For some reason most people are pointing the finger at the coaching change to explain Minnesota’s struggles so far this season. I think we need to get a few things straight. First, they’re not that bad. A record of 17-16-3 is pretty solid (they were 17-17-2 from what I can tell a year ago).
Second, some of their best players have been playing poorly during the first half of the season. Example? Martin Havlat: In the season’s first 24 games, he scored 2-9-11 and -17. That’s awful production for a guy you’re counting on. However, in his last 6 contests Martin Havlat caught fire (4-5-9 +6) and things are looking better. Jacques Lemaire leaving has no doubt had an impact. Wild players are likely happier and there are probably more shots against from dangerous places. Having said that I don’t think hockey is going to die in Minnesota because the man with Homer Simpson hair has moved along.
The Oilers don’t have a Martin Havlat underperforming. Most of the men who are struggling for the Edmonton team are within range of their career expectations–they’re just bad. Oiler fans must look for someone to emerge, a young player to grab this team and run with it.
There is a candidate. Do you remember those crazy slow starts Sam Gagner had in seasons one and two? Let’s throw that up against the wall. Pre-Christmas of each NHL season:
- 07-08: 36gp, 3-13-16 -7 (.444)
- 08-09: 26gp, 2-6-8 -5 (.308)
- 09-10: 35gp, 8-13-21 -4 (.600)
Much better. Right? These are just the boxcars but there is reason to believe that Gagner has progressed as a hockey player since fall 2007 and the numbers tell us he’s more productive in what has become his poor half of the season. Let’s post the numbers after Christmas for the two seasons we’ve seen 89:
- 07-08: 43gp, 10-23-33 -14 (.767)
- 08-09: 50gp, 14-19-33 +4 (.660)
So, if he can go 12-21-33 in the second half of the season Gagner’s boxcars would be 20-34-54 and his plus minus should come in around level. Hey, I know we’re not looking at Gretzky’s career here but this kid can play. I also know this isn’t exactly a guarantee of post-season glory come springtime but there’s a light shining in Edmonton for the future and its name is Sam Gagner.
The Oilers are probably screwed blue in 09-10. If you’re looking for a silver lining, along with the lottery and the warmth of the sun come the better weather there should be some chatter about Sam Gagner and what he can do for us in the future as an actual NHL player.
It’s a good thing.