug Murray/Brad Stuart. It’s true that Murray/Stuart are bigger defenders, but Boyle/Irwin are much better players.

What about Minnesota, the lone sub-200 pound team Gagner’s line struggled against? The scoring chances were basically even in the middle two games, so let’s look at the first and fourth contest the Oilers played against the Wild. In the first game, playing with Hemsky and Yakupov, Gagner saw lots of Cullen/Zucker/Setoguchi , as well as the Spurgeon/Prosser defence pairing. That’s an awfully small opposition matchup, but the Gagner line was out-chanced 2-to-1 and Gagner himself was +4/-10 on the night. The fourth game saw Gagner, Eberle and Paajarvi put together (Hall, Horcoff, Hemsky was the other scoring line) and they got a vicious matchup – Suter/Brodin on defence, and Koivu/Coyle/Setoguchi up front. That’s not a huge group, but it’s a very talented one and the Gagner line ended up getting out-chanced 8-to-3.

Bottom Line

It would take a lot more computer know-how than I have – say, going through NHL game sheets and tracking Corsi events against every opponent Gagner played, then ranking those opponents by size – to present a full statistical case for Gagner struggling versus size, but by eye and based on the scoring chances I think there’s a reasonable basis to believe that he probably did. What I’ve presented above could be noise, but because it fits with what I’ve seen I’m inclined to believe it isn’t.

Tyler Dellow has been pursuing Gagner’s Corsi/scoring chance collapse from a different angle and he’s determined that most of the problem came on shifts with faceoffs (part one here, part two here ). I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile those findings with these; one possibility is that after the faceoff the size of the wingers has a big impact in a) ability to win puck battles and b) ability to bull through to the net with the puck once the puck battle has been won.


Sign up for StreakCred – the new playoff pool game from the Nation Network. For only $20 you can win solid prizes and a portion of the proceeds go to supporting the MS Bike Tour and the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society. Sign up here.

Recently around the Nation Network

In his Random Thoughts piece over at Flames Nation, Kent Wilson hits on a lot of points – including a case to move into the top-five at the draft – but also talks about the GM of the year nominations and who he would have picked:

Doug Wilson. His team began the year with a big gaping hole at the end of the roster – the the degree that the bottom-6 was dragging down his impressive collection of stars elsewhere. By the trade deadline, he had cleared out the dead wood (Handzus, Clowe, Murray), improved the bottom-6 with a few low cost acquisitions (Scott Gomez, Raffi Torres) and converted his trash to a nice collection to future assets to boot.

Click on the link above to read more, or check out some recent pieces here at Oilers Nation:

  • So, you want to trade 2006 #6 ov for what? A C and then we start again waiting for 6 years? Trade for a D? But who plays C? Our 7th overall in 2013? 6 years younger than our current C who is 17th in the league at generating pts? I don’t get it. Tell me what u want to do because I just don’t see how it makes any sense.

    Your above post shows me you succumb to the magic beans syndome: draftees are much better than 5 year vets, just get these magic beans please. Remember when Gags was a bean? Yeah, we went through that. Now he’s ready to sprout. Keep your magic beans and go combine the next 12 years of draft picks for Salam Khalitdabed (best d-man in the league in 2021…unbelievable he was drafted in the 2nd round, taken in 2016). You’re Barkoving up the wrong tree.