There’s a lot of talk about young Sam Gagner these days, some troubling moments in the defensive zone married to sluggish offense have many wondering about his future as an Oiler. Should there be concern?
WHO IS SAM GAGNER?
Gagner’s play defensively has been off this season. Although never a strength, his errant passes and exits from the defensive slot just in time to be "also in photo" are shocking for a player of his experience. I’ve watched this player from the beginning, and swear he’s never been this bad in his own end. Mistakes? Yes. Poor decisions? Sure. However, not like this year, a year in which we have this discussion damn near every game.
WHAT is going on? IS it impacting his offense as well?
THE WHO BY NUMBERS
One of the best ways to judge offensive talent is by 5×5 points per 60 minutes. If a player can post numbers at even strength he should be able to do it on the man advantage, and Gagner has been good 5×5:
- 2007-08: 1.96 (7th among regular Oiler forwards)
- 2008-09: 1.69 (6th among regular Oiler forwards)
- 2009-10: 1.56 (6th among regular Oiler forwards)
- 2010-11: 1.91 (2nd among regular Oiler forwards)
- 2011-12: 1.96 (4th among regular Oiler forwards)
- 2012-13: 1.84 (4th among regular Oiler forwards)
- 2013-14: 1.34 (10th among regular Oiler forwards)
Interesting. We know that Gagner has been poor away from the puck, but the 5×5/60 number also indicates he’s well off the pace offensively. This is a fairly consistent hockey player, and we’d need to see this happen over an entire year, but I think we’re seeing some effect of the horrible injury on the offensive side here.
What are the typical causes of a poor season after a group of better ones?
- Injury and recovery
- Coaching change
We can exclude age, Sam is a young man who should be entering his prime as an NHL player. Injury is certainly a part of this, and despite the player claiming things are good again I think we can assume part of that is the player not making excuses (hockey player bravado is famous), and so I’ll count the injury as a major contributing factor.
COACH AND PLAYER
The Oilers have already traded a recently signed veteran (Ladislav Smid) so it could happen again, but I’m not buying that Dallas Eakins has problems with Gagner. The comments by Eakins in regard to Gagner have been typical fare, certainly nothing that would cause a raised eyebrow. Eakins has been using Gagner more and more lately—he played over 19 minutes last night—and has him playing with two exceptional talents (Hall and Yakupov), so he’s either putting him in a position to succeed or showcasing him.
I’d suggest that one thing they could do is put Gagner in a soft-minutes situation when Boyd Gordon comes back, in an effort to get Gagner going offensively at even strength.The Oilers have a ready replacement on the 2line in Mark Arcobello.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
In my experience as a fan, these things usually straighten themselves out about the time we identify them. There’s no secret that Sam Gagner has been struggling, but he scored 2 assists last night and that’s perhaps the beginning of a strong run that will see him climb to career norms.
This is a very talented hockey player and a big part of the team. My bet is Craig MacTavish and Dallas Eakins give Sam Gagner all the time in the world to get things together.
Even if it takes the season.