OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD

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No matter how you spin it, Sam Gagner had a putrid season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14 with a career-low 37 points before being shown the door – to the delight of many – and ending up with the Arizona Coyotes via a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out” was the reaction of Gagner’s many critics in his 7th NHL season, one that started with a broken jaw courtesy of Zack Kassian in pre-season, as Edmonton’s second-line centre behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Harsh, but understandable, given eight straight years out of the playoffs.

So, Gagner gets a fresh start in Arizona, not to mention an actual shot to make the playoffs this season. The Oilers, meanwhile, are still looking to fill the void left by Gagner. Until GM Craig MacTavish makes a trade, it looks like it will be a combination of rookie Leon Draisaitl, Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander getting a crack at the job.

Even in a worst-case scenario – if MacTavish can’t swing a deal to land a proven second-line pivot — you’d have to think any one of the above mentioned trio will be able to do better than Gagner’s 37 points (his best is 49 points, in his rookie season), right? We’ll see how that plays out.

A LOOK BACK

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Gagner, who got married this off-season, did an interview with Jason Gregor on TSN 1260 today and took a look back at his time here and a look ahead at moving south to the Valley of the Sun. Some snippets from that interview:

On why the Oilers didn’t progress during the rebuild the way the team had hoped during his time here: “It’s hard to say. I mean, obviously if I had the answers, I would have done a better job of helping us out of it.

“I always try to pride myself on being a good teammate and being somebody who can lead by example, be a leader on and off the ice. I don’t feel that I ever wavered in that, even through some tough times. I’m proud of that fact.

“Obviously, it wasn’t good enough. You know, we just couldn’t figure it out as a group. I still have a lot of great friends on the Oilers and, you know, I wish them all the best. I’m sure that coming up here, they’re going to be a team to reckon with.”

A LOOK AHEAD

Dave Tippett

On the transition to playing in Arizona, out of the NHL fishbowl that is Edmonton: “I don’t think it’s something you know until you’re in it. All my hockey my entire life has been in Canada obviously, growing up here and playing with the Oilers my entire NHL career.

“It’s hard to say what it’s going to be like. I think at times it’ll be good to be able to get away from the rink and focus on some other things and get my mind in the right place. I’m sure, at times, you compete and push through. You know what? It’s an exciting challenge for me regardless . . .”

On a fresh start and putting the struggles of 2013-14 behind him under coach Dave Tippett: “I don’t have any regrets. I’m just excited for this year coming up I feel like I’ve had a good summer and it’s important for me to get off to a good start.

“It’s obviously something where I need to be coming into camp ready. I have new people that I need to prove myself to. It’s one of those things were you’ve got to be ready right from the first day of training camp to prove yourself and make sure that you have a spot in the line-up solidified and that you can move forward from there.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

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The Oilers wanted and needed to get bigger and grittier in the top-nine up front and Gagner didn’t fit into that plan. He certainly didn’t force the issue or create any second thoughts with the kind of season he had. In that regard, it was time for him to move on.

Even with all the warts on his game, and there were many, Gagner gave you all he had, even if on some nights it wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we see a bounce back from Gagner this season in Arizona, even if it seemed he hit a wall here.

As for what Oilers fans can expect and will get out of the No. 2 hole at pivot this season, it’ll be an interesting juxtaposition with what Gagner does in the desert with the Coyotes.

WHILE I’M AT IT . . .

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. . . This today from Gregor upon his return from vacation: “I see Taylor Hall scoring 90 points this season.”

If Gregor is taking any action on that prediction, I’d be willing to make a wager. While Hall is coming off a season in which he scored 80 points in 75 games, that GP number represents a career-high. His previous seasons saw him play 65, 61 and 45 (48-game season).

Hall has a career mark of .91 PPG (it was 1.07 last season), so a full season of 82 games at .91 would put him right at 75 points. I see Hall in the 75-80 range again.

. . . Congratulations to ON’s own Jonathan Willis, who’ll essentially be taking over Tyler Dellow’s old gig writing for Sportsnet’s website now that he’s been bought off by the Oilers.

The sports writing business is changing quickly and it bears little resemblance to what was waiting for me in the early 1980s. No matter what the era, though, the biz always needs new blood and a fresh approach. Willis brings both to this writing scam.

AND . . .

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Having survived the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – I made a donation rather than dump of bucket of ice water over my big mug – I’m looking forward to the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes campaign against domestic violence as part of the Oilersnation team on Sept. 23.

If you’d like to support the ON team, you can donate through the following link. Might be worth the price of a donation to see a 56-year-old man with no meniscus remaining in chronically dislocating knees wobble around on high heels, no?

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • ubermiguel

    Nice to see Oilers Nation is leading the Walk a Mile teams. C’mon people and donate more! Added bonus: donate at least $20 and you get a tax receipt, I love having a pile of those at tax time.

    I’ll never trash Gagner’s effort, just his positioning and defensive IQ. If anyone can teach him it’s Tippett. Renney might have be able to do it, but that’s what can happen when you change coaches every year, development stagnates.

  • I am so frustrated at the charge to run Sam out of town. He was a true professional that the Oilers are sorely lacking in. Never took a night off, bled for his team mates and competed. I think that the smashed in grill hurt his season, but the complete lack of response by his team following the incident must have crushed him on the inside. Best of luck Sam and we already have a trip planned to Phx to watch Sam play again live.

    • Cowbell_Feva

      I agree, Sam was hurt early and never got right all year trying to force the issue. I wish him well and I really hope someone returns the favour to that pos Kassian this year. In a disastrous season and a good beat down was one thing that would have been a blessing.

      • I’d say 45-49 pts, poor FO numbers and poor defensive play is what you should expect from Gags this season. That’s roughly what he’s averaged most years (except the lockout year) and that’s what he’ll likely do again this season.

  • AS much as i am as happy as anyone to see Gagner move on, ill bet he doesnt go one game this season against the Oilers without scoring a goal. Ex-Oilers always seem to get the best of us after a trade.

    As long as we win the games, i wont care as much.

  • Sam was indicative of many Oilers players: A great individual talent, that didn’t help make the team better. It’s tough seeing these guys go knowing what they are capable of, but in order for Edmonton to be better as a team, they needed a shake up in their top six. Obviously a smaller Arco is not what is necessarily needed, but maybe he can do better until Draisaitl is ready to take over.

    All the best of luck to him in the dessert.

  • paul wodehouse

    Robin Robin Robin…it’s all about the f**k me pumps …walking a mile in her SHOES !!!

    get some Nurse Rachet cloddhoppers and give these stilettos to a great looking stripper …

    I wish you all the best…walk the walk if you must…I pray for the pumps

  • Rocket

    Congrats to J-Wills on the Sportsnet gig!

    I always thought Gagner seemed like a good guy and it’s nice to hear he got married.

    On the other hand, he played bad and he should feel bad.

  • 24% body fat

    When you are feeling so low that life isn’t worth living (read as when the Oilers are out of a playoff spot in December,) when life is a b***h and you feel no one cares about you, you’re broke, can’t afford a $9.25 beer at Rexall, let alone a ticket, then walk a mile in shoes a size too small, or in the case of ON, in high heels. Believe me – NOTHING else will matter, except your poor aching feet. It works, I do it every December.
    My feet hurt so much that it takes months before I can walk normally again — PLEASE Oilers, have some sympathy……………….

  • 24% body fat

    gagner will be playing his 499th nhl game in edmonton when the coyotes visit. If he has his usual preseason injury he may play number 500 where he started it all.

    Would be nice for him to do so.

    • MacTastic

      Confused.

      If Sammy G plays 499 in Edmonton, all things being equal, then if he has an injury and loses a game, doesn’t he play 498 in Edmonton?

      Maybe there’s something I’m missing. Or maybe there’s a way gags can play 2 NHL league games at once? Call Dellow….

      • The Soup Fascist

        Ok. So I am not crazy.

        I was scratching my head over the math as well. Kind of sounded like the old “I’ve cut this board twice and it is STILL too short” logic.

        Willis is the new math sheriff in town. He will have to do the ‘splainin.

  • Craig1981

    Hall’s 0.91 career average includes his rookie year at 18 playing against men and learning how to play in the NHL. He is growing physically and mentally and taking on a more defined leadership role. I think your prediction is safe, for sure, but I think it ignores his career trends to date. 90 points is realistic, however, I’m wondering if perhaps you are trying to take some pressure off the guy, by selflessly (being wrong for the sake of the player) under estimating him 🙂

  • Craig1981

    Sam Gagner’s PPG last year was .55, which is only 0.06 off his career average of .61.

    I think all the rhetoric around Sam Gagner having a terrible season is unwarranted. He produced very similar to what he has always done.

    Yes, is small. Yes, he is poor defensively. Yes, he is bad at faceoffs. Yes, he has yet to show any upward trajectory. BUT THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE CASE!

    Seems like his “awful” season is based more on unrealistic expecations as oppose to him playing especially bad. We basically got the same player we’ve seen for the past 8 years.

    • Actually his .55 was .07 off what had been his career .62 PPG before the season in question lowered it to 61 overall. He was also a career-worst minus-29

      Numbers aside, Sam struggled mightily to overcome the broken jaw. In short, it was a terrible season by any standard. And before you go ALL CAPS on us again, understand I usually give Sam the benefit of the doubt.

  • Craig1981

    Is Sam Gagner really to blame here? He has been part of a broken system for his entire NHL career. Terrible management, a coaching carousel, and too much responsibility and pressure early on in his career. Imagine the player he’d be if he was developed in LA, St. Louis or Detroit.

    We can add him to our list of other damaged goods who thrived immediately upon leaving the Oilers. Penner, Lupul, Cogliano, Souray, Hemsky, Stoll, Greene to name a few.

    Wish him luck in the desert. I expect to see him really find his game with a good coach and system under his belt.

    • Craig1981

      And lets look what we have left with all those players that we sold when their stock was low

      Penner- Klefbom

      Lupul-nothing

      Cogliano- Marc Roy

      Souray-nothing

      Hemsky-Liam Coughlin and a 3rd this year

      Stoll-nothing

      Greene-nothing

      Penner is the only trade I would make again……and oddly enough the only trade they made when the players stock was at a high not a low…….ok, Hemsky’s was better than nothing.

    • PlayDirty

      thrived immediately upon leaving the Oilers?

      Penner was on the fourth line and drew criticism,
      Lupul was traded twice in two years
      Cogliano has improved for sure, don’t know if hes “thriving”
      Souray signed for league minimum…hasn’t thrived
      hemsky’s senators lost 10 of his first 11 games, didn’t resign.
      Stoll yes, stoll has thrived
      Greene is an overpaid 3rd pairing dman…in a perfect system

  • Craig1981

    Since the Oil could of got Purcell for a 7th, I would of made that trade and kept Gagner. If you had him on wing and he worked out great….and if their situation on at center wasn’t working out then you have options……and if RNH is down options again.

    Look at Anaheim and see Coglino…..should of tried the wing experiment with him before THAT trade.

  • Jason Gregor

    Using first two years help your argument, but if you use his past two seasons Hall has scored 130 points in 120 games, that is 1.08 points per game.

    Big difference than .91. Hall changed his game after the Sarich hit and hasn’t been in vulnerable positions as often.

    I think he can be even more productive than last season due to RNH being healthy.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        And clearly you didn’t take into account the fact he’ll be 23… or that he’s the only one who didn’t really regress under the new coaching regime, or the fact that he’ll be suiting up on a better (based on new D and wingers) and older Oilers team this year. Is there not a chance he may even slightly improve on his 1.08 ppg?

        Obviously the catch will be if he can stay healthy as you and Gregor are pointing out, but for myself I honestly don’t believe its out of the realm of possibility he gets to 100. I’ll say 95-100, bank on it

  • PlayDirty

    “Void left by Gagner”…….

    Stopped reading there.

    At 37 points, a severe lack of defensive zone coverage and a refusal to go to the hard areas, I’ll take Arcobello to fill that void every time.

    I’m sure he’s a good guy, bad system, whatever… But the facts are it takes you as a professional athlete, or me at my job, or anyone in what they’re doing, to decide to be better and to do absolutely everything within your reach to accomplish that. The complete lack of accountability for all the top 6 except Yakupov is only further contributing to that the problem.

    If they can’t learn to improve and be awesome by themselves there needs to be positive or negative reinforcement… To translate: write in defensive performance bonuses into a contract or staple them to the bench … Or press box.

  • PlayDirty

    Do you really think any of the three options mentioned are going to exceed Gags’ 38 points? Landner has never given me the slightest reason to believe he can get anywhere near that. Arco… I’m fearful last year was as good as it gets. Draisaitl probably has the best chance but he hasn’t played a game yet.

    I’m usually positive but I’m only putting limited stock in Leon at this point as a rookie. I’m hoping I’m wrong with Arco and, unfortunately, I haven’t bought in on Landner.

    Again, I hope I’m wrong.

  • I still find it more than a little interesting everybody is all over the 38 points last year as the nail in the coffin for Gagner, yet COMPLETELY ignore the 38 points in 48 games (.79 PPG, 65 P/82G) playing healthy the year before.

    What’s more likely? Another “38 point season” (due to a season-destroying injury) or something in the line of roughly 60 points playing fully healthy?

    You might laugh now but that 60 point second line C is sure going to look pretty decent compared to what we’ll have in the lineup right around Christmas this coming year.

    • You can’t call Sam a 60-point second line centre because he hasn’t accomplished that yet in real bottom line numbers at the end of the season, but I tend to agree he’s capable of it.

      Putting it together for a full 82 games, or something close to it, by staying healthy AND productive in the same season is the challenge.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Gagner may have left town, but you’ll still be able to see him play nearly a dozen times a season. Now there’s one more reason to watch Tippetts try transfer terminate Coyotes play.

    Good luck Sam.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Rueben is right. Probably time for both parties to go their own ways…..but the difference is he is going to a new team, much better coach, and less pressure.

    Edmonton is still without a #2 pivot…..

    Big hole heading into training camps, no?? Something tells me Sam’s camp is in a better position to move upwards.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Wish I didn’t see Gregor in that pink dress.

    Gagner will be just fine. I expect him to have a bounce back season, as a broken jaw injury is tough to come back from. Food has to be taken through a straw. By the time the player is back in game shape, the season is over. Good luck Gags.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I was listening to Gregor’s interview with Gagner this afternoon. I found particularly interesting Gagner’s answers to how he’s going to improve defensively. I believe he answered something to the effect that he isn’t sure and holding the puck in the offensive zone so he doesn’t have to play defence will be the answer. Sounds to me that he hasn’t learned a thing. He isn’t an elite offensive player and that simply isn’t going to work. Being “harder” on the puck was also mentioned and for someone of his stature I don’t think that’s a solid strategy. I would have thought I would hear something about his defensive awareness, I mean you were traded for pretty much scraps. Time for Gagner to wake up or he’s going to be in the press box a lot this year.

  • Serious Gord

    As this is a sort of sign off on gagner thread, I want to be sure that I get it on the record that I was not one of the ““Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out” group of critics to which Robin refers.

    To be sure I have wanted him traded for a very long time – essentially ever since RNH was drafted. Once RNH was in train gagner’s talents were in surplus on the oil roster. There was no room for two top forwards that are light on physicality – gagner had to go.

    And the earlier he was traded the more the oil could have gotten for him.

    Instead what the oil and gagner got were little more than ashes for six seasons of hockey.

    Gagner was and is a very good hockey player with exceptional aspects to his game. On the right line he could really shine. Unfortunately that has almost never been the case in EDM. Nor could it be.

    Bonne chance Sam.

    And if you light up the league and EDM, I for one will not be saying “if only we hadn’t traded him..”

    • Not “insinuating” any such thing. How did you arrive at this conclusion?

      Hall is just now entering his prime years. There’s more to come. Likewise, the Oilers aren’t yet where they want to be. They don’t score a lot of goals yet. There has been considerable turnover on the roster.

      What will help Hall as much as anything is having a second line that consistently scores enough to give opposing coaches a decision to make about match-ups rather than having the luxury of always throwing out the lines and D-pairings they want against the Hall line.