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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

What About Sam?

Much of the talk as these dog days of the NHL off-season drag on is that the next order of business for Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland is to find himself a third-line centre. I wonder, might Sam Gagner be a reasonable facsimile if Holland can’t find the pivot he’s looking for?

Until somebody not on the roster now comes along, assuming that Holland can make a move, I think Gagner might be that guy or, at the very least, get a long look along with Gaetan Haas and Jujhar Khaira for the job. At this point in his career, Gagner, who will turn 30 on Saturday, is a bottom-six forward. That much we do know. The question is where he fits.

Is Haas, 27, who signed out of Switzerland, and is billed as a very good skater who can play a two-way game and tallied 15-23-38 in 50 games with Bern SC, the answer in the three-spot? I don’t know. What about Khaira? He can play on the wing or at centre, but he didn’t take the kind of step up some hoped he would last season, scoring 3-15-18 in 60 games after going 11-10-21 in 69 games the season before.

Are either one of them better candidates than Gagner, who returned for an encore when he was traded by Vancouver for Ryan Spooner and produced 5-5-10 in 25 games? Gagner doesn’t get around as well as Haas or Khaira, which matters in today’s game, but he’s a more proven player. And, while he’s been decidedly mediocre on the dot with a career mark of 45.6 per cent, he’s coming off his best season in the circles — 51.6 in his 25 games last season.

WHERE’S THE FIT?

“You learn every day you have to prove yourself in this league,” said Gagner, who is back where he started his NHL career in 2007-08 as an 18-year-old. “It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re a mainstay, you have to make sure you come prepared and come ready to earn your job again. That’s kind of my mindset but at the same time, I think when you can be comfortable and have some familiarity, it definitely helps.”

Gagner spent seven seasons with the Oilers before he was dealt to Tampa Bay for Teddy Purcell and moved on to Arizona by the Bolts. Gagner’s coach in Arizona that season, 2014-15, was Dave Tippett. Gagner tallied 15-26-41 and played 17:15 a night in 81 games. Different time and a different team — Gagner saw lots of power-play time in the desert, which isn’t in the cards here — but he’s no stranger to the new Oilers’ coach, and that helps.

“I’ve always been a guy who is more successful the more I have the puck but I think I made a lot of strides that year in terms of my defensive game, my play away from the puck and doing what I can to get the puck back,” Gagner told EdmontonOilers.com. “He’s done a really good job taking the rosters he’s had and maximizing the talent of the roster.

“I think we’re in a different situation in Edmonton than we were in Arizona. We have some high-end talent on our team. In terms of offensive success, I think he’s going to let the top guys do their thing offensively and also cut down on our goals against and help out the goaltenders that way. It’s going to help us go a long way. I’m excited to see how everything goes.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Like I said, Gagner isn’t going to get the kind of ice time or minutes on the power play he enjoyed under Tippett in Arizona, although he’ll certainly be an option on the second PP unit no matter where he ends up in the line-up. It’s unlikely he’ll replicate the 41 points he produced with the Coyotes — he’s had at least 40 points seven times, including a career-high 50 points with Columbus in 2016-17.

That said, just short of turning 30, Gagner is hardly Father Time. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe he could manage 30 points if he’s given third-line minutes at centre and secondary power-play time. That’s not a big number, but it’s one that just four forwards with the Oilers — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Alex Chiasson — reached last season.

Maybe Holland gets something done to fill that 3C spot — he’s interested in UFA Derick Brassard, but if his asking price is $4 million, it’s too rich for the Oilers — and the possibility of Gagner, Khaira or Haas getting the shot becomes a moot point. Until that happens, I wouldn’t dismiss Gagner as somebody who can provide some much-needed bottom-six scoring and not only be a viable 3C option, but a very good one.

THIRD ANNUAL OILERSNATION OPEN

After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.

  • When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday). Tee off at 2 p.m.
  • Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
  • How much – $1000/team
  • Teams – Groups of Four (4)
  • How – Book your team here

As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

      • country mac

        no where else to develop him, couldnt go to the ahl, too good for junior and he was fine his first couple of years. The problem was the teams ability to have a quality team and he was elevated to early to the top of the lineup. Did you not notice the team was decent in 07-08 and 08-09. When the team was decimated and lost all there players is when his defensive weakness were seen.

      • Shameless Plugger

        Such a well though out and insightful comment, Sputter. You should change your handle to “revsionist historian” all you do is talk about the past and what mistakes were made, like we all haven’t seen the same thing.

        • Ken Holland

          Sending him to the minors and saving over 2.5 mil in cap space is the best bet.

          We could combine that with the 2.5 we have and the 2 we will clear by sending Manning and Brodziak down and bring in a couple solid players.

          7 mil in cap when teams are struggling to get their RFAs signed… we might just clean up.

          • Redbird62

            Clearly not the real Ken Holland who understands how cap calculations can work. The amount saved by sending any player to the minors is the lesser of the player’s salary or the league minimum plus $375,000 (ie. $1,075,000 in 19/20). So with Gagner’s contract the Oiler would still have ~$ 2 million of his $3.1 million contract on their roster payroll even if he is sent to the minors.

  • toprightcorner

    I believe Tippet said he had Sam play both at center and on the wing but preferred him on the wing. I think Sam will be the last choice to play in the 3C position.

  • OilCan2

    I like his quote about Tippett helping out the defence and thus the goalies by his style of coaching. It certainly gives the Oilers a good shot at the playoffs this season. The bottom six looks much better than last year and I think Ken keeps his wiggle room under the cap instead of pushing it to the max. Calgary is having that issue right now,…

    • Abagofpucks

      Value Village has nothing but cap troubles this year and next. If they can’t get a good return for brodie, or frolik they might have to deal a top 6 guy.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        Blasphemy, Value Village fans believe that Looch and Talbot make them cup contenders right now… and they have no holes in their line up… just ask them…lol

          • GK1980

            If this team is at least fighting to a playoff spot by March it’s a success. Just have some success this season and see what Holland can do with $20 mill in the off season. I would be spending that on defence and then a winger. Also depend how goalies do this year. We wait…..

          • Janitor of Section 7G

            “26 mill with only Nurse to sign”?? Cap space for the Oilers for the 2020-21 season is a myth. There’s 8 forwards, 4 D men and a goalie that will need to be signed with that $26 million. If Nurse signs for $7 million that leaves $19 mill for 12 players, an average of around $1.6 a player… Sign a $4 million dollar winger and a $3 million goalie that leaves Holland $12 million for 10 players…. How does that equal breathing room??

        • Dallas Eakins Hair

          LOL the Lamers biggest move in free agency was Talbot cause they dint have the cash to spedn and had to do a buyout and still have to dump some bodies to sign Turtlechuck…Lets us know how that works for Value Village in the cap department…

  • Beer

    The team is deep down the middle, wingers that can play McDavid and Draistle are what’s missing. RNH is a guy that can handle it. The solution is staring us in the face.

  • ed from edmonton

    I think you are being generous saying that Sam is a bottom 6 forward. He has cleared NHL waivers in 3 of the last 4 years, he is a marginal NHLer. A veteran guy trying to hang on for another year. Over the last 4 years he has been pretty much a RW as a number of teams and coaches are not seeing a center any longer. The Oil RW candidates look to be Kassian, Chaisson and Archibald as shoe ins baring injury, possibly Neal, and guys like Gagner and Marody, fighting it out for a roster spot. Gagner and Marody appear to have similar skill sets, good offensive ability but on the slow side and have played both center and wing (Marody has never played center in the NHL and Gagner has not for a number of years). It will be interesting to see how things turn out. Having said all that the 3C and 4C spots are up for grabs ad Gagner might get one of these spots by default. This is a major weakness in the roster.

    • In the last four years:
      2018-19: 10 points in 25 games with the Oilers
      2017-18: 31 points in 74 games with VAN
      2016-17: 50 points in 81 games with CBJ
      2015-16: 16 points in 53 games with PHI

      Gagner turns 30 Saturday. Is he a world-beater? No. But if you call a guy who has a good chance to get you 30 points in your bottom six — regardless if he lines up at centre or on the wing — a marginal NHLer, a guy who is hanging on, you’re not paying attention. How is a player like that not useful when your team had a grand total of four forwards who managed 30 points last season?

        • Sam playing 3C here is a possibility as opposed to a probability. He’s played a lot on the wing in recent years. I’d like to see Khaira grab the job and run with it, but until that (or a signing/trade for a centre) happens, Sam remains a possibility. I don’t know enough about Haas to say where he fits.

          • Abagofpucks

            Out of all the new guys Haas seems to be the player with most question marks to me. I would like to see Cooper make a run for the job of 3rd C, I think this is the year some of our young guys have to make a real push to grab spots. Benson is also on that list to grab a spot, but all we have is hope right now.

          • macinmillwoods

            I like Sam as 3rd line winger for JJ.
            He can take face-offs for JJ so they are both on their strong side. I still dont trust Sam as a full-time center and it doesn’t sound like Tippet does either. I don’t know if JJ is up to it either but I dont see a better option. Haas might not even make the team.

      • ed from edmonton

        There is a reason he keeps clearing NHL waivers.

        In 15/16 he had 16 pts in 53 games in Philly cleared waivers and played 9 games in the AHL
        16/17 he had his big year in CBJ 50 in 81
        17/18 in Van had 31 in 74 but a bad -18 cleared waivers but was not sent down
        18/19 13 points in 32 NHL games and 37 points in 43 AHL games.

        We all know that Sam has some offensive skills, so did Derek Roy (22 pts in 46 games in his last NHL season here).

        Looking at these numbers, the similarity of AHL performance between Sam and Marody come to mind again (actually Marody was a bit better)

        • Like I said, “Gagner turns 30 Saturday. Is he a world-beater? No. But if you call a guy who has a good chance to get you 30 points in your bottom six — regardless if he lines up at centre or on the wing — a marginal NHLer, a guy who is hanging on, you’re not paying attention. How is a player like that not useful when your team had a grand total of four forwards who managed 30 points last season?”

          When you skip past what I just said and ramble on, I know I’m wasting my time. So, you carry on.

        • Oilman99

          Compared to the rest of the bottom six from last year, Sam is a world beater. Given a chance to play with at least one one skilled player he will be far from any waiver wires.

        • Shameless Plugger

          His contract had more to do with him clearing waivers than his ability to play in the NHL. He is a NHL player of that there is no debate. Where he slots in however, is up for debate.

      • Canoe Ride 27

        You raise some good points, no pun intended, but a lot of teams passed on the guy and he was in a one for one with Ryan Spooner. He would be marginal and fighting it out with farm guys on multiple teams. Stigma, maybe. I like the guy and I hope he’s a diamond. We need a few.

      • rnj

        This RB. I’ve been defending Sam since he came back. No one has looked at the numbers, it’s the same waiver clearing crap. He’s not a fringe NHLer, stop saying that. He’s a solid third line guy who’s produced at 0.30 PPG basically everywhere

      • HockeyYoda

        You might not like it because you like Gagner (and so do I) But Ed is right. Gagner is a marginal NHL’er at this point in time. Ed’s not talking about Gagner’s career. He’s carved out a good one. But stats two or more years ago don’t mean much right now. And the one that stands out is only 25 games in the show last year because “he was in the minors”. Where many a team could have rescued him if they thought they could. But only the Oilers did and only near the end. So you can talk about all he’s done, but when the majority of NHL teams are taking pass – marginal is a fair comment. That said l’m rooting for him.

      • Redbird62

        Exactly. With Philly he cleared waivers because he was being paid $4.8 million per season signed with the Oilers right after the strike year when he score 36 points in 48 games. The next season he signed with Columbus for $650,000 for one season, scored the 50 points on his show me contract, then signed with the Canucks for the $3.1 million. With the Canucks youth movement, he had no role but his contract was hard to trade and easy to clear waivers. Gagner is a legit NHL player, just not a $3.1 million player since his point totals are dropping and he has not shown other versatility. But he is a better value than Spooner was at that same rate though sadly it seems Strome would be a better value that Gagner. Hopefully he has another bounce back season like he did with Columbus.

      • HockeyYoda

        @All ice. I agree his contract didn’t help him. But it’s not like the Canucks didn’t have other guys they could have sent down if Gagner was playing well enough. But lets say Gagner’s contract was near minimum. Well guess what kind of players get those kind of contracts? Marginal NHL players, that’s who. You guys want the truth! “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH” 😉

        • Redbird62

          His 1.62 points per 60 5 on 5 in 2018/19 is solid 3rd line production on any team (Even Tampa’s 3rd line players average just above that and they were by far the highest scoring team in the league). With Edmonton, he was at 1.74 per 60 which was 4th highest on the team (good for Sam but not an endorsement for the Oilers forward group clearly lacking in 1-6 scorers). And the teams possession stats while he was on the ice were decent too. During his 25 games with the Oilers, his 5 on 5 point production was roughly equal that of Chiasson and Kassian, while unlike those two, getting very little time with Connor/Leon. Again, Gagner is currently is not good value at $3.1 million per, but he is above league minimum level performance.

        • jesse says yep

          Vancouver made a decision to start the youth movement and play kids over vets regardless of wins. Sam being sent down was the result of that. Sam’s ppg would have been in the top 5 on the 2018 Canucks roster

      • rnj

        @hockeyyoda you’re still not looking at the numbers. I’m not talking about seasons ago, look at what redbird is saying.

        I made a comparison post last season using the points per 60 metric and found exactly what redbird did. His numbers, not years ago but last year, would place him on par with *Tampa’s* third line, and you’re saying he’s a fringe NHLer? You think we’re going to have a better third line player in Edmonton than one of the best offensive teams in history? Really?

  • Rama Lama

    If Sam could still skate he would be a top six player………he seems to have good hockey IQ and fast hands but his feet left him a long time ago. I still have time for this kind of player, and really hope that he can find some speed somehow.

      • MrBung

        Oilers are not a playoff team this season. More moves and improvements to be made and the Oil are in such a state thanks to Chia that this will take more than one season at least to turnaround. As long as there aren’t too many new f*!k ups and bad luck.

      • jesse says yep

        Has the purpose of the third line changed? It used to be your top defensive unit going up against the top line. The Oilers prefer to play Nuge or McDavid against other teams top offensive line. If used properly, all Gagner’s line has to do is out score other teams bottom 6 line, which seems like a reasonable bet.

  • Fireball

    It’s important to point out that Sam did well on the face offs in his 25 games in Etown because he mostly took them from his strong side. ( also 7 games for Van at 45% ) He’s a really good complimentary winger.. with a lot of good tools. He’s a fine option if someone goes down as a stop gap or to take draws on his strong side with someone else playing centre. With all of Etowns lefty Centres he’s a fit on the wing. If Sam was going to be a centre in the NHL he would had been. This is the dog we beat the whole time he played for the Oilers. He was a centre., at least we tried to make him one. It didn’t work .. I said it then and I’ll say it now. Sam is not a centre. If he’s penciled in as a centre this Season then we’ve got bigger problems than I was anticipating.. A young fast kid like Colby Cave would be better suited to the forth line centre spot. He took almost 240 draws at 52.5% for the Oilers. He’s far from a Established NHLer but his potential has only just been tapped. Just my thoughts. I still think we need a real 3c who can win face offs. I get they need to do more than just win faceoffs but that’s my minimum criteria for the spot. If there’s a guy that’s going to get 45 points but not win half I could settle.. but it’s a possession game.. winning draws puts you on the right side of the puck and with the depth Kenny brought in we should be able to find some double digits on the wings.

  • KootenayDan

    Sam has always worked hard to improve his game he can be a useful bottom six guy and after this season will become a value contract probably a million or less. He is easy to like and makes a contribution and is a very decent person off the ice and is probably a good veteran locker room presence also.

  • Ken McTippett

    Gagner has been around forever, but he’s only 30. Crazy. I think he still has some good hockey left in him in the right situation. I would love for him to be part of playoff hockey in Edmonton.

  • MrBung

    The Oilers have a bunch of holes to plug. Serviceable player that will help bridge the Oil to better things when they can actually ice a playoff level team. This is not it.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Perhaps with the $24m left in 2020/21 to sign 8 forwards, 4 defense, and a goalie, the Oilers can fill the holes in the lineup. Unfortunately, Nurse will probably get $7m and Kassian $3m (after a season on the top line), so $14m to sign 11 players in free agency or by trading Russell for a big haul. Have to hope the guys in Bakersfield make the roster capable of providing secondary offense.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Stauffer (I think it was Stauff but maybe is was Gregor) asked Tippett just last week about Gagner as a potential 3C and Tippett was very clear that he likes Gagner more as a winger and as someone that can move up and down the lineup.

    I’m sure we’ll see Sam play the odd shift and/or game at center but it doesn’t sounds like he’ll be a consistent center.

    I’ve got Marody as a darkhorse for 3C – it sure would be nice if he took one more stop and was able to win that job on merit.

  • Bond 0097

    I couldn’t be happier that the conversation has moved on to where does Sam slot in as opposed to why is lucic still on this team eating up minutes and costing us games. Sam is a bottom 6 player and compared to our bottom 6 last year he looks like a pretty good option albeit an expensive one. Oh well you can’t take it with you so we pay Sam and if he get’s more than 30 points he pay’s out in spades, end of story

    • bazmagoo

      I agree. I’m still in amazement Holland got Lucic off the roster.

      Sam is on a contract year, he’ll be motivated. Another great move Holland has made is to bring in competition for spots in the bottom 6. It will push the ahl guys to bring their game, as well as the veterans with expiring contracts. And I bet we will see 1 to 3 pto’s signed for camp.

      • Abagofpucks

        Holland didn’t bring sam here but he looks like he’s going to keep him around. Our cap is tight, but sam has a chance to be something we can use this year. Hopefully with tippet here sam can get his game back and fans will quite chirping him.

  • ARB

    Maybe we shoulda kept Lucic for 3C his numbers were good the last 3 years on the dot….haha…I’m sure I read a value village fan state that on a post over on FN.

  • TKB2677

    I see Gagner as a winger. He doesn’t get around the ice good enough. I don’t mind Gagner as a bottom 6 guy who can be on your PP and moonlight in the top 6 if needed. He’s supposedly good in the room and well liked. I think Gagner could play on a lot of teams in their bottom 6. The Strome for Spooner trade was a disaster so by turning Spooner into Gagner, at least you get an NHL player. Spooner is in Europe after being bought out. What I am not a fan of is his contract. At a little over 3 mill, he’s pretty expensive.

    For this season, I see him as a place holder for some young guys. I don’t think Marody will be ready yet. I see McLeod as an ideal 3rd line center. He’s big, can skate, has some offense but probably not enough offense to be in the top 6. But McLeod should spend at least this entire season in the AHL. If after this season, Gagner wanted to come back and he was willing to sign for half the money, I’d have no issue with him being back.

  • Why aee we all so negative. This team is better today then they were at the end of last season. And the flames are worse then they were. They have the lucic now we dont. Huge win for us. Sam is still a useful player who plays hard every shift. Who knows with a little puck luck this year we could make a run for playoffs.

  • btrain

    I am a Gagner fan but I think the challenge with this player was and still is, finding where he best fits on an NHL roster. He isn’t quite consistent or elite enough to be a regular contribute 5 on 5 in a top 6. On the flip side, his size, lack of speed, and offensive mindedness do not exactly work well together in a bottom 6 role either. He falls just short on either end of the lineup and given his price tag, that is a bit of a concern.
    That said, he prospered in a limited usage, PP specialist role in Columbus, similar to what Letestu was able to do for the Oil a few seasons ago. He also has boatloads of experience, has a respectable utility at the NHL level, and likely a great deal of motivation to rejuvenate his career in the final year of his current contract. For a lineup with a lot of question marks, that was just projected to finish 2nd last in the West (3rd last in the league) by the Athletic, a somewhat overpaid Gagner at 3c, RW, PPspecialist, etc is not a bad problem to have.