Sam Gagner has been a fixture on the rumour mill for years for good reason, and plays for a team that desperately needs help on the back end, but the Edmonton Oilers are going to have trouble getting fair value for him.
Dmitri Kulikov has been a fixture on the rumour mill for years for good reason, and plays for a team that desperately needs help up front, but the Florida Panthers are going to have trouble getting fair value for him.
I’m just speculating, but might there be a deal to be made there?
The story on Gagner is well-known in Edmonton. The sixth overall pick in the 2007 Draft is at an all-time low in value thanks to a disastrous season in which he went minus-29 and was outplayed by minor-leaguer Mark Arcobello. Despite this, he’s a gifted offensive player and despite a reputation as a defensive problem he hasn’t been nearly as exposed in previous seasons with the Oilers.
Gagner’s been a fairly decent second-line centre for a poor Edmonton club, and could certainly play the kind of role Derrick Brassard played for the Rangers en route to the Stanley Cup Final – that of the No. 3 pivot who centres a somewhat sheltered scoring line.
In the right situation, Gagner could be an awfully useful player, but it increasingly seems like Edmonton isn’t the right situation. Gagner’s size is a sore point on a team that lacks it, and on a team that lacks pure two-way players but has a number of creative scorers his skillset seems somewhat redundant.
The primary difficulty for the Oilers is that while they need help everywhere they really need help on defence, and most teams aren’t going to trade a top-four defenceman for a player who just had the season Gagner did.
Dmitry Kulikov had a rough season in Flordida. The 14th overall pick in the 2009 Draft had his trade value damaged in a year in which his offensive production fell, he posted an ugly minus-26 rating, and was made a healthy scratch by the Panthers’ coaching staff. Despite this, he’s a gifted two-way defenceman and it’s hard to have a decent plus/minus when the goalie behind you has a 0.891 even-strength(!) save percentage (and keep in mind, there’s little evidence defencemen have a decisive influence on save percentage and significant evidence they don’t).
Kulikov’s been a pretty decent top-three defenceman for a poor Florida club, and would certainly be a regular even on a much stronger team – it’s hard to see him slotting any lower than No. 5 even on a very deep depth chart.
In the right situation, Kulikov could be an awfully useful player, but it increasingly seems like Florida isn’t the right situation. Not only is there significant evidence that the Panthers are skeptical of Kulikov’s overall value, but he’s a restricted free agent who can threaten to leave for the KHL if they aren’t willing to pay him like they believe in him.
That makes it difficult to trade Kulikov for the offensive help that Florida desperately needs (leading scorer Nick Bjugstad had 38 points). Most teams aren’t going to trade for a maybe top-four defenceman who just had the season Kulikov did and is looking to be paid like a top-four defenceman.
Deal or No Deal?
I think the Oilers would need to be interested in Kulikov. He checks off a lot of boxes, providing the team with decent size (6’1”, 204 pounds) and adding a left-side puck-moving defenceman who at age 23 has plenty of upside and a track record of decent NHL results. As long as he was open to signing a multi-year deal at less than ridiculous dollars (say three years by $3.5 million), I don’t see why they wouldn’t make that deal. In their shoes, I wouldn’t be averse to adding a sweetener if it got the trade done.
Florida’s perspective is a little more difficult. I think they would need to be interested in Gagner, given the current anemic state of their offence and the fact that their top two centres have a combined 141 games of NHL experience and that there’s basically nothing after them. Gagner’s also only 24 years old and isn’t a bad fit for the age of Florida’s developing core, while simultaneously giving them a boost in the here-and-now. Further, the Panthers face a difficult negotiation with Kulikov and are likely not going to have an easy time attracting free agent centres.
With that said: I personally see Kulikov as a better player than Gagner, and I wonder if the Panthers aren’t hoping to aim a little higher in terms of help up the middle, perhaps as part of the return on a trade involving the No. 1 pick. It’s not a terrible deal, but it isn’t one I’d make in their shoes.
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