WWYDW: Would you consider a Sam Gagner return?

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The Edmonton Oilers have a pretty obvious need for a third-line
centre. They also have a need throughout the lineup for right-shooting skaters,
and up front it would be best if those players could also provide enough
offence to play a role on the power play.

There aren’t a lot of players in free agency who can check
off those boxes, but former Oiler Sam Gagner is one of the few who might. In
this week’s edition of What Would You Do Wednesday, we ask readers whether they
would entertain the notion of bringing Gagner back to Edmonton.

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The First Tour

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Gagner was drafted sixth overall by the Oilers in 2007 as
the reward for a dismal 2006-07 campaign. He made the team immediately and put
up 49 points as a rookie, with many of those points coming in the back half of
the year as part of the team’s young guns line featuring Andrew Cogliano and
Robert Nilsson. This was at the dawn of the analytics era, and when a few
pioneers pointed to wacky percentages as the reason for the line’s success they
were mostly ignored.

Gagner was immediately projected as the first-line centre of
the future, but he didn’t live up to that billing, consistently scoring at
around the 40-point mark regardless of how many games he played. When he was
healthy, he had trouble scoring; when he scored he had trouble staying healthy.
He has yet to hit the 50-point mark in the NHL, though he was certainly on pace
for it in his best major-league campaign—2012-13, when he posted 38 points in
48 games over a lockout-shortened season.

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He declined in 2013-14, struggling through a tough season in
the first year of a new contract. He played a lot with David Perron and Nail
Yakupov and floundered badly on that line, but even stints with Taylor Hall and
Ales Hemsky proved disappointing.  

At this point, Gagner was a popular target for fan
discontent. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had been ordained as the new no. 1 centre of
the future. Gagner had never lived up to expectations offensively, and his
weakness in the defensive zone and the lack of a physical dimension made him an
easy scapegoat.

In June 2014, then-general manager Craig MacTavish decided
to act, shipping Gagner to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Teddy
Purcell, another forward who was struggling to live up to a big contract. The
Bolts flipped Gagner to Arizona the same day along with physical winger B.J.
Crombeen; they earned a sixth-round pick for their trouble.

Gagner Post-Edmonton

The 2014-15 Coyotes were an awfully bad team, winning just
24 of 82 games. While the primary blame falls on goaltender Mike Smith
(14-42-5, 0.904 save percentage) a big part of the problem was a lack of
firepower up front. Defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson led the team in scoring
with 43 points, while Gagner led all forwards with 41.

Yet Gagner’s tenure wasn’t exactly a success. Coach Dave
Tippett carefully deployed Gagner in offensive situations, giving him an
opportunity to succeed, but Gagner posted only mediocre shot metrics and ended
up being one of eight regulars to post a plus/minus of minus-20 or worse.

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Gagner was most successful in Arizona on the right wing of
mammoth centre Martin Hanzal. He posted nine
points in just over 200 minutes
of 5-on-5 play with Hanzal (2.56
points/hour) and the duo had a 56 percent Corsi rating. That flash of strong
play wasn’t enough, and Gagner was flipped to Philadelphia in a trade in June
2015.

Gagner endured a lot with the Flyers, including time in the
press box, time lost to injury, and even a stint in the minors. Yet his role
increased as the year went on, and he ended up playing regular minutes for
Philly in the postseason. He was particularly good with good players, enjoying
productive stints with Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, though he struggled
when assigned to work with lesser skaters like Vincent Lecavalier and R.J.
Umberger.

Would You Take Him Back?

This summer, Gagner enters free agency as a much-diminished
player. There are no lofty projections to live up to, no expectation that he’ll
be anything other than a middle-six forward with some offensive talent and some
defensive problems. He may not even play centre; he switched between the middle
and the wing in Arizona and was treated as a right wing in Philadelphia.

Gagner’s likely to have a few options, but I’d guess that
none of them come with term or major dollars; something in the $1.0 – $1.5
million range over two years wouldn’t surprise me at all.

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Given the relative lack of right-shot centres in free
agency, if Gagner was willing to come back to Edmonton would you have any
interest, or has that ship long-since sailed? 

THE DRAFT PARTY

Tuxedo layout 

There are few certainties in life – we can always count on the sun coming up in the morning, Edmonton winters being dreadful, and the Oilers missing the playoffs. As such, we present the annual OilersNation Draft Party! It’s time to honour the the anniversary of drafting our beloved Connor, celebrate the rewards of another failed season, and raise some money for charity.

Here’s what you need to know…

The party is happening at the Pint Downtown on Friday, June 24th. The goal is to raise as much money as possible for the Red Cross and their efforts to bring normalcy back to Fort McMurray, and have a little bit of fun while we’re at it. For $30 you get a Draft Party t-shirt, a $10 Pint GC, a $10 Oodle Noodle GC, a draft party collectors cup, and a chance for prizes and eternal glory.

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All proceeds from tickets sold will be donated directly to the Red Cross so bring your friends, get involved, and help us support a community in need. Tickets are still available here.

One day, the Oilers will be a good hockey team and we’ll all be able to laugh about this. Until then, we party.


  • @Hallsy4

    Peter finds himself at an interesting crossroads. The first rebuild was Gags, Cogs and Nilson. That rebuild was rebuilt with hallsy, ebs, Nuge, and yak. We’ve now retooled the rebuilt rebuild with Klef, Drai, Nurse, and McDavid. It finally looks like we’ve got it right with the Retooled, rebuilt, rebuild. But what now? Do we wait on said retooled, rebuilt, rebuild? Or do we retool in the present, and add veterans for the precious pieces that took so long to acquire.

    • MrBung

      “It finally looks like we’ve got it right …”

      Uh. No. This has not been proven yet. Based on last season’s tire fire, we definitely cannot make that assessment. We will see what this next season brings.

      • @Hallsy4

        I’m not going to disagree with you on this haha. At least We finally have good young D men in Nurse, Klef and Davidson, to go along with McD and Drai. And Talbot in net. To me, that’s an impressive start of a rebuild, but our D may still be 2 or 3 years away from showtime. But with D and a goalie we may finally be onto something, rather than only having good skilled small wingers. Doesn’t hurt having the future best player in the world either

  • I don’t see Chi hiring a player like Gagner. He would be a pretty cheap RW option if the team needed it, but I just can’t see them needing it.

    Ugh, that 2007 draft was rough for the Oilers. Somehow, they had just gone to the cup final, then had 3 first round picks int he next draft! That is crazy. What’s crazier is they used those picks on Sam Gagner, Alex Plante, and Riley Nash at 6, 15, and 21 respectively.

    Players of note lower than 6 but higher than 15: Voracheck, Couture, Sutter, McDonagh, Eller, and Shattenkirk.

    Players of note lower than 16 but higher than 21:
    Ian Cole (meh, not great in the middle)

    Players of note lower than 21: Pacioretty, Backlund, Perron, Hjalmarsson, and of course… P.K. Subban at 43rd overall.

    Brutal scouting and drafting.

  • S cottV

    Gagner is one of the worst 2 way centremen that I have ever observed.

    It’s actually mind boggling – the extent to which he cannot compute the flip side of what’s going on around him.

  • I'm too tall for this @#$%

    If management wants to run three scoring lines, yeah sure, why not. Best be a reasonable contract though, or the fans will crucify him again. Oh, and he plays RW. I think the center opportunities have long past him by.

    Never understood why we never really tried him at RW. Seems like a bit of a no-brainer for a center who struggles defensively.