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What are the Oilers getting in Sam Gagner?

Re-acquired and it feels so good! The Oilers have brought Sam Gagner back into the organization with a Saturday morning deal that saw Ryan Spooner get sent to the Vancouver Canucks. The team has also recalled Gagner from the Toronto Marlies (AHL) and the expectation is that he will be in the lineup tonight when the Oilers take on the New York Islanders.

Before I get into the numbers, I want to start by saying this has the potential to be a feel-good story in what has been everything but a feel-good season for the Oilers organization. Gagner was a fan favourite during his seven seasons here and maybe the ‘homecoming’ and chance to play in the NHL again will spark his career and give the Oilers a useful NHL player, which Ryan Spooner was certainly not.

And even if things don’t work out on the ice, this deal still benefits the Oilers. Both players have one year left on their current deals with $3.1 million cap hits, which means they would count for just over $2 million if buried in the minors. There’s also benefit when it comes to a potential buyout.

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If the Oilers would have bought out Ryan Spooner, they would have been on the hook for $1.33m for the next two seasons. If they buyout Gagner, they’re only on the hook for $1.01 million for the next two seasons. I know that $300k seems small, but good organizations don’t ignore an opportunity to free up a little bit of cap space.

On the ice, Gagner has only played seven games at the NHL level this season scoring once and adding two assists. For comparison, Ryan Spooner had just three points in 25 games with the Oilers this season.

The Canucks loaned Gagner to the Toronto Marlies so that he could be closer to his family, and in 43 games with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, he has 37 points. Based on the reports that I’ve been reading, he’s been one of their better players and a very positive presence in their locker room.

While the past two years with the Canucks organization have been very rough for Gagner, he’s not very far removed from a 50 point season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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That surprise season in 2016/17 is what got him his three year deal with the Canucks. In that season, he had some impressive numbers. At even strength, he scored ten goals and added 22 assists (15 of them were first assists). He had a shooting percentage of just 7.69% and PDO of 1.004, so it wasn’t like he was producing at an unsustainable rate.

What got him a lot of attention that season was his production on the powerplay. He played close to 200 powerplay minutes with the Blue Jackets and grabbed eight goals and ten assists. 36% of his offensive output came with the man advantage.

The fact he shoots right and has a track record of being a good powerplay producer makes him a nice fit with the Oilers, who could use someone to spark their second unit. If things go well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gagner even got a look on the top unit, opposite to Connor McDavid. That would give them a one-timer option, which they haven’t had since they traded Mark Letestu.

While Gagner has proven he can play centre at the NHL level, and really can’t be any worse at it than Spooner, I suspect he will play right wing with the Oilers. Given his clear natural skill, I wouldn’t be stunned if he got a really good look with either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Connor McDavid. I look at Gagner like a more proven Ty Rattie. He has skill, it may just be a matter of him finding chemistry with a skilled centre, something he never really got the chance to do in Vancouver.

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Again, there is no downside to this deal. At the very worst, Gagner will be a feel-good story for fans and should bring a good veteran presence to the locker room for the final 25 games of the season. As I outline above, if they want to buy him out, it’s easier on the salary cap to buyout Gagner than it would have been to buyout Ryan Spooner.

He’s only 29-years-old, so I think this is a smart gamble by Keith Gretzky. If Gagner can click in the Oilers top six and on their powerplay, they might be able to get some solid hockey out of the former sixth overall pick, something they never got from Ryan Spooner.

GAGNER’S SEASON SO FAR

Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/-
2018-19 Vancouver Canucks* NHL 7 1 2 3 4 -3
2018-19 Toronto Marlies AHL 43 12 25 37 12 -7
NHL Totals 777 153 283 436 358