Can the Edmonton Oilers afford to trade Sam Gagner? Can they afford not to?

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There is no more controversial player in Edmonton than Sam Gagner. The payoff for the difficult 2006-07 season, the still-young forward was supposed to be a primary piece for the Oilers to build around at centre. Instead, nearly 500 games into his NHL career, he continues to struggle.

What should Edmonton do with him?

The Case for Moving

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The argument for moving Gagner is that he isn’t a two-way hockey player.

Scoring isn’t really Gagner’s problem. He hasn’t lit the world on fire but he’s been posting very respectable second-line point totals since day one. On a team with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, that’s good enough (or should be eventually), even if it isn’t what the Oilers had in mind when they picked him sixth overall.

Gagner isn’t big, but that isn’t really a primary problem either. History is full of teams that have won Stanley Cups with centres roughly the size of Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner (fun fact for the ‘every team needs size down the middle!’ people: of the 10 centres to play on the Cup winners from Detroit (2008) and Boston (2011), not even one of them was listed at over 200 pounds). There are plenty of ways to win hockey games, and having a bunch of 6’4” guys who can play pivot is one of them, but not the only one.

What every Stanley Cup winner has in common is good players. And while Gagner is certainly an NHL player, it’s fair to wonder if he’s really the guy a team wants in the No. 2 pivot slot. Chicago won with Martin Hanzal (edit: Michal Handzus) there last season, but very few teams can insulate their No. 2 centre with Jonathan Toews in the No. 1 role and people like Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the wings.

Watch Gagner on this goal against from Edmonton’s last game in Carolina:

Justin Schultz grabs the puck at the blue line and jumps up ice. Gagner’s in the middle of the zone, behind the pinching Schultz and his two wingers, and sees it all happen. At about the two second mark, he’s at the far left of the screen about halfway up, watching a battle on the side boards. There’s a Carolina player just above and to the right of him. A good centre knows that, knows that Schultz (smartly) pinched, and covers for the defenceman. Gagner wanders past the Hurricanes forward and suddenly there’s a two-on-one, and eventually a goal against.

Every player makes mistakes, and thus any player can be made to look terrible on video. But from what I’ve seen, this is a mistake typical of Gagner. He doesn’t have the defensive commitment a centre needs. He cheats for offence.

The Case Against Moving

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The argument against moving Gagner is equally simple. It’s a stupid idea from an asset management perspective to trade players during low ebbs in value.

The following are Gagner’s totals (projected over 82 games) for the last five seasons:

Season  G A PTS +/-
2009-10 18 31 49 -10
2010-11 18 33 51 -21
2011-12 20 31 51 5
2012-13 24 41 65 -10
2013-14 10  36 46 -31

Gagner is at a low ebb in goal-scoring, a low ebb in point-scoring and a particularly low ebb in plus/minus. I think that in this case the basic statistics reflect reality. He started the year injured, he came back and was brutal, and while he’s improved a little bit lately he simply hasn’t been the Gagner of past seasons.

If the Oilers had traded Gagner two years ago, they likely would have had a better return. Ditto for last season. This year? We’re talking about the Oilers retaining salary and getting back Kyle Clifford.

Bad NHL teams typically bleed talent. One of the reasons is because bad teams generally have managers who make bad decisions, but there’s more to it than that. Bad teams are under more pressure than good teams to move players in off years, because they need everyone performing at a top level just to get within visual range of respectability. Bad teams tend not to have a support system, so when the bottom falls out on a player it really falls out.

Moving Gagner right now will see the Oilers get a 50 cents on the dollar return.

What Should Edmonton Do?

Craig MacTavish10

We are in a situation where the team has competing interests. It needs to get better in the No. 2 centre slot, which means trading Gagner away. But it also needs to get full value (or as close to it as possible) to improve the roster, which means retaining Gagner.

There are all kinds of real world problems here (is Gagner pushing for a trade, which free agents will consider Edmonton, what does the trade market look like) but in theory I think there’s an obvious two-step best course here:

  • 1. Add a replacement for Gagner to the roster.
  • 2. Keep Gagner until his trade value rebounds.

Let’s call Gagner’s replacement “Brandon Dubinsky” (we’re picking on Columbus here because they have Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner and Artem Anisimov and because virtually any of their four good centres would be a nice fit for the Oilers – but the general idea is just to add a player-type, not a specific player). If the Oilers add “Dubinsky” in the off-season without off-loading Gagner, they could start next year by putting him at centre on the third line and bumping Boyd Gordon down into the role of fourth-line defensive specialist (it’s the role Manny Malhotra played in Vancouver).

That puts Nugent-Hopkins’ line in the power-vs.-power role, the “Dubinsky” line in a secondary tough minutes role, the Gordon line in a defensive zone role, and leaves all kinds of soft minutes for the Gagner line. In that situation, it’s pretty conceivable that Gagner recovers offensively and his trade value increases dramatically, at which point Edmonton’s free to deal him for something else and bump “Dubinsky” into a more offensive role.

As we said, there are real-world considerations that might make this scenario an impossibility. But if possible, I think it’s the best route forward for Edmonton.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • vetinari

    I think that most forwards and defencemen need about 400 to 500 games under their belt to see what they really bring to the table. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule but it is helpful.

    You also have to look at whether their major stats (points, goals, assists, ice time, +/-, corsi, etc.) are generally improving or declining and whether their role on the team has expanded or reduced over that time to get a true sense of the player.

    With Gagner, he’s at a low and seems, like most of the Oiler youth, to try to cheat for offence and gives up way too many chances during the course of a game. I don’t know if he is being a bad example that the others follow or if how the others play is encouraging him to try high risk plays at the offensive blueline, usually leading to a 2 on 1 or 3 on 1 the other way.

    Sadly, unless you can replace him through the draft or through a UFA signing, I think that the Oilers are stuck with him until he rebounds and I can’t see anyone trading anything more than a generic depth player for him or a non-first round draft pick.

    In fact, if we can get a different 2C, I would shift him to the wing on a line with defensively responsible partners (Gordon?) and bench him as and when needed to drive home that he’s on a short leash until he learns. Hopefully, a more rounded player emerges, otherwise, take your peanuts in a season or two, move on, and try again with a new player.

    • ubermiguel

      It takes about 5 to 6 years for most players to get into the 400 to 500 games range. A good number never reach this number of games. If a player breaks into the NHL as a teenager, maybe the 400 to 500 makes sense. But for a more typical route of turning pro at 20 and 2 to 3 years in the AHL and starting in the NHL at 22 or 23, by the time they have 400 to 500 NHL games they are probably getting past their best before date.

      But if your point is that Gagner is at the 400 to 500 game range and that there is no reason to expect improvement, I totally agree.

  • 24% body fat

    “The argument against moving Gagner is equally simple. It’s a stupid idea from an asset management perspective to trade players during low ebbs in value.”

    Common theme for these Oilers. See Hemsky. Good teams recognize players on their team that do not fit the future plans despite when they are playing well. “asset management” is an aspect Oilers management has not been very good at for a very very long time.

  • 24% body fat

    Why are people so hard for Draisaitl. Ya he is big and talented, but I just got a bad feeling that says bust. I still think if we go with a center it has to be one of the sams. Pick the best player not the biggest.

    • **

      I agree BUT 105 points in 64 games does not say bust at all. Still though I would prefer Sam Bennett over Draisatl. 91 points in 57 games is a good resume BUT add that with his 118 penalty mintues

    • fasteddy

      Totally agree. I’m certainly no expert, but watching him a couple times I was not impressed. Reinhart on the other hand looks fantastic to my eyes; so intelligent and virtually always makes the right play.

      • A-Mc

        Did you happen to see Draisaitl at the WJC? If you’re basing your viewings on that, remember the supporting cast he had around him compared to Ekblad or Reinhart.

        Just saying.

        • fasteddy

          No, just in WHL games. He looks like a shinny player; flashy against inferior competition. Im worried that won’t fly against the big boys. Virtanen looks much more like a pro than Draisaitl too….. (and while we’re on the subject, if Greg Chase plays one game for the Oilers I’ll stop admiring soccer moms!)

      • **

        Lots of scouting reports that are pegging him for NHL ready for next season, not overly physical but uses his size well to protect the puck. Great vision. Has been getting Kopitar comparable so far.

        Never a big fan of comparable, but especially since I think that Reinhart will be out of our reach and possibly Ekblad, Draisaitl seems like a good choice. If he is NHL ready I would put him on the third line, leaving Gagner or a new replacement still on the second.

    • TKB2677

      A bust?
      All he has to do is score mid 40’s pts wise, not be a complete train wreck in his own zone, be better than 45% on the dot and most importantly, not be a shrimp and he will be an upgrade on Gagner. Gagner is 5’11 191 according to hockey DB.
      All of the above is pretty attainable. He’s already 6’1, 208lbs at 18. By the time the draft comes around he’d probably going to be at least 5lbs heavier because they typically train like crazy. A year from now he could be an inch taller and probably in the 215-220 range. That alone makes him an upgrade over Gagner.

      If he could score over 50 pts at his size, he’d be a HUGE upgrade over Gagner.

      • 24% body fat

        So you base how you rate players based on size? Thats good to know.

        As for Hockey DB that site lists the weight of the player at his first year pro. Gagner confirmed his weight of 201 on the radio.

        As for Draisatl Im not calling him a bust, I have a bad feeling about him. Again this is another player being called lazy and uncommited. Sounds a lot like Grigorenko. As for putting up points. Good for him. Still no where near what Gagner did in 2006, and he did not turn out as planned.

        To pikc LD over better players Reinhart and Bennett because his is taller is the stupidiest thing we could do.

    • TKB2677

      SO not only do they down grade their right wing position by changing Eberle for Gagner because Eberle is a better player than Gagner and he has the numbers to back that up. But they also do nothing to address the size problem in the top 6? Eberle and Gagner are basically the same size.

      • 24% body fat

        Uh center is more important than wing. And who is to say you dont get size in the trade for Eberle.

        And again size has nothing to do with it. Trading Eberle 185lbs makes your team bigger than trading Gagner 200 lbs.

        It is about a stronger two way center. I would love to see Eberle at center. Than all you people who are still lost in the fantasy of one good season and his play years ago at the wjc would see Eberle for what he really is. A good player with defensive deficiencies who is a 60 pt player and not worth 6M a year,

        Eberle away from Hall is not as good, so how much are we really down grading at rw. A down grade at RW to upgrade center is what you need to do.

        As for asset management selling eberle high is the right thing to do, and so is not giving away gagner for nothing.

        • TKB2677

          Don’t look at the Oilers site because they always add more to the players stats. Look at hockeydb. He’s listed at 5’11, 191 which is a hell of a lot more accurate. They have Eberle listed at 6’0, 185. I would say that Gagner and Eberle are almost identical in size.

          As an example, Iginla is listed at 210 on the bruins site (207 on hockeydb). Carter is listed at 212 on the kings site (212 on hockey db). The Oilers site has Gagner listed at 202lbs. You telling me that Gagner is only 5lbs lighter than Iginla and 10ls lighter than Carter? Come on man get real.

          • pkam

            Oilers site always add more to the players stats? Then why Eberle is listed as 5’11 and 180 lbs at Oilers site when you believe he is actually 6’0 and 185 lbs?

            If you don’t believe the Oilers site, you can always look it up at NHL.com.

  • Other option is to trade our ubderperforming player for someone else’s underperformer (ex. Sabres have an option or two) and hopefully each player does well under new scenery.

    There’s also the Gagner to wing scenario, but most seem to think Gagner isn’t strong enough on the puck for that. Not so sure about that, but they’ve got to figure out something other than Gagner for Clifford. That’s terrible.

      • ubermiguel

        Is getting Myers out of Buffalo possible with
        Gagner and another part.

        Added benefit is you could make that trade
        right now and settle both teams for the draft.

        ie Buffalo takes Ekblad

        And Oilers take one of the Centers

  • TKB2677

    The only issue is who do you move to get “Dubinsky”?

    I hope we draft Draisaitl and let him develop another year or two. At 6’1.75 and 210 pounds we could REALLY use him in a couple years.

    However we can’t dress the same top 6 next year. We can’t.

    Gagner + 2015 2nd for Artem Anisimov.

    Sign Kulemin, Goc, Winnik

    Hall Nuge Yakupov

    Perron Anisimov Eberle

    Kulemin Goc Winnik

    Smyth Gordon Hendricks

    Let Draisaitl develop

  • Trade Gagner. Odds are no good free agent center will sign here. And I love placing 18 year old kids (probably Drasaitl) into positions on the Oilers they can’t possibly succeed in like second line center duties. No problem. Maybe if they package Gagner and Yakupov they can get Torontos first rounder this year, retaining salary of course.

  • TKB2677

    Question:

    If you resign Smyth like Willis talked about in a different article.
    If you don’t trade Yakupov because he’s still young, it’s unknown how good he could be but the main reason being his trade value is too low because he isn’t playing well to get what people think is “fair value”.
    If you don’t trade Gagner even if it looks as though at 24 yrs old and 7 seasons in, Gagner is what he is and his holes in his game are probably not going away. Plus he isn’t the long term solution at the 2nd line center position but like Yakupov, because his trade value is low due to poor play, you probably won’t get what people think is “fair value”.

    In order to be a better team for next season, they need more size and better 2 way play in their top 6.

    Clearly you can’t get rid of Hall because he is hands down their best player.

    You can’t get rid of Nuge because they already lack depth at center and he is their best center especially offensively.

    I would say they can’t get rid of Perron because he’s their top goal scorer right now plus he’s one of the few top 6 guys that plays with any real, consistent bite.

    Eberle right now is their best right winger by a mile and will be in my opinion the better all around player. Yak might score a few more goals in his career buy Eberle will be a better all around player because he has way better hockey sense.

    So if you keep all of the above for the reasons I stated and you keep Gagner and Yakupov who are 2 top 6 players for any team but you don’t want to trade them right now because their trade value is “too low”. If the Oilers do all of that, how will they be better any better next season?

    • **

      If the Oilers followed JW’s recommendations, Dubnyk would still be on net, Hemsky would still be here, Khabibulin would have been resigned, Horcoff would still be here, and nothing would ever change, because the team would still be terrible and no one would increase their value.
      Hell eve Jason Strudwick would probably be here still.

      • No special memory required.

        If the Oilers followed JW’s recommendations, Dubnyk would still be on net, Hemsky would still be here, Khabibulin would have been resigned, Horcoff would still be here, and nothing would ever change, because the team would still be terrible and no one would increase their value. Hell eve Jason Strudwick would probably be here still.

        What?

        I never liked Clarkson, and I am the one you’re replying to. And you giving credence to the people running a team 8 years out of the playoffs, hmmm…. I know you can make a better argument than that. I can assure you Mac. T. is praying hail marys every night thanking the heavens Clarkson didn’t sign here. Pretty much what you are predicting for Hendricks is what is happening to Clarkson right now. IF you are talking about khabibulin then I’m confused as to what your point is.

        Again. WHAT?

        • **

          Out of all I disagree with you in my previous comments on this article, I would have expected a reply about David Clarkson, good on you for pointing out you agreed with everyone else in the league regarding Khabibulin.

          • **

            I never liked Clarkson, and I am the one you’re replying to. And you giving credence to the people running a team 8 years out of the playoffs, hmmm…. I know you can make a better argument than that. I can assure you Mac. T. is praying hail marys every night thanking the heavens Clarkson didn’t sign here. Pretty much what you are predicting for Hendricks is what is happening to Clarkson right now.

            IF you are talking about khabibulin then I’m confused as to what your point is.

          • Maggie the Monkey

            My previous comment was perhaps a bit too obscure. Although I love The Princess Bride, it was not the reference to which I was pointing. “Steve Smith” is a treasured yet infrequent commenter on LT’s site who stopped posting here ages ago. (I think he lost one of those poisoned drink challenges where his opponent had built up immunity.)

            The reference to him and one of his jokes was not meant as an insult, and if you must consider it as a challenge, then this is my formal letter accepting defeat.

            Your happy monkey,

            Maggie

    • A-Mc

      It certainly doesnt look like there’s much room there!

      Given the tight situation, assuming gagner has little value, MacT should probably remain fully focused on improving the defense.

      If there are little to no forward changes, An improved D core will help the team considerably i think.

    • For one, I wouldn’t re-sign Smyth. I would have prior to the Hendricks acquisition but not now.

      Secondly, the defence needs big changes (ideally through UFA, but we’ll see).

      Third, sometimes tough decisions need to be made, which might very well mean something like moving Perron or Eberle for help at centre or on defence.

  • TKB2677

    Oilers have a talent for wanting to trade players when their value is the lowest.

    I been saying trade Gagner forever, how come Oilers take so long to figure it out

  • Doctor Smashy

    Is there any merit to continue our search for a 2C but not move Gagner to get it? Gagner is great passer so might he be better on the wing (and improve his value at that position)? Also, he just wasn’t this bad any other year in terms of stupid plays (they’re not even lazy really)…none of these conversations were going on last year were they?