Samwise the Hurdler

Comparing Sam Gagner’s numbers this season to 07-08 makes it even more obvious that the Oilers teenager is struggling.

The questions are “how much?” and “what should the organization do about it?”

Based on watching all of the games so far this season, many fans believe Sam needs to either find the pressbox, be sent back to junior or possibly head to the World Junior Championships (obviously not an option at this time since the tournament is just around the corner).

Let’s begin by comparing box car numbers year over year:

  • 07-08: 25gp, 2-8-10 -10
  • 08-09: 25gp, 1-5-6 -2

Okay. I think we can agree that although Gagner’s start this season has been a struggle to watch it’s also true he had a slow start one year ago. Fair? As we all know those are the boxcars and only show one side of the equation. Here’s some modern numbers that put things into focus:

  • 07-08 through 25gp: 1.90/60 EV points
  • 08-09 through 25gp: 0.77/60 EV points

There. I think we can really see Gagner’s struggles at EV strength when looking at his season in this way. He’s not covering the bet in terms of ice time given offensively. Even though his point total is not far off one year ago (4 points in 25 games is not a huge gap, luck and circumstance can account for it) it’s clear that Gagner is performing below what we might expect from an “average” NHL player.

Next up, Corsi number. Do you know the Corsi number? Corsi number is the number of shots directed towards each net while the player is on the ice. The number can be broken down into whose net the shots are directed towards (their own net (-) and their opponent’s net (+)) and is somewhat similar to the plus minus statistic. The idea being that if you have a good Corsi then something is going right when you’re on the ice and in fact Corsi is a nice predictor moving forward for said player. By that I mean a good Corsi for a player not playing at his established level often predicts a flood.

So, if Gagner had a good Corsi we’d be able to establish that some good things are happening outside the HR-RBI-BA baseball card numbers. Here’s the Oilers 08-09 Corsi for forwards:

  1. Hemsky 14.4
  2. Horcoff 13.2
  3. Penner 12.5
  4. Gagner 2.3
  5. Cogliano 1.8
  6. Nilsson -2.4
  7. Cole -4.0
  8. Pouliot -8.0
  9. Moreau -8.9
  10. Brodziak -12.2
  11. Reddox -16.2
  12. Stortini -17.2
  13. Pisani -17.9
  14. Schremp -19.7

Now before we go any farther down the path it’s important to point out that toughness of minutes should be factored in. Hemsky’s line certainly faces tougher opponents than Gagner’s line, so the fact that #83 is the vaunt (along with Horcoff) tells us he is actually the vaunt. Gagner’s number was acquired against middling (Desjardins says the opposition faced by Gagner is in the middle or a little tougher but I don’t really trust it) opposition but we can at least agree that his line isn’t getting buried against the butter (based on Corsi) this season. Fair?

Let’s run the Corsi from last season (this is the full year) for Oiler forwards:

  1. Glencross 5.4
  2. Pouliot 3.4
  3. Penner 1.4
  4. Hemsky -0.8
  5. Horcoff -2.0
  6. Nilsson -2.5
  7. Torres -5.3
  8. Brodziak -5.4
  9. Gagner -5.6
  10. Reasoner -7.0
  11. Stoll -7.6
  12. Sanderson -8.1
  13. Stortini -9.2
  14. Pisani -10.2
  15. Cogliano -11.7
  16. Moreau -17.4

Now that’s for the entire season. I think we can establish that Gagner’s scoring results a year ago may have marched ahead of the indicator lights implied he should have. Fair? I mean, Samwise finished with 49 points a year ago in a full season and there was more headed the other way pretty damn often. What’s that old MacT line about it’s what you accomplish AND what you leave?

If that’s the case, can we reasonably argue that the opposite is true this season? By that I mean that the indicators are more positive than one year ago and are marching ahead of the results for this player?

Is that something we can agree on? If that is the case, then Craig MacTavish is doing the right thing sending Sam Gagner out there every night even though the goals aren’t coming. Sooner or later, logic, math and the earned run average tell us that when enough 9-inning outings have been put to bed life inevitably draws toward the median.


For me, it’s all good. I’m thrilled the Oilers organization is hanging in with him and sending him out there every night. Sam Gagner’s a unique talent and as I mentioned last night in the GDT the ship has already sailed on Gagner in terms of demoting him.

If my choices are ruining him but making the playoffs this spring or playing him, having him become a better player on the other side and missing the playoffs, I take door #2. Said it when Hemsky struggled, saying it now.

Sometimes a kid arrives who’s worth the price. I think Sam Gagner is such a player.

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38 Responses to "Samwise the Hurdler"

  1. Kris says:

    Is Gagner now the #18 prospect? :)

    Kidding aside, I like Gagner’s progression, too, though it’s painful to watch sometimes. The organization wants him to be good at both ends of the rink, and accordingly he’s getting tougher opposition, PK time, etc.

    Of course, if Gagner was put with Hemsky and Penner, against softer opposition, he’d put up numbers making pretty plays, and we’d all be wetting our pants about how good we’ll be next year. But playing the Gagner hand the MacT way will make Gags a better player come the 09/10 playoffs, and, in the end, HorPensky is a much better line than GagPensky.

    Patience is the key. Yes patience.

  2. HBomb says:

    Next year is an optimal go for it year for the Oilers (last year of cheap Cogliano and Gagner PLUS the cap likely taking a severe drop in summer 2010 as the economic downturn catches up with the league).

    So it makes sense to have Gagner ready to play more than just butter-soft minutes in a year where, IF the Oilers are performing well, Tambellini might be wise to go find a Spacek, Samsonov and Roloson, if you get my drift….

    Bottom line is that I agree with Lowetide. The counting stats are off, but Sam Gagner is a much better all-around player than he was a year ago. If he takes the same step over the next 12 months and adds offense back into the equation, the Oilers are going to be looking to sign him for 5-10 years beyond next season, dropping cap be damned.

    When a talent like this comes along, you don’t let it get away. Even the guys who let useful players like Hejda and Glencross walk away can see that.

  3. dstaples says:

    LT/ Nice work, excellent analysis. . . Every game Gagner seems to have one or two excellent scoring chances from close in that could just as easily be going in. . .

    That said, he’s also a lot less confident with the puck this year, even compared to the start of last year, when he got that confidence bump from playing in the Canada-Russia junior series.

    I really like the way MacT has handled the kid this season, sticking with him, going back to the Kid Line repeatedly to see if they’ve all finally got it together. . . It’s one area where MacT has excelled from the start of the year. In the end, MacT’s strategy is going to work, I suspect, and it could work as early as next game, with the Kids getting untracked.

    Gagner has been fine on defense — save for the odd ugly giveaway as the Coach and others here point out — and with the Corsi table tilted in his direction, with all those high quality shots and all his scoring chances, he is going to score, and sooner than later.

  4. B.C.B. says:

    I would like MacT to find a way to both make the playoffs and have Gagner progress. I have a crazy idea: maybe Tambo could shoring up our third line center and top 4 dman.

    Gagner’s success will not make or break our playoff appearance. Yes, it would be easier if he started tearing it up, but the lack of defensive players (which Gagner isn’t) will determine our success this year.

  5. Lowetide says:

    BCB: I’m not so sure that’s true. As someone (RQ?) mentioned last night the Oilers have a top 3F (the 1line) and then a bottom 9.

    One of those lines need to emerge from the group, and if we’re honest Cogliano has clearance on the other two kids at this point.

    If the Oilers didn’t give a rat’s rear about 89 they could probably slot in Cogs with (say) Schremp and Pisani when he gets healthy or (even better) use Cole with Cogliano and either Nilsson or Gagner.

    But they seem to be developing first and winning second, and when it comes to Gagner I agree. PLUS their patience with Smid seems to have paid off and that’s a guy who has played a lot of NHL minutes before (apparently) turning a corner.

    I say apparently because we’ll find out when they elevate him to top 4D. There’s a chance Staios is driving the third pairing.

  6. DeBakey says:

    I have a crazy idea: maybe Tambo could shoring up our third line center and top 4 dman.

    How about Grebeshkov
    to Phoenix
    For Derek Morris & a pick?

    Morris is UFA this july,
    LSDenis is a RFA

  7. godot10 says:

    Sophmore jinx. Gagner is the first hockey player in history to have one.

    I agree with the thrust of the blog post. Gagner is not the liability defensively that the was last year. He is being protected far less. Apart from goals and assists he is a much better hockey player.

    Just non-linear development in action. The “money puck” guys keep educating me that Corsi numbers rule. Leading indicator that one shouldn’t be too concerned about goals and assists at the moment.

  8. B.C.B. says:

    LT: Maybe your right about have 9 bottom 6 forwards, but I don’t see why they can’t run Gagner-Cogs-Cole as the second line, which should be an improvement over the kid line (I hope, on paper I’d say it is). And then pick up some one for the third line.

    But still I would say that the Oilers need to get more production out of one of Cole or Gagner to have a good second line, to create the secondary scoring needed to make the play-offs. I know both Cole and Gagner play RW, but why not try out Gagner on the LW?

    I don’t know how running Cole-Cogs-Gagner is harming Gagner’s development. I would say it might harm Nilsson’s a bit (but he is older and should have ‘developed’ already). IMO, the things harming Gagner’s development is Nilsson (not good enough for the second line) and his crappy faceoff skills (stopping him from playing center).

    A third line center (or LW), that is physical and can play the tough minutes, would be more helpful to Gagner then harm his development. The third line could split the tough minutes with the second, freeing up some more soft minutes for Gags to feast on and still have his Qual Comp go up. A third liner could be used on the PK, not forcing Gags to be used outside of EV and PP. A third line player would provide more grit to the team, hence allowing them to more Cole up to the second line and he could provide grit to the kid.

  9. Lowetide says:

    BCB: Agree completely. If Gagner and Cole get hot in the season’s second half and the team’s first half MVP’s (Hemsky, Horcoff, Souray, Lubo) keep on trucking then this team will be fine.

    I think they’ll make a deal at some point if things don’t improve soon, though.

  10. Cam says:


    If I’m not mistaken, Gagner has played LW for most of his time with the Oilers.

    89-13-12 is the standard “kid line”.

  11. kinger says:


    My better half just told me that she had a dream that your blog had been shut down.


  12. Lowetide says:

    kinger: Was it a good dream or a bad dream?

  13. oilerdago says:

    I’m going to step up and offer a slightly contrarian view here. The stats show that Gagner is being fed tougher minutes and while his boxscores are worse, there are some signs of improvement.

    I noticed last night that while he did not score, he was getting pucks in deep instead of trying that blasted drop pass. He was not afraid to go in tough areas and he got a shot(s).

    That said, it helps at times when you’re in a slump to get a day off. You can look at things differnt, get a little perspective, or just be a 19 year old again.

    It does not mean that the coaches don’t believe in you, it just means they want to help you – especially when you are pressing by relieving it for you.

    It could well be that the concussion he suffered helped him do this – or maybe he needs a HS with his head clear to help him – I don’t know.

    To use baseball analogy, while Cal Ripken achieved a personal acolade for playing consecutive games, many have said that he hurt the team by never taking breaks. It made his slumps longer and cost them some wins along the way.

    It happens in all sports and when you’re a kid, having lot’s of pressure in a hockey market can be good and bad. So far, Gagner’s had the maturity to handle it, but this is probably the longest “slump” he’s ever faced.

    Bottom line though is it’s up to the coach to know how to balance that.

  14. Kyle says:

    No question Sam is not a disaster ala Cole, but he just looks frustrated out there.

    If I were MacT i’d be trying to sneak him out there against the soft opposition every chance I got and maybe put some muscle on his line. Don’t think there’s much else you can besides have patience.

  15. B.C.B. says:

    Cam: The Oiler’s website has Nilsson list as LW and Gagner at RW.

  16. Asiaoil says:

    The problem largely lies with trying to develop both Gags and Cogs at the same time. A 2nd line of Nilsson on LW and Cole on RW is a solid foundation – but who plays C? One of Cogs of Gags is shut out and neither is suited for a bottom 6 role. Moreau is a 4th liner at this point even if the coach wont play him there, Pisani is hurt, Brodz, Poo, Stortini – it’s a mess.

    As for the the defense – we don’t need a 2nd pair dman – we have a guy to play that role in Smid and he will be ready for it by the end of this year. I don’t think he’s developed slow at all – it just takes about 200 games for most defense-first guys to gain the necessary experience. Lubo-Smid will our top pair next and Souray-Gilbert is just fine as well. Just fill in the 3rd pair with cheap guys who can play – Lowe is good at spotting those and Huddy knows how to coach them.

    We have the makings of a big trade – Grebeshkov, Garon, Cogliano, Schremp – all these guys could be in play – but aside from a big-time goalie I can’t see a need that more development for our kids wont address to some degree. Sure a 3rd line center like Malhotra or even Stajan would be nice but you don’t need a package like that. Hard to say – maybe this is the year you dump some players for a high draft pick – or do a deal with ATL for Lehtonen and their first round pick.

  17. oilerdago says:

    Asia – I think you’re bang on that when a trade comes it’s going to be a lot more than just sending away a goalie.

    I keep reading these trade Cogliano comments and it leaves me scratching my head. Cogliano is clear of Nilsson and Gagner right now.

    Gagner’s a talent you don’t give up on.

    Nilsson is the one who’s most inconsistent, but he’s got a contract that makes him a lower risk (should be able to outperform his contract if he ever matures).

    If you’re ever going to throw Cogs into the mix, there better well be someone incredible coming back the other way though. As far as offensive numbers, only Hemsky has had more scoring touch than Cogliano in the Lowe/Pendergast years.

  18. Asiaoil says:

    I’ve liked Cogs since draft day and he’s a great little player – only way he’s in a deal is if an elite talent comes back – but he is little and we have a bunch of these guys – especially at center.

  19. Bruce says:

    Gagner : 25 GP, 1-5-6, -2
    Voracek: 28 GP, 4-9-13, +8

    Just sayin’.

  20. Lowetide says:

    Bruce: I remember the back and forth here and at HF on Gagner and Voracek. The discussion certainly isn’t over, Voracek looks like a horse.

    I assume you’re not a Gagner fan?

  21. Bruce says:

    LT: You assume wrong. I like Sam just fine.

    But I do remember the discussion right at the time, the choice was pretty much between Gagner and Voracek, and CBJ weren’t too unhappy with their consolation prize. Gagner should have a leg up given his year’s experience in the NHL, but Voracek looks pretty darn good right out of the gate, doesn’t he?

    Gagner’s underlying numbers are pretty decent this year, although BtN’s Corsi (+2.3/hr) doesn’t jive with ToI’s (-2 gross). Still, he’s not getting murdered on shots, or traditional +/- (-2). According to Dennis he’s a plus player on scoring opportunities (+1.2/hr.). His PP production is disappointing, but he’s held his own on the PK and has been given a few new responsibilities.

    Biggest issue seems to be Sh%, just 1 goal on 50 shots. That’s got to change, and it’s going to change.

  22. Asiaoil says:

    I was one of the Voracek guys because of his size – which frankly – would suit us better than another talented runt like Gagner. Gags is a fine young player though.

  23. doritogrande says:


    Gagner : 104 GP, 14-41-55
    Voracek: 28 GP, 4-9-13

    That looks a lot more accurate to me.

    “Just fill in the 3rd pair with cheap guys who can play – Lowe is good at spotting those and Huddy knows how to coach them.”

    This one got me thinking on a couple different angles. Most importantly is that with Lowe getting the bump up-upstairs, we keep his knack for finding servicable veteran defenders, while adding another hockey guy in Tambellini, who will likely bring his own specific player finds to this team. God I hope he’s a goalie specialist. However, his work in Vancouver suggests he is more adept at finding the hidden minor-league gems to transform into bottom-6 talent. Guys like Alex Burrows, and Rick Rypien graduated to the Canucks under his watch, while the organization also has the likes of Jason Jaffray, Alex Bolduc and Mike Brown to call on. Pity they let go of a dude by the name of Max Fortunus. Dallas got a good late-bloomer in him. Consistently the most reliable defenseman on the Moose blueline, and that includes AHL all-star Nolan Baumgartner.

    If Tambellini can find these guys with the same success that he did for Vancouver, this will have turned out as a major positive for the organization. It’s nice to have a Tim Sestito come along and sustain once in a while. Note: I’m aware Sestito was a Lowe signing, but I’m using him as a for-instance.

  24. Dennis says:

    I certainly agree with just about everything LT’s saying here but with one playoff appearance in the last four seasons it just gets harder and harder to keep thinking of things in the vein of “well, we’re doing things that we know are hurting us This year but will help us Next year.”

    And if anyone thinks the math won’t betray us for a whole season then I wonder what the overlying numbers said about 10 in the ’07 season? I’ve told this story many times but he hit Lupul in the ass with mostly an open net available during the first road game of the year, in Cgy, and things just went downhill from there. Fuck, the last big road trip with 94 in house the 94-10-83 line worked their asses off one night in Buf and didn’t get a sniff and Horc had bad luck the whole season through.

    As I said heading into last night it’s really up to 12, 89 and 26 to help us soar at EV and we’ll need that plus a good PK if we’re ever gonna climb out of mediocrity.

  25. Sean says:

    LT I like the general idea of the post as well. Its also timed well as its a lot easier to preach patience when the team is winning. When you say PLUS their patience with Smid seems to have paid off are you implying some time off for Gagner would be good or that Gagner should be moved to D for a couple games ;)

    There is something about Gagner and Kane playing against each other and I’m hoping as much as anyone that playing against Kane will bring some swagger back to his game.

  26. Coach pb9617 says:

    I have a crazy idea: maybe Tambo could shoring up our third line center and top 4 dman.

    How about Grebeshkov
    to Phoenix
    For Derek Morris & a pick?

    Morris is UFA this july,
    LSDenis is a RFA

    Wallin from Carolina would come much cheaper, is under contract for one more year at 1.7 million.

    If the Oilers didn’t give a rat’s rear about 89 they could probably slot in Cogs with (say) Schremp

    This is if they’re trying to lose?

    That said, it helps at times when you’re in a slump to get a day off. You can look at things differnt, get a little perspective, or just be a 19 year old again.

    Exactly. Watching from up high might do some good. Why is it that it was fine to bench Penner, Nilsson and Brodziak when they were “struggling” but it’s out of the question here?

  27. Bruce says:

    Gagner : 104 GP, 14-41-55
    Voracek: 28 GP, 4-9-13

    That looks a lot more accurate to me.

    DG: It’d be even more accurate in the context of what I posted if you included the following:

    Gagner -23
    Voracek +8

    Last year when Sam was scoring points in the bigs and Voracek was out of sight out of mind in the Q it seemed like we had obviously made the right pick. Now that both are in the same league, Voracek *appears to be* outperforming Gagner despite the latter having a year’s experience on him.

    The question is partly “did we pick the right guy?” and partly “was it in Sam’s best interests to play in the NHL last year?” Jury’s out on both, but they are certainly questions worth asking.

  28. RiversQ says:

    Bruce said…
    “was it in Sam’s best interests to play in the NHL last year?”

    Or better yet, was it in the Oilers’ best interests to have Gagner in the NHL last year?

    There’s no doubt in my mind that was a bad move by the Oilers last year. As Vic would say, the Oilers were selling hope and Gagner was front and centre in that regard. Those chickens will come home to roost though and Lowe now has a one year window where Gagner will be cheap.

    Meanwhile, Voracek is showing that the extra year in junior certainly won’t hurt you. Even if Voracek doesn’t end up as good as Gagner, it’s almost a slam dunk that CBJ will get more out their entry level deal than the Oilers will get out of Gagner’s.

    As for the pick? Ah big deal. I wanted Voracek and I still think he’ll have the better career because he’s got the size and speed that Gagner doesn’t have to go with the junior numbers. However, it’s damn hard to complain about the pick and Gagner is still going to be very very good to my eye.

  29. knighttown says:

    Re Voracek vs. Gagner:
    You can’t have this conversation on LT’s blog without looking at Qualteam and Qualcomp. Just can’t.

    JV has played against the butter soft with Columbus (-.10 QC) which is 3rd easiest after Filatov and Boll. Remember, this Columbus team with all its warts has no shortage of NHL vets at forward who can handle tough minutes (Peca, Malholtra, Nash, Torres, Modin off the top of my head). Add to that the fact that he has played with the best possible teammates (+.64 QT) and the fact that he is 17/7 EV goals for against, while impressive is maybe tempered some. Is that fair?

    Samwise is being treated about as “averagely” as possible. His QC is +.04, the 6th most difficult among Oiler regular forwards. That is a huge difference. He is competing against the leagues second liners while playing with average forwards (0 QT; 6th best). On the year, at evens, he is dead even (+10/-10).

    While I’m a Voracek fan I think he’s probably on a similar track to 2nd half Sam last year which is probably a fair comparison considering his “advanced age”. He’s doing very well against the softies and that shouldn’t be knocked but Sam’s challenge is a completely different one.

  30. dawgbone says:

    Gagner started off with something like 7 points in his first 8 games last year, then proceeded to get his ass handed to him to the tune of a 14 game pointless streak where he went -10.

    And he didn’t look good with the puck then either. Hell, he wasn’t even getting scoring chances. He was just getting knocked off the puck all game long.

    He’s got some arrows pointed the right way and combined with some luck and a little more intelligent play (no more drop passes at his own blueline) and the pucks will start to go in for him.

  31. Coach pb9617 says:

    Put Cole and Gagner on the same line with Cogs.

    .20 + .02 + .05 = .27/3 = .09!

    Voila! Average shooting percentage!

  32. doritogrande says:

    “Those chickens will come home to roost though and Lowe now has a one year window where Gagner will be cheap.”

    Say it with me now, Tambellini. Steve Tambellini is in charge of the GM operations of this hockey team.

  33. Coach pb9617 says:

    By the way – for all of you that were cranking about Edmonton’s road record not being good enough – it’s the best road record in the division.

  34. doritogrande says:

    “By the way – for all of you that were cranking about Edmonton’s road record not being good enough – it’s the best road record in the division.”

    Yeah, and Devan Dubnyk is second in the AHL in wins. Numbers aren’t everything.

  35. Doogie2K says:

    Numbers may not be everything, but 10-8 on the road is a fine place to start, all things considered. Really, 4-4-2 at home isn’t bad, considering we have yet to play three games in a row at home all year. I also notice that we’re 7 pts back of the Vancouver Douchebags with three games in hand; in fact, we have at least one game in hand on everyone in the conference except Chicago, and we’re a point out of eighth. Games in hand don’t guarantee much, but we’re not exactly in a horrible position right now, either.

    As for Gagner, someone suggested in a GDT or something a few days ago that NHL clubs should have the ability at some point to place their CHL-drafted under-20s in the AHL for seasoning/conditioning/confidence-boosting. I think had this been an option, we could still have developed Gagner at a level higher than junior (where he had nothing left to learn) without risking him hitting the wall against NHL competition. Even if we leave last year alone, five games of lighting up AHL pitching might be just what the doctor ordered to get the kid untracked, but that’s still (somehow) not an option.

  36. Scott says:

    Eberle is in and Nash is out in terms of WJCs. Good for Eberle to make that team. He should be very pleased with his year so far.

  37. Dennis says:

    Schremp doesn’t get a demotion post?;)

    I sorta saw this coming considering how well Pete Peeters thought the 46-78-43 played on Sat night.

  38. RiversQ says:

    DG: For fucksakes.

    Fine, Tambellini gets to clean up his boss’ little mess. While his boss is approving the budget and the moves.

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