Sam Gagner 10-11: Highway 61 Revisited

Sam Gagner isn’t exactly the “hardest screw that ever walked a turn at Shawshank.” He’s not a speed demon with a monster shot, he’s not tough in the corners. However, his emergence as a useful center who can perform against tough opposition would solve a lot of problems for the Edmonton Oilers.

I think it’s pretty clear that Sam Gagner is progressing nicely as an NHL hockey player and that he’s going to be able to post solid seasons. I think it’s also clear that he’s progressing in the defensive aspects of the game, and that he’s going to have a solid career.

At the beginning of the year I wrote “we’re not waiting on Sam Gagner to emerge so much as waiting for the Oilers to supply Gagner with hockey players. I don’t have an actual count of “butter passes flubbed” but it is up there.”

This season, Gagner played with Magnus Pääjärvi and Linus Omark (21.04%); Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall (16.6% of the time) and Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner (13.51%) at even strength. They’re mostly just kids, but the offensive ability of those six wingers should be considered a strong step up in quality. If he can find some chemistry with two of the wingers noted above, Gagner should deliver the first 50 point season of his career.

SAM GAGNER 10-11

  1. 5×5 points per 60: 1.91 (2nd among regular forwards)
  2. 5×4 points per 60: 2.51 (9th among regular forwards)
  3. Qual Comp: 7th toughest among regular forwards
  4. Qual Team: 4th best teammates among regular forwards
  5. Corsi Rel: 7.0 (4th best among regular forwards)
  6. Zone Start: 50.9% (6th easiest among regular forwards)
  7. Zone Finish: 53.4% (best among regular forwards)
  8. Shots on goal/percentage: 138/10.9% (8th among F’s>100 shots)
  9. Boxcars: 68gp, 15-27-42 
  10. Plus Minus: -17 on a team that was -52. 

  1. What do these numbers tell us? Gagner remains one of the Oilers best offensive options and is now the top offensive center on the club. Although he has miles to go before he can boast Horcoff’s range of skills, offensively Gagner is delivering a nice number (especially at even strength). He faced tougher opposition and faced that opponent with (mostly) rookie wingers so this season should be viewed as a nice step forward.
  2. How could these numbers be better? If Gagner could deliver these numbers against tougher opposition then he’ll be the player we’re hoping he’ll become. It isn’t a huge step, and in fact I’m openly suspicious of this seasons qual comp numbers (not Gabe’s system of measurement, but rather Renney’s rolling style). If Gagner is facing tough opposition next season and delivering the 2nd best 5×5/60 number he’ll be in the range where players start to help teams win.
  3. His Corsi has improved. Not really, he was second to Penner a year ago overall and is once again among the best on the club. Gagner’s a guy who Corsi likes. If you believe in the metric, then it follows that you’re probably going to appreciate the player.
  4. You’re not going to mention that ghastly -17? He was -18 from Boxing day onward, but that’s what happens when you send anyone out there with high event rookie wingers (he was stapled to the 2 Swedes from then on). I also believe that the Gagner-MP-Omark line played in some bad puck luck but those things usually even out over time. I don’t think Gagner was the culprit for all of those minus numbers beyond being 21 and still learning himself.
  5. You really think he’s on track? Absolutely. Sam Gagner isn’t a perfect player and I don’t know if he’ll ever be that tremendous 2-way C who can impact a game in all kinds of ways but there’s at least a line in the water in every discipline and he’s making progress.
  6. He’s a lottery pick! You call this delivering? Quite right. He’s no Boyd Devereaux. Look, I know we’ve been watching him play for 4 long, difficult years and he’s not as dynamic as Hall or Hemsky but Gagner’s job is a big one and he’s making progress.
  7. How come he can’t crack 50 points? He’s playing with kids. If you put Gagner on a line with Jarome Iginla and Dustin Penner for a season then good things will happen. As it was, he was the most experienced (at 21) player on his line for pretty much the entire season. Children teaching children. I’m actually surprised at how often that Gagner with the Swedish kids line had the puck.
  8. He didn’t help the powerplay. Hemsky didn’t help the powerplay either and Hemsky is a much better player. Something’s wrong the with Oiler powerplay and I think it’s the coaching. If you have all of Hemsky, Gagner, Hall, Eberle, Gilbert and Omark to use on your 1PP and can’t get anything going then it’s on the coaching staff.
  9. He’s horrible in the dot. This is something we really need to talk about and get to the bottom of before summer’s end. We know from the lines listed above that Gagner played an enormous amount of time with rookie wingers. Right? Gagner’s 43.8 isn’t any screaming hell but Horcoff was 48.3 with his rookies and that’s subpar too. Too many greenhorns everywhere means many of the subtle disciplines are compromised.
  10. The Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since he arrived. Well I think we can blame a few people before going after the kid who has scored more than 40 points each of his first four NHL seasons. Gagner hasn’t progressed like a typical lottery pick and some of that may be on his lack of development physically. However, I don’t think you can blame Sam Gagner for the Edmonton Oilers performance since 2007 fall.
  11. Everybody’s fault but Sam’s!!! Are you reading this? Hey, he’s not good enough to put this bunch of kids on his back and carry them to the playoffs. There you go, there’s your indictment. Sam Gagner is not the problem.
  12. What IS the problem? Too many kids on the roster learning on the job. Up front, the Oilers gave or were forced to give over 1100 minutes to Cogliano, MP, Eberle, Gagner and Hall. The only veteran forwards over 1100 minutes were Dustin Penner and Ryan Jones. Calgary’s 6 forwards over 1100 minutes were Iginla, Tanguay, Bourque, Jokinen, Glencross and Morrison. Not overly impressive either, but certainly more experienced. The Oilers knew they’d be playing more kids this year, but the injuries forced them to go very deep and playing four guys 21 and under that much adds up to poor overall peformance. The Oilers devoted 5,065 minutes up front to rookies. Calgary? 1171. And that doesn’t include kids like Gagner.
  13. How Important is Gagner to this team? He could be very important but there’s a chance he’s gone too. The Oilers are in a somewhat unique situation in that Hall or Eberle or MP might move over to center or the club could hire RNH this summer at the draft. So Gagner’s slot is probably as the #1-2C this coming season but he could also be competing with Hall, Horcoff and Cogliano for quality linemates. It’s a good thing overall, and maybe he ends up on the wing, too. However, his status is in flux this summer.
  14. How are the comps coming?  At 21 years old, Vincent Damphousse was 80gp, 26-42-66 (.825) -8 on a team that was -37; Doug Gilmour was 78gp, 21-36-57 (.731) +3 on a team that was +20; Sam Gagner was 68gp, 15-27-42 (.618) -17 on a team that was -52. Damphousse was in on 25% of his team’s offense; Gilmour was in on 19% of his team’s offense and Gagner was in on 22% of his team’s offense.
  15. So you haven’t lost any confidence in Sam Gagner? None. He’s on his third coach and the third one saw fit to play him more than any other center at even strength and powerplay. Gagner is ranked 41st (tied with Plekanec and Helm) among NHL centers in the 5×5/60 category and that seems to be on track based on quality of opposition, the youth of his linemates and the general shittiness of the team.

By The Numbers
•07-08 5×5 per 60m: 1.96
•08-09 5×5 per 60m: 1.69
•09-10 5×5 per 60m: 1.56
•10-11 5×5 per 60m: 1.91

By The Numbers
•07-08 5×4 per 60m: 3.88
•08-09 5×4 per 60m: 3.12
•09-10 5×4 per 60m: 5.74
•10-11 5×4 per 60m: 2.51

Prediction for 2010-11: 80gp, 16-37-53 (.663)
Actual: 68gp, 15-27-42 (.618)
Delivered a solid year playing with rookies

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