The Edmonton Oilers haven’t provided their fans with nearly enough success or feel-good stories in recent seasons, of that there is little debate. I think the return of Sam Gagner to Edmonton after five years away qualifies as the latter. It seems obvious he feels the same way too.
Gagner, now 29, is back in Edmonton silks where his career began after being drafted sixth overall in 2007, then being sent away in the summer of 2014 and wandering his way around the NHL and doing a stint in the minors. Acquired from the Vancouver Canucks for Ryan Spooner, he’s four games into his encore.
Much has changed in the years Gagner, who made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old, has been gone. There’s a new rink. He’s got mostly new teammates. Gagner and his wife Rachel, who he met in Edmonton, have two young sons. Rushed along as prospects here have been for what seems like forever, Gagner is at a different place in his life. Likewise, how he might fit into the make-up of this team in the year that remains on his contract has changed.
Still, he’s happy to back in the NHL city he considers home, as he talked about on After Hours on CBC after scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks Saturday – a nifty bit of work with captain Connor McDavid watching from the press box while serving the first game of a two-game suspension. His encore here is off to about as good a start as anybody could hope.
WHAT HE SAID
“Obviously, a lot of stops along the way,” Gagner, who was playing with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL when the Oilers jettisoned Spooner to get him, told Scott Oake. “Like you said, Edmonton does feel like home. I feel very comfortable here. There’s just something about the city and the people and the passion that they have for hockey that I love.
“Coming back here just kind of reinforces that. I think, at the time I got traded, it was probably a good thing for me to go out and see some other things and play. I feel like coming back here I’m a better player for it. I’m excited about the challenge of continuing to push forward and, hopefully, continue to call this home for the rest of my career.” For context, the entire interview is here.
When Gagner arrived in Edmonton it looked like he, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson might be the infusion of young talent that could push the Oilers back toward playoff contention. We know how that turned out. Gagner’s 49 points as a rookie was a career high until he managed 50 with Columbus in 2016-17. Like the team, the expectations of him are different now.
With this edition of the Oilers desperate for scoring depth up front, Gagner, a right shot who can play at centre or forward, won’t be counted on as a go-to guy. If he can provide some scoring as a top-nine forward and contribute on the power play – of his 438 career points, 132 of them (50-82-132) have come on the PP – he can be a fit behind McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. His cap hit of $3.150 million for next season isn’t unreasonable.
With two goals in the four games he’s played with the Oilers this time around, Gagner isn’t going to be a game-breaker or a big difference-maker in his encore. Here and now, he can be a useful player who can contribute further down the marquee than where he found himself as a teenager. This, back in the city he considers home, is an opportunity he’s grateful for.
THE WAY I SEE IT
How do you not feel good for Josh Currie, who also appeared on After Hours last night after scoring his first NHL goal against the Ducks? Currie, 26, who was undrafted out of the QMJHL, had a huge cheering section several time zones ahead in PEI high-fiving last night. Currie was clearly pumped about it too.
Dream come true! What an amazing last few days! So many experiences that I’ll never forget. Thanks to all my friends, family, teammates, coaches and everyone else who has helped me out… https://t.co/wWpZo9ISIq
— Josh Currie (@joshcurrie19) February 24, 2019
Currie is the epitome of the guy who has paid his dues and waited his turn in the minors before finally getting a shot to play in the NHL. After scoring 24-13-47 in 49 games with Bakersfield this season, Currie finally got the call and has now played three games with the Oilers. Before the phone rang, he’d played 391 games in the minors – 154 in the ECHL and 237 in the AHL.
WHILE I’M AT IT
That forearm to the noggin of Darnell Nurse late in the game was what you’d expect from Corey Perry, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthy of a suspension no matter how loud frustrated Oilers’ fans yell in the wake of McDavid’s two-game suspension for his head shot on Nick Leddy.
Perry is sneaky dirty – sometimes not even so sneaky – and he often crosses the line. I thought Perry deserved a penalty, and maybe a beating from Nurse, on the play, but I don’t see it as a suspension (no ruling as of the time this was written), not that I’d shed a tear if he was fined.
As far as bringing McDavid into the argument, there’s a place for that, but only in the context of all the ridiculous uncalled stuff he has to put up with literally every game. If the NHL is out to show it doesn’t play favorites by sitting McDavid for two games, then it has apply the rulebook to all the hacking and holding and interference McDavid endures. It’s a farce to pocket the whistle and not enforce the rules when McDavid is being mugged.