Everybody and their dog seems to want the Edmonton Oilers to move Sam Gagner for whatever the team can get and the sooner the better. That’s why comments by Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman suggesting the Los Angeles Kings had serious interest in Gagner have attracted significant attention in Edmonton.
Clifford & Nolan
Bob Stauffer of Oilers Now was asked on Wednesday’s show about the Gagner rumours. He said the return was “going to be a guy like a [Kyle] Clifford or a [Jordan] Nolan or a [Dwight] King,” and that “there’s going to be a financial component involved” in this scenario, hinting that the Oilers would be retaining salary in the deal.
Let’s look at those players. Among Kings forwards with more than 20 games played, Clifford ranks 12th in even-strength ice-time per game and Nolan ranks 13th. Neither of them kills penalties. Basically, they’re both big, young fourth-liners who contribute almost nothing beyond a physical game. The Oilers have some experience grabbing fourth-liner off high-end teams – guys like Colin Fraser and Ben Eager. Those guys looked great in Chicago, and looked terrible in Edmonton.
Would Clifford or Nolan be an upgrade on, say, Jesse Joensuu? Absolutely. Are they going to play top-nine minutes? Probably not. Nolan couldn’t score in the AHL, and Clifford had 28 points in the OHL in his draft year. They’re fourth-line guys.
If Luke Gazdic and Jesse Joensuu and Teemu Hartikainen and Lennart Petrell and Ben Eager and all the rest of the big forwards the Oilers have run through their fourth line show anything, it’s that adding a big, physical guy to the bottom of the roster doesn’t do anything to fix the problems in the top-six. So trading a guy like Gagner, who has problems but is a proven NHL scorer, for a younger version of Ben Eager or a better version of Luke Gazdic is kind of a stupid thing to do.
Dwight King is a better player, but he’s also a guy who had 17 points in 28 AHL games last year and had 33 in 79 AHL games two seasons ago. He has 23 points this season, playing primarily with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. He’s a big (6’4”, 230 pounds), young (he turns 25 this summer) left wing that can play top-nine minutes and kill penalties and add a physical presence. If the Oilers are moving Gagner for a forward, that’s the guy who the Kings might be willing to move and who is in the same value-range.
Now, the problems. If Gagner goes, that means Edmonton is relying on a Mark Arcobello or Anton Lander to play centre on the second line. As a guy who likes both players, I’d enjoy watching that but as an NHL G.M. I wouldn’t be at all comfortable with it. Maybe Gagner needs to be replaced anyway, but moving him for King means that Edmonton now has a second-line centre slot to fill. Is it easier to add a guy like King in free agency, or a guy like Gagner? If the Oilers need a big guy who can be plugged in on the second line, they can sign a Nikolai Kulemin or David Moss in the summer. There simply aren’t second-line centres available, unless they can somehow talk Paul Stastny into moving to Edmonton.
The second problem is salary. Sam Gagner has this season and two more with a $4.8 million cap hit. King has this season and one more at $750,000. So Edmonton would need to take another contract back, and probably need to eat half of Gagner’s contract. Yes, the salary cap is going up but this is also an Oilers team that needs to add significantly on defence and on the third line; spending $2.4 million for the next two seasons so that L.A. can have a cheap Gagner seems misguided.
I like King a lot, and he’s a nice fit for Edmonton. He’s just not a nice enough fit to justify dumping Gagner and retain half his salary in the process. Toss Jake Muzzin or Tyler Toffoli in, and there might be something to think about – but it’s not likely that the Kings are going to do that.