Signs of Life


Sam Gagner, at all times a controversial player in Edmonton, has been particularly so this season. The impact of an early-season injury – from the time missed to playing with a full face shield to missed time – seems to have had serious repercussions on his play.

Last night may have been his best game of the season, the first sign that we’re back to watching the old Gagner .

Against Florida

The Oilers second line had a pretty good night against the Panthers. Gagner contributed a goal off a lovely Nail Yakupov feed, but more than that the line carried the play against Florida, out-chancing the opposition 6-2 at even-strength.

Five scoring chances came off Gagner’s stick and he was credited with seven shots on the night. Gagner’s only managed to record seven-or-more shots in a game four previous times in his career.

The Trend

The game against Florida has been the highlight of the season for Gagner, but it exemplifies a trend in recent games: he’s been better, even as the team around him has:

  • First seven games: zero goals, one assist, 12 shots
  • Last four games: one goal, three assists, 17 shots

Even prior to last night’s outing, Gagner has been on the rise, finally rewarding head coach Dallas Eakins’ faith in him after a lengthy slump. He’s shooting more, he’s scoring more and he’s playing better.

Musical Chairs

The obvious downside in Gagner’s resurgence comes at the individual level. Where does Mark Arcobello slot in now? The centre/right-winger isn’t going to supplant first-liner Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or specialist Boyd Gordon up the middle. The right wing depth chart (Eberle-Hemsky-Perron) looks pretty tight right now, too. Dallas Eakins has made it clear he wants a “heavy” fourth line, and Arcobello is many things but “heavy” isn’t one of them. Ryan Smyth could be bumped down and Perron returned to left wing, but Smyth’s play has been strong and his skill-set is somewhat unique in the top-nine.

But a personal negative is a team positive. Gagner’s return to top-nine form and strong play from Ryan Smyth give the Oilers the option to move a player out. Maybe that player is Arcobello, who at his current price-point might be attractive to a team in need of scoring. Maybe that player is Hemsky, long the subject of trade rumours, which would allow Arcobello to sub in on that line and take faceoffs for Gagner, too.

Regardless, the music has stopped and 10 people are trying to crowd into nine seats. Right now, Arcobello’s clearly the guy still looking for a place to land.

  • 24% body fat

    Hypothetical Question of the day:

    If Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were to practice 100 face offs against each other, would either of them actually get over 43%?

  • Chainsawz

    I guess when Eakins told Arcobello to “buy a house”, he didn’t specify what city.

    Something has to give and hard to believe but Arcobello is probably more attractive trade bait than Hemsky.

    • 2004Z06

      They have already replaced Smid. His name is Anton Belov. He is the reason Smid became expendable. Klefbom will be up later this year as well. He is touted as a Smid + offensive upside. No need for more Smid replacements, We need a legit top 1-2 D man. That pushes everybody back down to where they should be playing in the line up. Currently our D is playing higher in the line up than the should, hence the reason they are average at best.

      • Johnnydapunk

        That might be a bit dangerous to expect Belov to be with the Oilers next season as he only signs one year contracts to both allow him to keep his options open decide where he wants to play, as well as it keeps him “hungry” as he has said in one of his rare interviews, he feels that if he has to play for a new contract, he plays better.

        I do hope that he does resign next year even if we are only 20 games in as he has shown himself to be a rather good steady defenceman who will probably finish the season playing 20-25 min a game.

        Whether or not he will be cheap next year, I have no idea, he did turn down 3 mill a year in Russia to play in the NHL so it’s hard to say what kind of money he will want, I’m quite sure someone would pay 3 mil for him if the Oil don’t.

    • ^^ this.

      People complaining about Acton on the 4th line instead of Arco don’t really get it. For years we’ve been complaining about being easy to play, soft, yadda yadda. now you want to put a 165lb C on the 4th line? And leave the big goons out with him to “balance the line?”

      This isn’t Nintendo “Ice Hockey” where you pick 1 fat guy, 1 medium guy and 1 skinny to make a balanced line…

      I’m not saying I like our 4th line. But adding a smurf to it is just plain dumb. If Arco can’t crack the top 9 MacT needs to either decide to keep him for depth OR trade him. Its called being a GM and doing your job. But putting him on the 4th line intead of Acton is dumb.

      I challenge anyone to find any other team in the NHL who has a 5’6″ 165lb center on their 3rd line never mind their 4th line. If you find one let me know.

      • A-Mc

        “I’m not saying I like our 4th line. But adding a smurf to it is just plain dumb. If Arco can’t crack the top 9 MacT needs to either decide to keep him for depth OR trade him. Its called being a GM and doing your job. But putting him on the 4th line intead of Acton is dumb.”

        Generally speaking, our 4th line sees ice time vs other 4th lines. Arco can outplay a 4th liner any day of the week. He’s shifty enough and can pass well enough that with him on the 4th line, joensuu (who also has some skill to him) and Gazdic actually combine to be a scoring threat.

        Right now, with Acton out there, they are doing a decent job at holding o-zone time and they ARE getting some shots or atleast attempts. But i think with Arcobello out there, they can further improve that to actual scoring chances.

        Think back to preseason: Joensuu actually has some skill to him and he’s capable of more than just a typical 4th liner. Right now, he’s the skill guy on the 4th line but he can’t do much by himself. Arco could be the passing compliment to Joensuu standing infront of the net, that the 4th line needs to actually be a scoring threat each shift.

        After all is said and done.. It’s the 4th line and any changes you make aren’t likely to make a huge impact. Looking forward though, Arco is the only centerman option that could be of value to another team and for that reason, i would play him over Acton.

      • To clarify my position on the 4th line… I would be very happy with a complete overhaul of the line. I think its useless right now…. Arco + some other responsible 2-way skill. Who cares if they are ‘heavy’ or the typical 4th line etc.

        My issue is just when people single out Will Acton (presumably because they think he is getting favortism) and say we should just take him out and slot Arco in with Gadzic and whatever other knuckle dragger we can find for a 4th line and think it’ll be a ‘balanced line’ because of Arco’s skill.

        • A-Mc

          Acton is singled out because he’s a centerman and he’s the least useful guy on the line. Gazdic has more jam and will fight, Joensuu is huge and has more skill than the other 2 combined.

          Acton is in question because he’s the weakest link and Arco just happens to play his position and is better than him. Enough said.

          • 2004Z06

            Of course Arcobello plays better than Acton. One is a top 2-3 center and the other is a AHL-4th line NHL center. I would hope he plays the position better.

            The fact is Arcobello is not a 4th line player. There is only one player on this team that Arcobello should be replacing and that is Sam Gagner.

            Enough said.

          • A-Mc

            I would agree that Arco deserves more than the 4th line but the reality of the situation is that the 1,2,3 spots are taken so his options are slim.

            If the 4th line C is the only spot up for grabs, then we have to directly compare Arco to Acton. As others have said, in every way other than some body mass, Arco is better than Acton. Even in a reduced 4th line role, arco would be better than the current option, so he should be playing there.

            In a perfect world, arco goes to another team and plays a solid 2C role and has a great career. The kid deserves it. Unfortunately, it probably wont happen with the Oilers. If 4C is all he gets for now, then that’s all he gets.

  • oilfan in yyc

    I don’t understand why they can’t have Arcobello on the fourth with two “heavy” wingers. At least that way they could have one person with skill on the line to help the play move in the right direction.

    . Must have been typing my message at the same time as OilCanFan

  • Why not try Arcobello on the 4th instead of Acton? It isn’t like that line gets a ton of minutes anyways. I think he does pretty much everything Acton does but more effectively with an offensive upside and he probably throws what little weight he has more than Acton does too. Let Gazdic and Joensu be the “heavy”.

    Must have been typing my message at the same time as @oilfan in yyc

    • Spoils

      I think it should be Gordon on the fourth.

      RNH- Hall- Ebs ||
      Gags- Yak – Hemsky ||
      Arco – Smyth – Perron ||
      Gordon – Joensuu – Gazdic ||

      with Gordon getting some extra shift to take key draws. He’s 6ft 200lbs, he plays tough.

      I’m not against the concept of a non-scoring line that plays heavy and can intimidate and police, but to me these are better lines that will have overall better outcomes.

      still, you can’t argue with wins.

  • CellyHard

    I wonder if Arco could be a part a package with our first? I love him as a player, but unless we move a top 9 guy he doesn’t fit. He could fit next year easily, i wonder if Management has like what they have seen enough to gamble that.

  • Spydyr

    Smyth fell off badly in the second half of the season last year. I would at the very least keep Arco on the farm as insurance.

    Does Will Acton play well enough ? No I don’t think so.

    Lastly, one good game from Gagner is not enough. He needs to bring it every night like Arcobello did.