TIGHTEN UP

Sam Gagner has had a miserable six months. In late September, the young Oilers center suffered a significant injury and it has taken him forever to come back to something resembling normal. In fact, I’d wager most fans would agree with me in saying last night was the first time we got to see Gagner in his typical role: creative, offensive center with an ability to make plays and contribute to offense. It’s been a long road.

IN THE BEGINNING

During the summer, new GM Craig MacTavish identified Gagner as a well-respected man about the Oiler room. This was an issue because there were some bad vibes in the locker room:

  • MacTavish: “It’s incumbent on everybody in that locker-room to really work to provide the type of working environment we want. The type of productive, hard-working, non-complaining culture we want. And I’m going to be diligent in my decision-making in terms of weeding out the complainers.”

The problem with Gagner has never been attitude or offense, but rather defense. After returning too early from the injury, Gagner was the culprit on a legion of goals-against and seemed to be ignoring responsibility and turning away from the slot while allowing free looks for opposition snipers. Galling for fans, and this had to be a major problem for the organization.

I mean, riddle me this: what action DO you take with a player known for intelligent play who is making simple, basic errors? The Oilers were extremely patient—too patient—before relegating him to limited duty on the fourth line. The play didn’t improve, but the negative impact was reduced because he was now far from the important part of the game. 

Gagner’s Corsi For % this season (5×5) is 47%, a smart improvement over last season’s 42.9% (source: Extra Skater) which means he’s heading in a better direction when on the ice, but these damn massive breakdowns are causing a frigging in the riggin’.

TIGHTEN UP 

Sam Gagner has never been known as a strong defensive center, and the problems he is encountering this season are his natural weakness. Last night, for the first time this season, Gagner wasn’t wearing anything that might reduce his comfort and visibility.

It looked better. In my opinion. And I’m not alone.

  • Bruce McCurdy, Cult of Hockey: #89 Sam Gagner, 7. Strong 200-foot game that included some effective & committed own-zone play. Scored a beauty on a tic-tac-toe play. 11/18=61% on faceoffs.

That’s a wonderful bit of prose, well-earned and a long time coming.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

I’ve always believed the worst time to give up on a player is when he’s underperforming because of injury or another identifiable reason (I had to throw that in there because once upon a time Ron Low/Miro Satan). Gagner’s performance last night suggests the new free range Gagner is back to last season’s levels.

I remain convinced the Oilers should keep Gagner, although perhaps a move to wing is a better option than keeping him at center. Agree?

  • And I’m not talking about the average value of a 2LC regurgitated from the discard pile who might, MIGHT be as good as the one we already have.

    And no, Arco at 20 or so games in isn’t going to be the answer alot of you guys think he might be. At least not to a NHL GM making the call.

    • The Soup Fascist

      This. ^

      Good on Arco for his performance so far this season. But small sample size does not begin to cover it. Over the long haul I suspect we need a 2C with a bit more jam.

      BTW. At what point does Social Services get called in when you abandon your young son two Christmases in a row? Maybe the Oilers have made me cynical but I am beginning think the basic premise for the Home Alone series of movies is not all that plausible.

  • Serious Gord

    Should have traded his a$$ two years ago.

    MacT should have traded him the day he (officially) became GM but instead he declared him to be a cornerstone player and signed him to a millstone contract.

    Putting him on the wing is worse than useless – he’s too small to dig for the puck. Third line centre on a top tier team at best.

  • Spydyr

    Allan I was wondering if you could comment on the “strategy change”, on the special teams?

    Playing regular defencemen on the PP was a huge shift for Eakins and it paid off…….the PP looked very good with regular defencemen in stead of having a bunch of forwards out there. Same on the PK …….having a regular PK line was very effective .

    I hope that this is a permanent change for the Oilers. It looked good by the eye and the score.

  • John Chambers

    Gagner costs too much for a 2nd or 3rd line C.

    I wouldn’t trade him if the return was nothing, but in agreement with LT we need a different look for #2 C.

      • Spydyr

        With a career minus sixty something?

        Not 5 million.

        A goal prevented is worth as much as a goal scored. There are better options on the Oilers to score. Not so many options in preventing them.

          • Spydyr

            Ummmm ,Stats=career minus sixty something

            To be exact career -63 this year -15

            It does mean something. It means he hurts his team more than he helps his team.

            Yeah he is a keeper alright.

          • BLAKPOO

            Perhaps you missed the part where I said “Say what you want about Gagner, just don’t use +/- to back up your argument.”

            Not sure how that makes me unable to recognize his deficiencies, or how that solidifies my opinion of him. Just saying using +/- to judge anyone is stupid, especially anyone on a bottom-dwelling team, as it’s a flawed stat.

            Maybe try reading before you run your mouth.

          • 24% body fat

            Has he ever played on a good team?

            Here are a list of other players on the oilers that suck defensivly

            Hall, Eberle, Hemsky, Yakupov, Jones, Gazdic, Jonesuu, J Schultz, Potter, Grebeshkov, Larsen, N Schultz,

            Get the idea, There are not many players on the oilers who are plus since being here.

            Also, Two years ago Sam lead the oilers in plus minus. I think it was his best season defensively. Was he the best forward defensively that year? Maybe but if you think not than your argument doesnt stand up.

            Plus minus = dumb stat

          • Ducey

            And if you can’t figure out the problems with +/- then you won’t change yours either.

            Here are a few hints:

            1) Gagner came into the league as an 18 yr old. Young players struggle with defense. This tends to improve over time.

            2)Gagner has played on a team intentionally trying to tank for rebuild purposes.

            3) Gagner has played with other young players. See point 1.

            The question is whether he will improve defensively. I think he will. His dad became a very good all round player after also being considered too small to play in the NHL.

  • Gagner’s defensive liabilities wouldn’t be near the problem we’re seeing this year if we even had league average D. The fact we don’t is simply magnifying his natural Achilles heel.

    However D can be taught and from what I’ve seen, he’s trying within the limits of a (very) difficult injury. As the season goes on and the new systems become instinctual and he fully heals, just watch him improve.

    First night without the dog collar and he’s a far better player. Yeah, small sample size but the difference was noticeable. Where did he score his goal last night? That’s right, in the “high danger/greasy” part of town. And how many players do we have that’ll go to those areas, you know, where most goals are scored?

    All you guys are hot to trade a high value player (yes, he is), but if his game comes back and improves (which it will – he’s 23 FFS) you better be sure you get fair value for the player he can be, not the player he’s been for half an injury throttled season.

    • Re-Comment # 14

      Good points Dave,

      I usually agree with a lot of your entries, but I think we’re going to have to disagree on this.

      The first point, how is the Defensemen responsible for Gagner’s man? How does the defenseman actually play into Gagner’s defensive decisions or play?

      My issue is this, Gagner’s goes to the wrong man constantly, almost without fail.

      He rarely is in the right position in his zone for a center, has repeatedly picked up the wrong man on cycles, is far too easily boxed out by other players & his player positioning is terrible for a center, (he’s always on the wrong side of the puck).

      His back checking is as bad, His overall defensive stats are always weak, MC79 has done some great work on this, one thing that’s has been consistent is Gagner’s weak defensive play.

      Second point –agree & disagree here, You can only teach defense to players that want to learn defense, there is also some inherent skill in being able to anticipate and read coverage quickly, some have it, other don’t, that instinct can’t be taught.

      After 7 years the one thing that has been consitant is his weak defensive play, do you think in his 8th year he’ll have an epiphany?

      Third point – So the one night they beat the hell out of a tired team with arguable the worst NHL goalie is enough of a sample size to tell you Gagner is going to start playing in the paint?? In 7 years have you ever seen Gagner consistently play that way?

      I’ve been an Oiler fan since the inception into the NHL; I have never witnessed Gagner as a crease crasher? Not even comparable to a player like Perron, let alone a player like Smyth.

      Lastly, even leaving this season out of it, his stats in the NHL for defense is weak, very weak. I do think he’s a really good offensive player, one of our best & most consistent, I won’t argue that.

      My take on it – The Oilers need a solid two way center, one that can match up to Thornton, Kopitar, Toews , Backes without being completely dominated.

      The Oilers have to get bigger, faster, and stronger. This is not Gagner’s best attributes; they can lose Gagner’s offense to gain a better defensive player.

      Management has to decide if they want players that will make the team better or players that have great character & are great people to be around.

      Enjoy your holidays.

      • Rdubb

        Gagner is NOT a team player!!!
        He has said many times that he DOESNT want to play wing.
        What happened when Hall was asked about moving to centre, he said something like; I’ll try it if it helps the team even though I haven’t played centre in X yrs… A TEAM PLAYER.
        Gagner thinks he is good enough to be an NHL centre, & everything mentioned above says he isn’t, plain & simple.
        Do what’s best for the team Sam, move to the wing. Help your team win more games, thus you’d have a better +/-, more points & get paid more $

      • I’ll take that. I’m projecting a bit based on what I believe Sam can be, not so much on what we’ve seen the past few months. It’s a leap of faith based on how I’ve seen other athletes develop and the psychological effect certain types of traumatic sports injuries can have on performance.

        Still, at the end of the day alot of what I’m saying could easily be debunked given the track record. We’ll see. Either way, it’s just a game so not too worried about the outcome.

  • Gagner is a turd, you just keep polishing him Lowetide.

    I’d rather see him shipped out. His contract is what prevents him from being a second, or third line winger. Too much cash for a one demensional player. If he was 4 million instead of 5 I could see it. I would sign Hemsky to 4 million for 2 more years and trade Gagner for some reasonably priced depth players.

    We need to trim the fat to afford a #1 Dmen. We also need some more actual NHL players who make less then 2 million a year.

  • LT,

    I respectfully disagree on gagner. There are things to like but not at the point of keeping him. I wanted him traded At his high point last year.

    Our top 6 is too small and similar. Nuge, hall, ebs, gagner, yakupov and Perron

    We need a two way centre. It doesn’t have to be an all star just a responsible player that can contribute 40 to 50 points, like gagner but also play D and add size.

    I would much rather ship gagner out then yak or ebs.

  • Sorry Lowetide one good game doesn’t erase the 5 or 6 years worth of a sample size of bad face off %,and at best questionable decision making on the defensive end we have seen his entire career so far

  • I will cut him some slack for the broken jaw,but that didn’t stop him from back checking,he is to inconsistent,just like Hemsky,every once and awhile you see their A game,you need players that bring it every nite,especally when they make 5 mil a year.Watched a show last night,the coach was giving the team crap,said it’s not my job to motivate you,motivate yourself!!!

  • D

    Id keep Hemmer over Gags. He isnt good enough to be on this team long term. He has talant and skill that another team would strongly benefit from, as an addition to a team with size, but we need to move some of the smurfs for some skilled size. He cant get anyone off the puck along the boards like Hemsky can, and a one-game sample of him actually back-checking is not a career made. He simply sucks defensively, and we need better characters to be able to defend since our blueline isnt exactly strong.

    We are all guilty of wanting to run Hemsky out of town, but since hes shown that his shoulders are no longer made of glass, he is very much a great part of this team. Secondary scoring, fantastic hands, and a willingness to go into the rough areas, something maybe one or two other Oilers are willing to do.

    Trade Gags, or dont re-sign him is my opinion. His role needs to be replaced with some more size.

    • Hemmer is certainly a polarizing figure………I love when he shows up, but because he plays an individual game, this is unreliable and hard to predict.

      If Hemmer could add some upper body strength, he could really be more effective along the boards……..right now there is too much pick pocket hockey in his game. We know he can take the punishment……..I would like to see him give it for a change?

      Maybe we could play him with Gazdic for added muscle and confidence?

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    Play him at 2C….shelter his minutes…..then when he’s hitting his stride. ….trade him at the deadline like you should have done with Hemsky last year!….Not because they aren’t good players, but because they are redundant on our team and when they are healthy and playing well they have some value in the trade market.

    However, I think that Oilers brass are a little desperate because of the current state of affairs (29th place team) and will not have the good sense and courage to trade a good player while he’s playing good.

    On the bright side, we have no hope for a playoff push, so there is no need to retain veterans to support a playoff run like we did for that dismal 10 game stretch at the end of last season

    So no LT, I do not agree. I sometimes think that the stats guys want to win the CORSI Cup while I want to win the Stanley Cup.

  • He’s had a different head coach every year he’s been in the league and he still (somehow) manages to progress. His jaw has clearly been an issue all year, he’ll be a heluva player yet, I think it should happen when he’s still on my team.

  • Ducey

    I’d leave him at center until they can upgrade with someone better. And no, Arcobello is not that player.

    Your top 4 wingers going forward have to be Perron, Hall, Ebs, and Yak. They are all more dynamic players than Sam.

    Ultimately, he is likely the guy that gets traded. Might as well let him build his value for the rest of the season.

  • Citizen David

    Sure. Gagner can play on my team. On the wing. On the third line. At a reduced salary. Decent one-dimensional player. Not a fit for the needs of the team.

  • Citizen David

    Gagner playing his best is an effective player that can play on my team. The problem is our list of players we want to keep is getting really long which means that help will have to come from free agency, OKC, and personal development.

  • Citizen David

    I am going to require more than a good performance against a struggling team on its second night of a back-to-back on the road, before I reverse my condemnation of Gagner.

    He flat out cheated for points last year, not even trying defensively, to get his contract.