Sam Gagner and the rest of the 2007 Draft

Oilers fans have spent a lot of time over the last six years analyzing Sam Gagner. His rookie year set expectations high, but with each passing season without an offensive breakthrough those expectations dipped lower and lower. Now there seems to be a sense that he’s peaked and he’s just going to be a 50-point guy.

From the perspective of fans who have been watching him for six seasons now, that’s understandable. But something very interesting happens when we compare him to other early picks in his draft year.

The Chart

Seven forwards and three defencemen were taken with the first 10 picks of 2007. Of the forwards, six look like decent NHL players; only eighth overall selection Zach Hamill appears to be a bust. The six successful forwards are presented in the chart above, along with a single number: their point production over 82 games in the seasons in question.

There’s a funny pattern to their scoring totals. Five of the six posted their best numbers in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. The exception, Logan Couture, had what was probably the smartest development curve for the non-Kane forwards: two years in junior after being drafted, followed by a third year spent mostly in the AHL with a 25-game NHL cameo. After three seasons developing in developmental leagues (I know, it’s a weird concept) he basically emerged fully formed as an NHL scorer.

The other five all had breakthroughs in 2013. Patrick Kane went from being a point-per-game guy to dominance, James Van Riemsdyk and Kyle Turris both cracked a 50-point pace for the first time, while Gagner and Voracek both took big jumps from the ~50 point range. Voracek’s totals are misleading – a career 10.4 percent shooter, he fired at a 17.1 percent clip this year; if we adjust his goal totals down to his career averages we end up with a 63-point pace (which is where I’d personally project him going forward).

Ryan Smyth & delayed breakthrough

This heading really ought to spotlight Patrick Marleau, but as Smyth was an Oiler and an example of the same sort of development, we’ll use him as our example. Here’s Smyth’s average per-82 game point pace up to age 23:

  • Age 19: 19 points
  • Age 20: 61 points
  • Age 21: 42 points
  • Age 22: 36 points
  • Age 23: 54 points
  • Career up to age 23: 44 points

Smyth’s run had more ups and downs than Gagner’s offensively, but overall he was in the same range, even a little lower. Here’s what happened over the next five seasons:

  • Age 24: 70 points
  • Age 25: 67 points
  • Age 26: 76 points
  • Age 27: 59 points
  • Age 28: NHL Lockout
  • Age 29: 72 points
  • Career from age 24 to 29: 69 points

Smyth’s performance after those earlier years jumped significantly, and while that kind of jump isn’t commonplace it isn’t exactly unheard of, either. Gagner’s in pretty decent company through age 23, and while there’s the odd player like Chris Gratton on the whole the group progressed dramatically in their age 24, 25 and 26 seasons from their work up to age 23. Sometimes, as with players like Smyth and Marleau, the jump came after years of stagnation.

Gagner’s jump last season may have been an artifact of a hot start in a lockout-shortened season; that’s a possibility that can’t be ignored. But it would be a significant mistake, in my view, to say ‘this guy has had six NHL seasons and he’s still a 50-point guy so he’s always going to be a 50-point guy.’ There is potential for growth there, there is a possibility that he can maintain what he did this past season (though on a team with Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner’s opportunities and production will always be somewhat limited).

The bottom line is that he’s 23 years old.

Recently around the Nation Network

At Leafs Nation, Steve Dangle continues his popular "Know a Writer" series, this time profiling the Sporting News‘ Jesse Spector. And while Spector talks about the difficulties of breaking into the media, covering hockey and the like, surely the most interesting bit was the fact that he was part of #DregerFace:

Well, we had just come in out of the cold, so I still had my Expos toque on, and Pierre LeBrun took out his phone to take a picture of the scene. I noticed — I’m not sure that Darren Dreger did, you’d have to ask him — and decided to make a ridiculous face because we were in a ridiculous situation. Okay, not because we were in a ridiculous situation, but because I’m a ridiculous person. I was surprised that #DregerFace took off as much as it did, but that speaks to the power of Twitter, and just how desperate every hockey fan was at that time for even a shred of entertainment. Was that really a landmark in my career? Thankfully, I hope to have a lot more of my career in front of me.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

  • Word to the Bird

    I feel like Gagner’s spike in offense would have been less delayed had he spent at least one year in London again. But then again maybe we wouldn’t have gotten the first overalls…

  • TayLordBalls

    Perhaps the Oilers may have to sign him just for perception alone.

    If they don’t, a prospect coming into the Oilers system may consider Edmonton just a temp stop on their way to a real NHL team.

    RNH and Yakupov are watching this for sure.

  • I never really paid attention to lines until not that long ago, so pardon my terrible memory… but when did Smyth hit the top line? (i.e. when did he start playing with Weight)

    That would be something to consider in this comparison too, since Gagner has never really been a bonafide top line player here. Just flashes of top line play here and there.

  • Gagner has never showed he can be an effective all around 2nd line center.

    Now if the Oilers ever made the playoffs, they will soon realize there is less ice and everything becomes magnified ie. face-offs, playing w/o the puck.

    Gagner is not worth 5mill + but no one wants him at that price so Oilers need to sign him.

    If your waiting for Gagner to get to his prime, I doubt he has much more of an upside as a center.

    He will score points on a non playoff team.

    As a second line center he is probably a 3.5m type center.

  • IMO…Sammy has been consistent with average pts per yr since his rookie yr. He is streaky to get his pts but he averages out nonetheless.

    But, that being said, His wanting a high end contract with a NTC or NMC (allegedly) does not warrant $5.5 mil per yr at this time.

    If his faceoff percentage got better each yr, his ES minutes improved, his two way play improved…etc, and he was more consistent in scoring (not very streaky) then I logically can see his stance point of asking for these in a type long term contract.

    The major problem for me and many others is that his new deal with a type NTC/NMC largely stands more on projection still than what he has done so far or has proven can do with the upcoming seasons….even at 23 yrs old.

    I really like this kid and his team spirit, work ethics, and I always want him to do well/cheer for him…but…the big one issue for me is the NTC and/or NMC part. If he gets his long term (4 top 5 yrs)/gets $5 mil per…but… he gets worse or he never improves from now on…and he then forces the Oilers to not trade him anywhere with a type NTC/NMC(a type trade which would be for the benefit of the TEAM at that time if it happens) then he becomes a huge liability and anchor.

    Its not the issue for me of with Sammy playing 2nd line centre or the salary/long term deal type issue with him being signed at $5 mil per (IMO-maximum)…its the damn NTC and/or NMC!!!!

  • vetinari

    I am getting sick of the Gagner articles already… we all know that whatever the outcome, at least 1/2 the fans will be ticked off and no amount of logic, reasoning, market comparables or statistics will change their minds.

    You can’t reason with fanatics or their anecdotal observations because their opinions are based on “feelings” or “gut instincts” and not broad objective observations made in comparison to Gagner’s peers.

    Gagner didn’t back check on a shift in some game when we were down 5-2?

    He didn’t hit as often as you’d like?

    He didn’t win enough face offs for you?

    He turned over the puck at the blue line on a risky pass?

    So what. Maybe there was a reason for those things that management and coaches are aware of and accept (“Hey, Gags– leave the checking to the wingers because we’re down a couple of centres and can’t afford for you to get hurt…”). The key is that he is getting better in the areas that matter over time.

    All players run into problems from time to time including the greats like Messier, Gretzky, and Coffey who all got their pockets picked, or had an off game, or didn’t win all the face-offs they should of. People forget their shortcomings because the team won. When teams lose, then all shortcomings get magnified.

    Heck, Steve Smith (by all friggin’ accounts, a pretty good defenceman) scored on our own net in the playoffs!!! And against Calgary to boot!!! However, that was his rookie year and if he would have been given the boot by the team, we wouldn’t have seen some of his best playing years.

    There. I’ve said it. Now I’m going to Costco. Costco makes me angry and after reading the billionth Gagner article in the last three days, I’m angry and will fit right in.

  • Sam made a career high last season. I expect him to be even better this season in terms of ppg. Then I expect him to leave and Oiler fans to complain because nothing makes them happy. You’d think Katz was asking them to mortgage their homes to pay for Sam’s raise.

  • DSF

    JW…while your chart is informative…let’s look a little deeper.

    What you haven’t addressed is role and opportunity.

    Because the Oilers have been a dreadful team throughout Gagner’s tenure, he has been gifted more opportunity than some of the other players from his draft year.

    If we look at only the last 3 seasons when all the comparables were actually playing in the NHL and use P/60 5V5 to remove some of the enhanced opportunity, we see a different picture:


    Kane – 2.51

    Turris – 2.30

    Couture – 2.18

    Voracek – 1.95

    Gagner -1.91

    JVR – 1.88

    Kane, of course, blows away the field here, Voracek, like Gagner is playing on a crappy team and their numbers are very similar. JVR is buried on the Philly roster.


    Kane – 2.47

    Voracek – 2.41

    Gagner – 1.96

    Couture 1.91

    JVR – 1.90

    Turris – 1.74

    Voracek makes a big step forward and blows past Gagner.


    Kane – 2.67

    Voracek – 2.58

    Couture – 2.33

    JVR – 2.07

    Gagner – 1.84

    Turris – 1.60

    Voracek shows sustain., Couture takes a big step forward and JVR finally gets to play top 6 minutes in Toronto and shows that he belongs there.

    Gagner over this period:

    10/11 – 1.91

    11/12 – 1.96

    12/13 – 1.84

    No progression at all.

    Now, lets look at P/60 5V4 for just this past season:

    Gagner – 6.15

    Voracek – 6.08

    Kane – 5.24

    Couture – 4.97

    Turris – 3.81

    JVR – 2.37

    The question then becomes, is Gagner’s production 5V4 sustainable over a long period of time?

    Here are his P/60 5V4 in his career:

    2007/08 – 3.88

    2008/09 – 3.12

    2009/10 – 5.74

    2010/11 – 2.51

    2011/12 – 3.66

    2012/13 – 6.15

    It appears to me that Gagner is riding on the coat tails of a very successful PP while getting killed at evens.

    The question then becomes, how important is Gagner to the success of the PP?

    With Hopkins likely to get more time and opportunity with his bionic shoulders, I would think Gagner’s value there will drop.

    It also appears, as time passes, that Kane, Voracek, Couture and, perhaps, JVR will all be superior players.

    Here are the cap hits of your comparables:

    Kane – $6.3M (through 2014/15)

    Couture – $6M (starting in 2014/15 through 2018/19)

    JVR – $4.25M (through 2017/18)

    Voracek – $4.25 (through 2015/16)

    Turris – $3.25 (through 2017/18)

    Where would you peg Gagner?

    • Young Oil

      Incredibly good analysis, thanks for that. Too many people are valuing the points he gets in a season as the main determining factor of how much he should make, which is pretty ridiculous.

    • This is a pretty solid argument (post #9), and something I’ve been saying too in regards to Gagner. He is a very good talent in certain situations (which appear to be mostly related to the powerplay). When it matters most, 5 on 5, that’s where his play really suffers.

      But really though, the problem isn’t so much the Oilers putting a proper value on him, or even the arbitrator doing so. I think if it went to arbitration, the number would be somewhere in the middle, possibly closer to the Oilers figure than Sam’s figure. The problem though is that if it gets to arbitration, Gagner will be getting a 1 year deal. So you have to ask yourself (as GM), is it worth it to just suck it up and overpay, or do you do the very unpopular thing and basically allow him to hit the UFA market next year?

      The Oilers are crippled at center as is and there really isn’t sign of help on the way here. I haven’t really like Gagner as a center here, although I think at wing, with a good center, you’d likely see his numbers rise.

      Basically what I’m getting at in the last two paras is that Gagner and his agent realize this, so it’s clear why they’d play hardball.

      One caveat I’ll throw to your numbers is that Gagner has had a pretty wide range of linemates here.. he played early on with Cogliano and Nilsson (two guys that you can now say aren’t exactly big impact guys). He also paid his dues during the Quinn era, playing a lot on the 4th line with scrubs. The past couple years have been a fair bit more kind to Gagner though, getting to play with the likes of Hemsky, Yakupov, Hall, Eberle.

      Not making excuses for him though. I think as a PP guy, he puts up great numbers and could keep doing that..but I’ve always had concerns with him at center on 5 on 5.

      • DSF

        I think it really comes down to how much the Oilers value his PP contributions since he is, at best, mediocre 5V5.

        Considering Hopkins will likely get more of that PP time in the future, I would think it’s a very dicey call.

        As for your caveat, I would think, without taking the time to dig it all up, that many of the other comparables also had a mixed bag of line mates and roles too.

        For example, JVR being buried on the 3rd line in Philly until this past season. I doubt the others, other than Kane, would look much different.

        • You are right when it comes to the bottom end (For linemates), but I’m sure when it comes to guys at the top, that is probably less so (but I’m not going to debate that.. it isn’t a very strong argument on my part I don’t think).

          But anyways, the unfortunate thing it comes down to here isn’t quite so much “is he worth it”. It’s more, how much can we handle upsetting Oilers fans when we potentially let him go in 1 year (I think they have to take the chance) especially when there is such a weak group at center here as is, Nuge aside.

          It’s not just a simple “is he worth $5-5.5M” here.

          In all honesty, part of me says that if he’s going to play hard ball, I’d have tried my best to get anything for him right now (in a trade), and sign Grabovski. But that isn’t going to look good here. Unfortunately optics here are bad enough as is without tossing aside skill players for nothing.

          Unless a miracle happens in the 11th hour here (doubtful, since most players are foaming at the mouth at the chance to be UFA), I’m thinking this ends bad for the Oilers in some way.

          The best opportunity I can figure (short of a miracle signing) is to just go to arbitration, take that 1 year deal and shop him later, while moving some assets to find a replacement center somehow (or again, go the Grabovski route)

          • DSF

            Yeah, I really think this is a watershed moment for the franchise and there really won’t be, save a miracle, a good outcome.

            It’s easy to think that a rising cap will float all boats and, to some degree that’s true, but paying Gagner too much does have other unintended consequences in that it screws up the team’s salary structure and every other contract signed in the future will be affected by it.

            Paying even half a million too much to players (like Eberle and potentially Gagner) can become death by paper cut when you try and fit Hopkins, Yakupov, Schultz etc. into the salary structure.

            It also can have quite an impact if 4 or 5 players are being paid above market value since that restricts the ability to add another piece of the team when required.

    • Holy crap DSF well written, good points, Canuck suitcase left at the door!! Great!

      He’s PP specialist – we have that. With Perron we have that even more so.

      And while I agree with you I also think that other GMs would might put him at $5.5MM and will pay up for him – hence his trade value is high trade him!

      If he signs to the big $ in round 1 of playoffs we will be writing the articles “Where’s Gangner?” . . . People who think he’s going to turn into Marchand or Bergeron are dreaming I think.

      • I would think that the Oilers HAVE tried trading him. My gut says that no one would pay him $5.5M right now.

        For the record, I’m not trashing Gagner in any way, just don’t think he’s worth that much when you look at some of the other names out there.

    • Hair bag

      Hey DAF, while you cherry pick the point that Gags has been gifted top line minutes, you fail to mention that he also has never played with the quality of players that most of the other guys have. He was expected to do too much and should have been sent back to junior when he first came into the league. The true tell of what he can be will become apparent as the the skill level of his linemates improves and he is allowed to be a complementary second line player. I would be willing to bet that he becomes a consistent 60pt guy. Look at Patick Sharpe, he never came into his own until he was 25-26yrs.

    • Kodiak

      Great post DSF. Just because Gagner was in the league two years earlier than he should and therefore has more overall points totals than most of his comparables doesn’t mean he will produce more going forward or is a better player. I’m looking forward to Willis response.

      Looking at those comparables I would also look at the style of games they all play. Except Kane , they all play a much more physical, defensively responsible game than Gagner does. I find there are way too many that focus strictly on points. Point production to me is only about 2/3 of the players actual value.

      As a side note Willis, if you are knocking Voracek down for his high shooting % this year, subtract a couple goals from Gagner’s totals as he shot over 2% higher this year than his career average.

  • DSF

    Short term arbitration decision to make both parties get back to bargaining a more common ground in that arbitration period .No big reward should be anticipated at this juncture .

  • JW – I don’t have the access to all the numbers that some of you do. However if you look at just his points per season, then his plus minus you can see how many goals against he was on for. That number would be a minimum as he could have been on for goal for that didn’t get in on points. In his 6 years as an Oiler only one year was he to the positive side. I like Sam’s offensive abilities however he just doesn’t cover the liabilities, maybe you can enlighten me on a better statistic.

  • DSF

    Cap hits of 2nd line centres in the WC:

    Paul Statsny – $6.6M (1 season until UFA)

    Logan Couture – $6M (starting next season but will be defacto #1C soon.)

    Mike Richards – $5.75M

    Ryan Kesler – $5.0M

    Stephen Weiss $4.9M

    David Backes – $4.5M

    Mike Fischer $4.25M

    Antoine Vermette – $3.75M

    Saku Koivu – $3.25M

    Rich Peverley – $3.25M

    Mikael Granlund – $2.5M

    Mikael Backlund – $1.5M (might be Monahan on an ELC)

    Mark Letestu – $1.25M

    Michal Handzus – $1M (could be replaced)

    Brian Little (RFA)

    For the Oilers to be competitive, they will have to find a range where Gagner fits into the salary structure without handicapping the team against what the competition is doing.

    Gagner is looking to get paid in the range of Mike Richards and Ryan Kesler and, while he certainly has the leverage, MacT will have to decide if the team can afford to pay him that much when he clearly is not that level of player.

  • DSF

    If you would ask Jet fans if they would trade Bryan Little for Sam Gagner straight up. Most Jets fan would say no way.

    Gagner potential has always been overrated .

  • Ummm, the Oilers have no second line centre option. If every other second line centre in the league is cheaper and better than Gagner, than they can’t trade him and fill that void. If Gags makes it to UFA next year, I guarantee he gets 5 mill plus from somebody.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Who would you target?

        Can you offer up a couple UFA’s, along with one or two trade options you feel could be had?

        Can’t help but feel Sean Couturier may be available for the right price. Marincin and the first in 14, if we took back Meszaros as well? I’d feel optimistic going into the 13/14 season with RNH, Couturier, Gagner, Gordon and Lander down the middle.

  • #ThereGoesTheOilers

    Gagner plays the next couple of seasons between a blossoming Yakupov and that lovely beast Perron – try and tell me he stays at 50 points and I’ll laugh you out the door.

  • Word to the Bird

    I should explain he’s not necessarily looking for 5.5 million. He wants 5.5 obviously, but is highballing on purpose so that he can meet somewhere in the middle, which is his expectation.

    I see an offer of 4.5-5 million in the cards still, but personally 5 million is an overpay.

    I don’t see anyone who can replace him unfortunately, and maybe it’s in our best interests to sign Gagner until we can at least find a decent replacement.

    • oliveoilers

      I agree, and said this in a post yesterday. He’s high balling, we’re low balling, it’s business. I don’t think we should sign him if the arbitration amount is too high. If MacT deems us not a contender this year, let Sam walk and use the money to improve during the year. The lunatics do not run the asylum! I’ve never been one for letting players hold us to ransom, either you want to be here or not. That said, we don’t know what was offered by the management. What is the sticking point? I think we need to take a lesson from Montreal and their negotiations with Subban, who to his credit responded awesomely and will be paid accordingly next contract. When people hide behind blanket statements like “you don’t understand the contract situation, blah blah, we have to overpay.” No. No we don’t. We just got out of one, we don’t need another. If he wants to try free agency, say thanks and good luck and point out that nobody asked for him in trade or offer sheeted him….

  • oliveoilers

    I think this is more about the NTC/NMC than the dollar figure. Gagner obviously isn’t going to sign long-term and risk getting traded to where ever MacT pleases. He hasn’t played on the worst team for his career to get sewered into that situation. Obviously he’d rather become a UFA at seasons end and decide where he goes. MacT needs to pay up or give him the NTC/NMC. He’s the character guy he has talked about since taking over as GM.

  • oliveoilers

    Gagner is easily the second best stickhandler on this team next to Eberle. He has nice crisp passes but the things that really worry me are his 5×5 play and his faceoffs. Both are absolutely atrocious, he routinely gets owned downlow on the cycle. I love Gags but its these two points that will ultimately be his downfall. Can’t start every play chasing the puck.

  • Citizen David

    Next season if he’s here he’s going to be playing with Hall, Eberle, Yakupov and Perron. He’s going to put up points.

    If Gagner is offloaded in the next two years, it won’t take long for people to grumble that our 2nd line center doesn’t put up enough points and can’t fill in for Nuge if he goes down.

    Gagner is entering his prime now. He’s going to get better than he already is.

  • oliveoilers

    What’s with the NTC and when did this become a staple of contract negotiations? These players are in the best league in the world, and they deserve the money they get. However, trades are a part of the business, so what gives a player the right to get paid millions of dollars a year and demand that he can’t be moved. Its ridiculous. If a player won’t sign a lucrative contract because he can’t get a NTC, then he should be shipped out. The NTC harms the team because it hampers a GMs ability to improve the team.

  • vetinari

    Working figures to promote a settlement both can live with until they can settle amicably thru future negotiation , here’s what it might look like . Adjudicator probably one closer to management side being as Gagner the first . Oilers top offer is $3.9 M and about a 20% raise , which is not bad considering the cap drawback and disposable income teams can spend this season. Gagner’s figure high . Splitting initial contract and inflated Gagner asking price comes out to 4.385 M one year . Being as first adjudicator is a management pick and market conditions he may even go below the $4.385 M mark and scale it back under $4M . His decision is not long term , nor should it be . If both parties happy with the decision ( never seen that happen in compulsory arbitration ) then it is up to them to negotiate length , not him .

  • DSF

    I understand that Gagner is hooked up with a Edmonton girl, who is or will be doctor. A career where you dont bounce around the country.
    Thats why the NTC is important to him.. wants a stable base.

    Offer him $4.5 X 5 yrs, with some kind of a limited NTC.

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    the age thing is way overrated. sick of hearing it. we’ve been hearing it season after season with this kid. “he’s only XX…. next year … he’s only XX…”

    what is translating from his game now that makes you think he’s going to become dominant as a finesse forward instead of just a shadow/third wheel/floats around in soup other people stir?

    all i’m seeing is abstraction that gives no concrete things he actually “consistently” generates on the ice well. how many primary assists, how many goals that arent trash? how many scoring chances does he develop himself with primary setups? how well is he along the boards and puck possession?

    we’ve seen the dudes game – it’s not worth 5.5 or even 5 until he’s an ace in the dot, plays some responsible defense and isnt a third wheel on the second line. he hasnt shown he can dominate in any sense at his position. id give him JUST FOR THIS YEARS SOLID performance… 4mil.

    does the #6 forward on a team deserve 5.5? bullcrap. (if he is your 4-or-5… the oilers are garbage)

    the love affair for underdog players in this market is hilarious. overpay players for being deficient at their roles.