Sam Gagner would like to forget last season. After Zack Kassian broke his jaw in preseason, he missed the first 13 games of the season. He returned to the lineup on October 29th, but he admitted afterwards that he came back too early.
Gagner was seemingly playing catch up all season and he finished the year with 37 points in 67 games, an ugly -29 ranking and his advanced stats, CF% and FF%, were both 44. It was a tough season.
Gagner’s struggles have led to much speculation about trading him, and I believe the Oilers will move Gagner, but it might not be where people expect.
Trading Gagner, or any player, is always an option, but his trade value is at an all-time low right now, and I don’t see Craig MacTavish giving him away for nothing. The Oilers still believe he can be a productive player, and unless a surprising trade offer arises, I suspect you will see Gagner moved to the wing next season.
I’ve said for two seasons I would play Gagner on the wing. He hasn’t shown the ability to be a strong two-way centreman, so instead of hoping it happens, I believe the Oilers will move him to the wing where there are less defensive responsibilities.
In seven seasons Gagner has never been better than 47.6% in the faceoff dot.
Gagner has won 2271 of the 5038 faceoffs he’s taken in his career. Through seven seasons he is 45% in the dot. Faceoffs are not his forte, and it is foolish to expect him to make a drastic improvement starting his 8th NHL season.
Gagner’s best assets are his play making skills, his competitiveness and his offensive instincts. I don’t believe a move to the wing will suddenly make him a 60+ point player, but it will lessen his defensive responsibilities and hopefully improve his analytics.
Andrew Cogliano felt he was best suited to be a centre when he played in Edmonton. He was traded to Anaheim in the summer of 2011, and played centre his first year with the Ducks. The next year Bruce Boudreau moved him to the wing, and Cogliano’s game flourished.
He scored 22 goals this past season, and in the lockout year he had 13 goals in 48 games, (prorates to 22 goals in 82 games). I asked Cogliano about moving to the wing last season.
“I always felt I was a centre. I wanted to play centre, but when Bruce moved me to the wing I had to accept it. Now I love it. I wouldn’t play the middle again now if they asked me. The wing is much easier defensively, and I can use my speed more to get in on the forecheck. I find I’m not as tired, because I don’t have to battle down low as often. I probably should have been more open to it when I was younger, but I grew up playing centre, and I that’s what I knew, but now I feel more comfortable on the wing than I did at centre,” Cogliano said.
I know Cogliano and Gagner are different players, Cogliano is faster, and there is no guarantee Gagner will have the same success, but after seven seasons it seems clear that he won’t excel down the middle. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective player, in fact, I think the move will help him more than it will hurt him.
I know many fans want to trade Gagner, but his trade value is at an all-time low so if they trade him now, they likely will get nothing of value in return.
I sense the Oilers feel the same way, and I’m guessing Dallas Eakins has already sat down with Gagner and told him to come to camp prepared to play the wing. That would be the ideal plan.
It gives Gagner time to mentally and physically prepare to play the wing. He can practice picking up pucks along the boards, and getting it out of his own end. He hasn’t had to do it regularly.
The other thing the Oilers should do is show Gagner film of the final 28 games of his rookie season. Gagner finished that year with 28 points in 28 games, and he played the majority of those games on the wing with Cogliano as his centre.
It is a small sample size, but showing Gagner video of him succeeding and producing as a winger can’t hurt.
I don’t see him improving as a centre, and I believe the Oilers will move him to the wing. He had the most productive 28-game stretch of his NHL career playing on the wing, and while it is unlikely that he’ll be a point-a-game player as a winger, I think he will have more success in a position where he has less defensive responsibilities.
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