A bittersweet moment of the trade deadline was when news broke that Sam Gagner was getting shipped to Detroit.
It was exciting to see that Ken Holland was diving in and buying to make the team better ahead of what was supposed to be a playoff push. Unfortunately, the cost of acquiring new talent was sending Gagner to the Red Wings as a salary cap dump so Andreas Athanasiou could fit under the cap ceiling.
Gagner has always been a likable Oiler. He broke into the league as an 18-year-old immediately after being drafted with the sixth overall choice in the 2007 draft and made an impact in his rookie season, helping give fans a glimmer of hope at the time.
After grinding through the dark, tanking days with the organization, Gagner got traded away for Teddy Purcell in 2014. He would bounce around the league for a few years before getting shipped back to Edmonton in 2019 in a change-of-scenery swap involving Ryan Spooner. Gagner scoring a goal in an Oilers uniform after a five-year absence was a great moment.
While Gagner is just a depth player at this stage in his career, he still showed a nice spark during his second stint with the team. In 61 games between 2018-19 and 2019-20, Gagner scored 11 goals and racked up 22 assists, which is a 44-point pace over an 82-game season. Most importantly, though, Gagner is well-liked within the organization, both as a teammate and by management.
According to Mark Spector, Holland could very likely bring Gagner back this off-season as a precursor to him getting a front-office gig with the organization…
I believe GM Ken Holland sees Gagner as a future member of his front office, the way he did with Dan Cleary, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby in Detroit. Now, Gagner wants to continue his NHL career, but no matter where he plays he will be a sub-$1 million player on a one-year deal. With the cap issues faced by NHL teams, Gagner’s agent will have to work to find him a place that is a better fit than Edmonton.
Meanwhile, Gagner’s home is in Edmonton, his family (three kids) is here, and as we said, we see his off-ice future here as well. Gagner has made a lot of money in his NHL career (over $33 million) and would likely sign in Edmonton as a fourth-line winger with the skills to moves up when needed, and the persona to help the Oilers young leaders succeed.
Gagner is at the point in his career where the person is as important as the player. And he can still fill a limited on-ice role. You want him on your team.
The Oilers have 10 forwards from their current roster signed into next season. Gaetan Haas, Riley Sheahan, Patrick Russell, and Tyler Ennis are all unrestricted free agents while Athanasiou is a restricted free agent. Even without moving anybody out from the group of players currently signed, there’s certainly room to bring back Gagner on a cheap deal.
Gagner is one of those guys who’s just an Oiler, through and through. It would be nice to see him finish his playing career here.