One of the things limiting head coach Dallas Eakins’ ability to make changes up the middle has been the recent injuries suffered by Boyd Gordon. Once Gordon’s back, though, Eakins has the perfect opportunity to send a message, by scratching underperforming veteran Sam Gagner.
Gagner isn’t the only player on the team who has done enough to earn a seat in the press box. He is, however, the one the Oilers would miss the least.
While Jordan Eberle to Justin Schultz or Taylor Hall have all exhibited the kind of ‘damn the defence, let’s get the goals’ mindset that the Oilers can’t seem to shake even when, say, defending a narrow lead, all of them also provide something that’s hard to find elsewhere. Hall and Eberle drive offence; Schultz is needed on a blue line lacking competence and now short Jeff Petry.
Gagner’s been worse than any of the others, and if this season is any indication Mark Arcobello would be an upgrade, at least over a single game. This would be a “reset” scratch, like the one Petry just had or Nick Schultz did earlier this year, one where the coach could make it clear that a laissez faire attitude towards puck management and defensive positioning simply isn’t tolerable.
- Hall – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle
- Perron – Arcobello – Yakupov
- Smyth – Gordon – Hemsky
The other nice thing about this setup is that it gives Eakins two solid defensive zone lines. The third line has been his defensive zone choice for most of the season, and it’s been doing just fine in that role of late (with Arcobello in for Gordon).
But this lineup also gives Eakins the option of double-shifting Anton Lander in for Nail Yakupov and sticking the second line out there for defensive zone draws too without being overly concerned about. And let’s be honest, halfway through the game when Yakupov and the fourth line gets glued to the bench that’s a nice option to have.
I still think Sam Gagner’s a useful NHL player. I also think he’s a guy whose two-way game probably suffered from all the coaching turnover in Edmonton over the years.
But he’s played badly this season. At first, injury was the obvious (and reasonable excuse), but at some point the Oilers need to get more out of him. They don’t have enough defensively responsible forwards to let a veteran like Gagner skate on that issue. So it makes sense to give him a reset, reinforce to him that this is what he needs to do, and then see if he gets the message.
If he does? Perfect. If he doesn’t? No-trade clause or not, the Oilers don’t have room for a second-line centre who plays the way Gagner has this season.