Gagner to the wing?

gagner diving

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.

2008: 41.8%

2009: 42%

2010: 47.4

2011: 43.8

2012: 47.6

2013: 43.9

2014: 46.8

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.

Gagner G A P PPG S TOI
Apr 3 ’08 EDM @ VAN 0 0 0 0 1 14:43
Apr 1 ’08 CGY @ EDM 0 0 0 0 1 20:34
Mar 29 ’08 EDM @ CGY 0 0 0 0 2 16:45
Mar 28 ’08 EDM @ COL 1 0 1 0 6 15:22
Mar 26 ’08 EDM @ MIN 0 0 0 0 1 19:52
Mar 24 ’08 MIN @ EDM 0 1 1 0 3 17:47
Mar 22 ’08 COL @ EDM* 2 0 2 0 8 18:13
Mar 20 ’08 VAN @ EDM 0 0 0 0 2 20:25
Mar 18 ’08 PHX @ EDM 1 2 3 1 4 17:32
Mar 16 ’08 EDM @ SJS 0 1 1 0 1 19:47
Mar 15 ’08 EDM @ PHX 0 0 0 0 3 21:57
Mar 13 ’08 EDM @ COL 1 0 1 1 2 22:32
Mar 11 ’08 STL @ EDM 1 2 3 1 5 21:14
Mar 9 ’08 EDM @ CHI 0 2 2 0 1 18:17
Mar 7 ’08 EDM @ CBJ 0 0 0 0 1 18:48
Mar 4 ’08 NSH @ EDM 0 0 0 0 3 19:45
Mar 2 ’08 CBJ @ EDM 0 1 1 0 0 19:25
Feb 28 ’08 LAK @ EDM 0 1 1 0 2 18:01
Feb 26 ’08 DET @ EDM 0 0 0 0 2 20:50
Feb 24 ’08 COL @ EDM 1 0 1 0 3 16:18
Feb 22 ’08 EDM @ DAL 0 1 1 0 0 21:59
Feb 19 ’08 EDM @ NSH 1 1 2 0 3 18:28
Feb 16 ’08 EDM @ VAN 0 1 1 0 2 16:47
Feb 14 ’08 EDM @ SJS 0 1 1 0 1 15:55
Feb 12 ’08 MIN @ EDM 0 1 1 0 2 18:05
Feb 9 ’08 EDM @ CGY 0 1 1 0 2 18:03
Feb 6 ’08 CHI @ EDM 0 2 2 0 2 16:37
Feb 4 ’08 CGY @ EDM 1 1 2 1 2 20:02

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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Great Article Gregor, I think you’ve just solved the Gagner Dilemma. This also gives the Nation time to digest the fact that Gagner will be an Oiler in October and a hope that he can recover from a terrible season and be a productive player!

    Problem is, I think I know who is going to be most people’s Goat/Whipping Boy next season, lol!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Differ differ differ, we keep making excuses for certain players. When will results finally become more important than excuses for this organization.

    Oh well, McDavid will probably be worth another season of hockey that doesn’t matter.

    Sam is just so fluffy I could die!

  • A-Mc

    Ok so Gagner gets moved to the wing. Now is he a top 6 fwd, or top 9? Gregor, you and almost everyone else believe the Oilers need to get bigger up front, how does putting Sam on the wing help that?

    Also, he has 7 yrs in the league as a fairly productive player. Everyone knows this was prob his worst year coming off the broken jaw. I understand the concept of ‘what have you done for me lately’ but does one bad season make him a worthless player in the eyes of 29 other gm’s?

    He is simply not a fit for the oilers in any position. MacT needs to trade him, probably as part of a package to try and fill a current need. If we need to retain some salary to do so, we can.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Gregor, what I would do is this:

    Move Eberle for E. Kane

    Start Gagner with Hall on the top line to get his value up then move him later.



    Not worth selling super low on Gagner. Plus we would have Draisaitl/Bennett/Reinhart developing.

  • Zamboni Driver

    I don’t really understand why he hasn’t moved to the wing already. He can’t win a faceoff, can’t play in his own zone, but can produce points. This move should of happened 3 years ago.

  • Young Oil

    People are saying Gagner’s value is at an all time low, so we shouldn’t trade him. However, there also seems to be a consensus that Gagner is our 5th best winger. There is no way a third line winger on a team should be paid nearly $5M a year.

    People are seriously undervaluing the value of the cap space we could get from trading Gagner. We could probably get a good 3rd line player in a trade for Gagner (Wilson, Bailey, and maybe Nelson have been mentioned), and have the cap space after the deal to sign a defensively responsible UFA winger in similar quality to Gagner for half the price.

    There is no guarantee that Gagner is going to rebound after last season, and if he doesn’t, that is a lot of cap space tied up in a player, which could make it more difficult for MacT to try to improve the team through trades and free agency going forward. Just my opinion.

    • LOL, you do realize that Hemsky played most of last season on the 3rd line, how much did he make last year?

      It has also been widely speculated that Gagner would not fetch anymore than picks and or prospects, so please stop pie in the sky trades that won’t happen to justify a terrible point.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        LOL, you do realize this has a lot to do with why he’s gone now, don’t you? This whole 5 million dollar player on your third line thing. It has also been widely speculated that Hemsky would not fetch anymore than picks and or prospects. Yet, the Oilers still moved him along his way. How long is acceptable to hang onto a player who’s no longer part of the plan going forward? Maybe we should ride this out another 5 yrs till players like Gags come back in vogue, no?

      • Young Oil

        And you do realize what place the Oilers finished in last year right? Gagner has been in the league for 7 years, and still doesn’t know how to shoulder check or cover in the defensive zone. I’d be fine trading him for picks, and then you’d be able to sign 2 good bottom 6 players, or the majority of an actual 2nd line center or top 4 dman with the cap space.

        Draft picks and cap space are never a bad thing. Having someone on the team who has the 2nd worst +/- in team history on your third line, or on the team in general, is a bad thing, in my opinion. You don’t have to agree with me, but I hardly think it’s a “terrible point”.

  • Strange Tamer

    Gagner had a broken jaw, which is a tough injury to deal with. The player can’t eat. Food has to be taken through a straw. Recovery takes time. I expect him to have a better year coming up.

  • Zamboni Driver

    I agree and at 5.11 and 205 pounds that is pretty solid and with his tenacity he can handle the wing .He is no where near as small as some folks think .

  • Strange Tamer

    I know my post people are going to say more size in the middle blah blah, but the issues with this team are not all going to be fixed this off season.

    This plan is realistic.

    And with a short term on Archo, he is not the long term 3C.But he is a one year stop gap.

    In the future I would probably have as someone in the lineup almost always filling in for whatever injury there happens to be.

  • Zamboni Driver

    So, what happened to the (ridiculous, IMO) argument that we have to keep Gagner because who are you going to have as your #2 centre?

    Though I would agree they need to figure something to do with him that doesn’t involve “The Swoop” defence as he looks on puzzled that his player scored…again.

    Because…as I’ve said before.


    Certainly not at almost $5 mil (that’s the biggest joke of all)

    • pkam

      If Gagner at $5M (actually $4.8M for 3 years) is the biggest joke of all, what is the signing of Stephen Weiss (4 pts and -4 in 26 games) at 4.9M for 5 years by Ken Holland? You can’t have a joke bigger than the biggest, can you?

  • Strange Tamer

    Unless a winger puts up 60 plus points (think Eberle) he has to win puck battles on the boards and get in on the forecheck. To do this effectively you generally need good speed or size, preferably both. Gagne has neither. He also gets pushed off the puck way to often. At least in the middle you can pick your spots and stay out of traffic in the offensive zone, and his instincts play better there. Since he doesn’t back check or kill penalties and is a secondary (ie easily replaceable) power play option it won’t be a success. It might be a slightly better fit, but only the dearth of decent NHL players on the roster keep Gagne being a top six forward.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    The one factor you have to keep in mind though is what players Edm. is able to bring in to replace him. If you can get a 2C through UFA that can help and find a better fit on the wing and all it costs you is $, then it’s OK to move Gagner for less than full value to give yourself the cap relief to do that. The rub of course is whether you can bring in those players.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    yup and start the year with Yak, Gagner and Eberle on the RW.

    I think this was Mac T’s plan last year but could not find a trade for Hemsky.

    Now we just need to fill the middle with a 2C UFA (Grabo),

    Use Archo as a 3 C who can move up.

    Gordon is 4C who can move up. If someone needs to move up Hendricks can slide to 4C

    Wait for #3 overall future 2C to grow and develop in Jr. (Unless it is Ekblad)

    • Zamboni Driver

      Wouldn’t an NHL coach seeing that RW line up try to expose that when playing Edm? There won’t be too many LD shivering at the thought of playing that game. Maybe you put Yak back to the LW and Perron on the RW giving you Eberle, Perron, Gagner and (drum roll) Pinizotto down the right side.

  • Reg Dunlop

    This is a tough one. Gagner probably has very little value right now so trading is not a great idea. But he provides little value to the Oilers right now either. He’s more of the same – smallish “skilled” forward. If there’s a spot for him on the roster, keep him. But there is a greater need – a second line centre with size and skill in both ends. And no rookie centres on opening night this year please.

    • A-Mc

      See, you say he has little value to the Oilers but i believe that to be completely inaccurate.

      I dont believe Gagner to be an addition by subtraction candidate. A true addition by Subtraction (and i think we can all agree on this) was Mr. Belanger.

      Gagner is still good for 40-50 pts and may even be 50+ once put on the wing (we wont know until they try it). Anyone who is getting that kind of output is simply NOT of ‘little value’; he contributes.

      Now: if you were to say that having him around is preventing the Oilers from signing someone better, then that is an entirely different discussion.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Moving Gagner to wing is the smart move. To trade him now is foolish given the circumstances. The Oilers have a deficit in NHL-calibre players and trading Gagner now would probably not yield a good player in return.

    We need more offence. The defence has sucked, yes, but the offence has been terrible too. We need more scoring from the 3rd line. We also don’t know what to expect from Yakupov next season either. Keep Gagner for now.

  • ubermiguel

    I’ve been so frustrated watching Gagner play in his own zone lately (I’m a terrible hockey player but even I can see how out of position he gets and how he doesn’t know where his man is) I had forgotten how great that rookie year was. That was a fun last 28 games to watch. I also recall he had magic hands in shoot outs. But I hadn’t clued in that he was on the wing so much. I’m sold: put Gagner on the wing!

  • A-Mc

    Totally am onside with your assessment of Gagner and his current situation. Listening to your program yesterday and hearing some of the feedback made for some head shaking on my part.

    Gagner gets a mulligan. At the moment we would lose in a trade. Its not imo going to happen anyways.

    MacT’s comments regarding his core players was most interesting. Who we consider the core and who he considers his core and 2 different apples.

    I believe that MacT has Gagner as one of his core players.Gagner has MacT’s trust. This I believe is the case. I do not think Gagner is going anywhere.

    Your right as to where he’ll play.He’ll play wing. But with who at center is the $64000 question.

    What if Rheinhart falls to #3? Could Rheinhart step right in like RNH did?

    This off season has more plot turns than a Ellory Queen novel.

    Go Rooney Go.

  • Definitely the most logical solution right now. No point in trading him at his lowest value when at best you may get a third line player for him. I would start him on the second line on RW. Have Yak start the year on the third line, hopefully with some solid UFA third liner we pick up this season.

    Perron in someone I see who can play anywhere in the top 9 and if Yak starts to pick his game up, Perron could still be deadly on that third line.

    I still don’t see Gagner as a long term solution for Edmonton, and I am hesitant about future trade options (especially with his NTC kicking in). Either way, very little would be gained by trading him now.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Gagner to wing seems to be a reasonable move but only if someone can replace him as 2c. Please don’t let it be a rookie who would be better off in Prince Albert.

    • Bullets Hockey

      I agree with letting Leon develop in the junior ranks…..however I’d then like to see the Oil Kings trade for him. Playing on a strong/contending junior team would be great for his development.

  • A-Mc

    I totally agree Gregor. I know Gagner is always toted as being a trade piece but i imagine we wont get much for him right now. Also, Mac T solidified their position with regards to trading players for picks; they aren’t doing it.

    I think Gagner is a good player, he’s just not best suited for how we’ve been using him. If he can fit in on the wing, i would much rather him as our 2RW than Yakupov at this point in time.

    Gagner is Young and he is talented offensively. A Good team would put him in a position to succeed instead of trading him for spare parts because he was a square peg being forced into a round hole. I sure hope Eakins/Ramsay can find a way to make him a fit.

  • DaveChamp

    I like Samwise. I think he’s a talented hockey player, inconsistent as he may be. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t seem to fill a need on the Oilers. At centre, he’s too small and can’t win faceoffs. If you move him to the wing, who does he replace? Certainly not Eberle or Hall, and I don’t think he’s better than Perron or Yakupov. He’s almost certainly too small for third line work, and he seems to need talented players on his line for him to produce. I think it’s better to keep him than trade him for far less than he’s worth, but if he stays, what do you do with him?