by Lisa McRitchie on 07/23/13 at 02:00 AM ET
The Edmonton Oilers narrowly avoided making history Monday morning. By coming to an extension agreement with centreman Sam Gagner before his arbitration hearing, the Oilers will not be the team that sets a whole new standard for the youngest UFA in NHL history. Not this time at least.
Last season when the Oilers were in this situation with Gagner, the two sides were actually in the same room when the deal was struck. This year, it was before the hearing was to begin. Both times a deal was made without the aid of an arbitrator, but you have to think that Gagner would harbor some resentment to the whole situation. After all, a player hears through Twitter, blogs, TV and radio as well as from the mouths of fans when out in public, just what the common thoughts are on his play, his skills, his ability and his output.
Ultimately, a deal was stuck. A three year $14.4 million dollar deal that could see Gagner as an Oiler for the next three years. May.
Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal tweeted soon after the deal was announced:
“people can't knock gagner contract. He gets $4.8 mil avg and he's basically same sort of player as S Weiss who got $4.9 mil avg from DET”
Weiss is an interesting comparison initially. Both players are the same height with Gagner weighing in at 199 lbs while Weiss is slightly lighter at 190. Last season Weiss had a faceoff win percentage of 51%, Gagner, 44%. While faceoffs alone don't win games, puck possession is key to scoring chances is it not?
Gagner played 76:36 minutes of penalty kill (in 48 games), Weiss 29:51 (through only 17 games). But last year time on the PK was new for Gagner. In 2011-12 Gagner played 3:32 shorthanded, the season before that 25:36, Weiss on the other hand played 101:12 on the PK in 2011-12, 127:13 the season before. You get the picture; Weiss is more trusted on the PK by his coach, and thus has played more PK time. True, Gagner is younger than Weiss, and Gagner has room to grow, but if we are talking about a contract, we are talking about what a player has achieved, not just what they are capable of.
Gagner’s season point totals have been 41, 41, 42, 47, 38 for the past 5 seasons. As much as many hockey fans believe that Gagner will be an 80 point per season player, the fact of the matter is that he hasn’t cracked 50 yet. Weiss on the other hand has had 61, 60, 49, 57 and 4 (again, extremely short season for Weiss with only 17 of 48 games played).
Looking at giveaways, Gagner had 58 in 2008-09, 39 in 2009-10, 38 in 2010-11, 36 in 2011-12, 26 in 2013. Weiss had 31 in 2008-09, 27 in 2009-10, 28 in 2010-11, 33 in 2011-12, and 2 in 2013. Maturity and experience playing against NHL players will have a big impact in these numbers, and Gagner’s numbers in the last two seasons look promising, even if it is 26 give aways in 48 games.
Most people will not argue that Gagner has holes in his D game, and instead say that that is why he is a second line centre. I say there are far more reasons than that, but this is just a quick look at this contract.
In terms of points per 60 minutes, Behind the Net shows us that 5 on 5 in the 2011-12 season, Sam Gagner had slightly better production than Weiss, even though Weiss was second on his team with 1.88 points per 60 minutes, and Gagner was 4th on his team with 1.98. Looking for other comparables on points per game gets interesting as the Panthers and Oilers were so different in terms of point production and the length of Weiss’ last season. Sufficed to say, we can see that Gagner does have offensive talent and that he does have potential at this point in his career.
So how about the physical game? The NHL doesn’t exactly track puck battles, hits is the best physical game marker we have. I fully admit that this number has it’s drawbacks, but it’s still an interesting comparison. For Weiss he had 6 hits in 2013 (17 games), 92 hits in 2011-12, 52 in 2010-11, 43 in 2009-10, and 30 in 2008-09. For Gagner the totals are 35 in 2013 (48 games), 21 in 2011-12, 24 in 2010-11, 30 in 2009-10 and 28 in 2008-09.
And how about takeaways? Gagner had 29 in 2008-09, 14 in 2009-10, 33 in 2010-11, 27 in 2011-12 and 23 in 2013. Weiss had 34 in 2008-09, 63 in 2009-10, 44 in 2010-11, 56 in 2011-12, and 13 in 2013. Weiss is the more physical player, who is more effective at obtaining puck possession.
Back to the Oilers
Yes, Gagner is younger than Weiss, and yes has been learning to play in the NHL for the past five years, making the transition from junior to the NHL while Weiss had made the transition years before. But still, the trend of the numbers is showing of the type of player each one is, right now.
There are of course other players out there that the Oilers and the NHLPA would have used to prepare their briefs. While there are several similarities, there are just as many differences and ultimately Weiss is better in the faceoff dot, more physical, has better point production and is better defencively, at this point in time.
While the Oilers have put the time in to develop and stick with Gagner, they haven’t exactly been quick to sign the young centreman to a long term contract, let alone extension when he has come due. While this is not saying that the Oilers are actively looking to deal Gagner all of the time, it does suggest that they are not sure what they have in Gagner or where he fits in their long term plans. If signing Gagner to a big lucrative Horcoff type contract meant losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, or Nail Yakupov due to money constraints that would be a problem to say the least.
Yes, this deal was for three years, but if the deal has a no trade, no move clause in year two, but not year 1 or 3, the Oilers have some wiggle room should they choose to use it. This is interesting. Gagner was looking to stay with the team that he suffered the losses and disappointments with, and ultimately he would like to experience the success that he believes the team will see.
The contract is good for both sides. The Oilers could not let Gagner go for nothing next season had they gone through arbitration and reached a one year deal. And of course GM Craig MacTavish has spoken highly of Gagner and clearly wants to see Gagner succeed with the rest of the Oilers.
Gagner needs to work on his game, but the same can be said about several players on the Oilers team, some of whom have been dropped this season (Theo Peckham, Alex Plante and Colten Teubert). In an interview with Team 1260’s Jason Gregor, Gagner said “I think that when you’re developing in front of people’s eyes it’s pretty easy to start to see holes in someone. I’ve been around in Edmonton since I was 18 and I feel like I’ve learned a lot in that time and I still have a lot to learn. I’m only 23 and I feel like there is a different level for me to get to.
“I started to scratch the surface last year but I just want to continue to become a better professional, a better player and regardless of what’s said I put the most pressure on myself than anyone ever could. I still feel like last year was just me scratching the surface and that I have a lot more to give and when times are tough and we’re fighting for a playoff spot or fighting to get on to the next round of the playoffs.
“I feel that I’ve been through a lot so far in the league and that I’ve learned a lot from those experiences and that I’m ready for those challenges and I’m excited that I get a chance to do that in Edmonton and I’m looking forward to proving some people wrong but also everyone that supported me I think I’m ready to take that next step and I’m looking forward to that as well.”
Gagner could be an average to slightly above average second line centre for the Oilers long term. He could also be a great winger with the Oilers, or either position on another team. We’re still not sure, he’s not sure, but he thinks he’s scratching the surface, and I think it’s fairly clear that the Oilers aren’t sure either.
The team absolutely needed Gagner this season after trading captain Shawn Horcoff and not being able to bring in another centreman. The deal is signed and it certainly isn't an awful dea, the roster has been tweaked, now comes the hard part, waiting for October.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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