Sam Gagner vs. size

Does Sam Gagner struggle in games against bigger teams?

Last week we looked at how the Oilers’ top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle fared against individual teams, and found that there seemed to be no link between how big the opposition was and how well they played. However, many in the comments wondered if the same would hold true for Sam Gagner – so I decided to look.

The Scoring Chances

The above are the Oilers’ scoring chances at even-strength with Sam Gagner on the ice this year – and the overall trend is interesting. The correlation between scoring chances and team points is -0.47, meaning that as the teams got better, Gagner’s scoring chances declined. However, the correlation between team weight (as put together by James Mirtle) and scoring chances was -0.65, meaning that Gagner was more likely to play poorly against a big team than he was a good team. (There is some overlap here, the correlation between weight and point totals for the Oilers’ opponents is 0.21, meaning that bigger teams were generally a little better than smaller teams). The correlations aren’t definitive, but they certainly seem to suggest that Gagner’s line had trouble against bigger teams. What happens when we look at some specific examples.

The Matchups

We may as well start with St. Louis, since Gagner’s line was terrible against the Blues. On March 1, Gagner played with Ryan Jones and Ales Hemsky and saw pretty much the entire opposition rotation. That line held its own, going +4/-4 in even-strength scoring chances that night. On March 23, Gagner found himself with Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, and again saw a pretty even rotation of the opposition; this time his line was out-chanced 4-0. The trend holds in the third game; this time Gagner, Paajarvi and Hemsky played together and once again saw a variety of opponents. The line as a whole wasn’t good and Gagner in particular gout out-chanced badly (8-2). It’s a small, three game sample, but it’s noteworthy because Gagner wasn’t hard-matched either at home or on the road against a particular line; he just saw a mix of (mostly larger) opponents and got hammered.

What about San Jose? Things got off to a bad start – Gagner, Hemsky and Nail Yakupov played together in the Oilers’ home opener against a variety of opponents and were out-chanced 5-2 as a line. Things got worse in the next game – the same trio was out-chanced 9-1 together (Gagner was +1/-10 on the night) despite barely seeing San Jose’s top line. San Jose coach Todd McLellan’s decision to match Clowe/Gomez/Couture or Wingles/Handzus/Havlat paid off here. The third game was the first one where Gagner did okay (+6/-6 on the night); he played with Yakupov and Paajarvi while McLellan hard-matched Couture, Pavelski and Havlat against them. Defence might have had something to do with this, too – in the first two games, Gagner saw lots of Dan Boyle and Matt Irwin; in the third game he saw some Boyle/Irwin and a little more Doug Murray/Brad Stuart. It’s true that Murray/Stuart are bigger defenders, but Boyle/Irwin are much better players.

What about Minnesota, the lone sub-200 pound team Gagner’s line struggled against? The scoring chances were basically even in the middle two games, so let’s look at the first and fourth contest the Oilers played against the Wild. In the first game, playing with Hemsky and Yakupov, Gagner saw lots of Cullen/Zucker/Setoguchi , as well as the Spurgeon/Prosser defence pairing. That’s an awfully small opposition matchup, but the Gagner line was out-chanced 2-to-1 and Gagner himself was +4/-10 on the night. The fourth game saw Gagner, Eberle and Paajarvi put together (Hall, Horcoff, Hemsky was the other scoring line) and they got a vicious matchup – Suter/Brodin on defence, and Koivu/Coyle/Setoguchi up front. That’s not a huge group, but it’s a very talented one and the Gagner line ended up getting out-chanced 8-to-3.

Bottom Line

It would take a lot more computer know-how than I have – say, going through NHL game sheets and tracking Corsi events against every opponent Gagner played, then ranking those opponents by size – to present a full statistical case for Gagner struggling versus size, but by eye and based on the scoring chances I think there’s a reasonable basis to believe that he probably did. What I’ve presented above could be noise, but because it fits with what I’ve seen I’m inclined to believe it isn’t.

Tyler Dellow has been pursuing Gagner’s Corsi/scoring chance collapse from a different angle and he’s determined that most of the problem came on shifts with faceoffs (part one here, part two here ). I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile those findings with these; one possibility is that after the faceoff the size of the wingers has a big impact in a) ability to win puck battles and b) ability to bull through to the net with the puck once the puck battle has been won.

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Recently around the Nation Network

In his Random Thoughts piece over at Flames Nation, Kent Wilson hits on a lot of points – including a case to move into the top-five at the draft – but also talks about the GM of the year nominations and who he would have picked:

Doug Wilson. His team began the year with a big gaping hole at the end of the roster – the the degree that the bottom-6 was dragging down his impressive collection of stars elsewhere. By the trade deadline, he had cleared out the dead wood (Handzus, Clowe, Murray), improved the bottom-6 with a few low cost acquisitions (Scott Gomez, Raffi Torres) and converted his trash to a nice collection to future assets to boot.

Click on the link above to read more, or check out some recent pieces here at Oilers Nation:

  • Wax Man Riley

    Gagner isn’t too small.

    I remember another athlete that was “too small,” or “too slow.” He kept training an stuck with his dream.

    That person was Rudy. He went on to win a Superbowl and MVP of the NBA.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    I like Ganger as a winger or 3rd line center. He has heart and the right attitude but I’m not sure he is a fit on this team. If the oilers come back next fall with nuge and ganger as their two top centers again, it will be very evident that this management team is completely lost and can’t manage assets. I think Mac t is smarter than than that.

  • Spydyr

    Or you could watch the games.Gagner gets owned by bigger players,every game.

    Never wins one on one battles.Knocks no one off the puck.Loses body position defensively.Cannot cover the front of the net.Can’t win a faceoff.

    Maybe a winger but defiantly not a centre.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I once seen a machine used in a movie. Princess Bride I believe. They had this rack machine that could actually stretch the vertical size of anyone who saw fit to use it.

    Maybe Sam Gagner could borrow that machine from Paramount Studious for a few sessions, no? If he was 6’2 and could be tazered before each shift, it would solve a lot of the Oilers second line center issues.

    • Ducey

      The machine didn’t stretch people, it took off a set number of years from the victim’s life. Just like getting the crap beat out of him at centre is doing to Gagner.

        • Ducey

          I am sounding like such a movie nerd now, but sort of. Brave heart got racked up, which is tied up from his wrists and feet, then pulled at both ends by horses. I’m not sure this added inches so much as was used to pull people in half.

          However, I think it’s funny you are trying to help Sam get bigger by suggesting fictional and historical methods of torture.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Okay, enough with all this torture then. How about the Jack Reacher approach, if it’s self inflicted?

            Bite off his fingers at the knuckles without the use of a knife. A guy who’s willing to do anything to live must be useful. With this pie chart I’ve included [http//funkycoldmedina] we can conclude he would certainly make a fine hockey player if he’s willing to do anything to win.

            Bottom line, whatever Sam can do, fictional or non fiction, he will never be a second line center on a competitive hockey club. They can’t move him to the wing just to watch his value plummet. He needs to be moved now while his value has peaked.

            Barkov or Christina Hendricks!

          • The Soup Fascist

            There are lots of movies with great racks. Striptease was awesome, The Porky’s movies had their moments ……. Wait we are not on the same page here, are we?

  • Gagner .. 5.11 199 lbs
    Crosby 5.11 200 lbs
    Kane 5.11 188 lbs
    Datsyuk 5.11 198 lbs
    Plekanec 5.11 198 lbs.

    All above are centers and same size,.. Gagner is in pretty good company. Never hear about guys on the list being singled out as being to small for the game etc., only hear about Gagner.

    Gagner.. needs to go to a Gary Roberts type school for the summer, ala: Stamkos two years ago, sure changed his games.

    Also.. get rid of that dumb short pee wee stick he uses… would be better defensively if he got a ” mans hockey stick”. Sam has a little bit of sandpaper to his game.

    What amazes me most, is Oilers lack of player development.!!!! Guys leave here and become better players… the list endless you know who they ware.

    • TeddyTurnbuckle

      And we have some smaller guys up front, but like Crosby and Datsyuk and others, their smaller stature isn’t as much of an issue because they have so much skill in other areas. Though Sam is a good hockey player, I don’t think he’s in the same league, at least right now, as those other players. And because we already have smaller, arguably more skilled players on the team, Sam is a player that the team can stand to lose some skill and gain some size to make a better overall second line, and therefore better team.

  • I like Gagner as a trying hard player for the Oilers, but it is time to sort out that he is not the long term 2nd line centre the Oilers really need.

    The Oil must keep the other kids of Hall, Ebs, RNH, Yakupov, Schultz as the primary core.

    Trading Gagner as part of a package to get Florida’s #2 pick works best here to get that high calibre future #2 centre….such a MacKinnon or Barkov.

    I would put Gagner in a package with a prospect (Gernat, Omark, or maybe Rajala)and a high other pick position in 2014 to get Florida’s #2 position this year.

    Then the Oilers keep the #7 for any of D prospects like Nurse, Pulock, Ristolainen, or Zadorov.

    The Oil do still then have more assets to trade with(other prospects, other 2013 or 2014 draft positions, players like Hemsky, Horcoff, etc…) for the present needed defence and bottom six type players or get thru free agency.

    • The Soup Fascist

      Then the Oilers have no 2nd line center for next year and the team will miss the playoffs again – one can’t expect either Horcoff or Barkov/Mackinnon to competently play in #2C role next year. This is another trade “here for now” deal. Cogliano, while struggling in the playoffs, could have been a viable bottom 6 winger in the organization now, for instance. Instead, he has been turned into a #52 overall pick in this year’s draft who will likely turn into nothing. I know it a bit of apples and oranges but drafting for a future center (especially when such a trade creates a big hole) is just not ideal for a fan who is tired of seeing this team miss the playoffs. And Gernat vs Omark/Rajala are completely different (wouldn’t want to risk losing Gernat when you don’t know what you are getting).

    • Spydyr

      I just thought you wrote Rajalaland when you put “Rajala)and” haha thats funny, now I got a nickname for Toni Rajala, nice I’ve been a fan since his memorial cup days with the Wheat Kings..small and gritty player..very shifty, the kind of “small” players this team can afford to sign..
      I agree with your suggestion of trading Gagner and a prospect to get a top three pick but I doubt the names you mentioned gets it done..
      Maybe Oilers could get 4th overall to take Monahan by trading Gagner plus next years 1st, both this years seconds, and another roster player like Paajarvi gets it done..thats a big risk but one you’d have to take if you want to get that prototypical 2nd line center prospect and keep the 7th overall at the same time to select Darnell Nurse but I’d be all for it, time to gamble a bit.

    • Put yourself in Florida’s shoes, or better yet pretend the Panther’s are proposing that trade to the Oilers. Would you take that trade?

      You have a Calder candidate who needs a winger to play and grow with, why on earth would you take Gagner over the future of your franchise?

  • You have to think that, like Cogliano, if Gagner gets moved he ends up on the wing in some other organization.

    It really looks like he’s best suited in a role that doesnt require him to take faceoffs and over-tax him defensively.

    I like Gagner, big fan, but I would be just as happy with him as my 2LW as I would him my 2C. All the Oilers need (as they have for years) is depth at C to make that happen.

    • Since Hemsky won’t be here next year (and let’s face it, that’s the most likely scenario), this is probably the most reasonable and effective outcome. I’ve seen him (Hemsky)in person. You’d be hard pressed to believe he competed in a contact sport, or any sport for that matter. He’s far smaller and frail looking than you’d think. PRV is taller and a bit more filled out, but he dosn’t exactly look like he eats alot of beef either.

      Sam is an excellent complimentary player. Probably the best we have. But you put three small guys on a line and is there any doubt they’ll get dominated by larger, equally skilled players?

    • Would you say moving him to the wing with Yak and getting a bigger second line centre that can win some draws makes our second line deadly. Or would you prefer to move out Gags and get both an upgrade in size at wing and centre?

      Technically Paajarvi is our bigger second line LW, and him, Gags and Yak had some good success at the end of the year. But if I had my way he’d be bumped down to third line shut down and some Pk, but could still jump up if needed. While Same gets moved out for an upgrade in size at centre, and we pull in a LW with some size and skill (a player type that isn’t impossible to find).

      • I like Paajarvi, but he isnt consistent enough offensively for me to be comfortable with him on the 2LW spot. I really WANT him to be, but he isnt yet. Who knows, sometimes it seems like a switch gets flicked and all of a sudden these kids have it, but I think Gagner will be a bigger threat offensively, especially if he can stop worrying about the defensive aspects of being a Centre.

  • Ducey

    Thanks for trying to tackle this Willis. I also respect how you pontificated on what the data could be demonstrating as oppose to outright positing as fact.

    Outside of the advance stats side of things, it seems pretty apparent Gagner has a tough time against bigger competition. I wonder if he would fare better with some bigger grittier wingers.

    I like Gagner as a player, but I don’t like what he brings to the team. I think upgrading on size and downgrading at skill at this position would be a good way for the team to improve, especially if that guy could win faceoffs.