The 2013 offseason is a unique one. The salary cap is going down, there aren’t that many premier free agents, and there are going to be a few teams looking to dump salary to get under that $64.3 million cap. While the Edmonton Oilers may not be one of the teams looking to get under the cap, but with a new GM and a new coach, they are going to make changes to their roster. Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff are already on the chopping block , but there are more moves to make with this club.
Specifically, the Oilers are very thin on bottom-six defensive-minded forwards. In fact, based on the player usage chart, the Oilers have exactly ZERO forwards who played shut-down minutes (there were a lot of guys who played tough minutes, but were not successful at all). It just so happens that the Rangers have quite a few guys who fit that mold. Edmonton is actually a very good trading match for the Rangers, since they have opposite needs/surpluses and both have cap space. Enter RFA Sam Gagner.
Gagner has been a bit of a revelation in Edmonton. Drafted sixth overall in 2007, Gagner made the jump to the NHL right away. He has been a consistent 40 point guy in Edmonton, but has matched that with being consistently inconsistent. It wasn’t until this past season when the 23 (!!) year old center made waves, putting together a line of 14-24-38 in the lockout shortened season.
At first glance, you might think this is due to inflated shot percentage. Gagner shot 12.4% this year, two points above his career average of 10.6%. However, Gagner shot 12.1% in 2011-2012, and has enjoyed an increasing shot percentage each of the past four seasons. Gagner also took 113 shots in 48 games this season, compared to just 149 over 79 games last season. If you prorate that shot percentage with the increased number of shots for a full 82 games season, Gagner would put up about 24 goals.
However, not all with Gagner is good. His -4.3 RCorsi (-14.4 CorsiON) shows an extreme inability to drive puck possession, despite playing against weak competition (-.036 Corsi Rel QoC) with strong teammates (.719 Corsi Rel QoT). His player usage chart shows his minutes are between Sheltered and Two-way, which is what he would be expected to play as a Ranger with top-six minutes. In a case like this, it is all about team needs. The Rangers need a top-six forward, and the Oilers need some defensive minded forwards. Gagner isn’t the first Oiler I would want, but he’s the only one who isn’t inked to a long term contract aside from Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (or Nail Yakupov, whom I don’t believe they will trade).
Gagner is an intriguing trade target because the potential of acquiring a speedy forward who can put up 70 points is very evident. However the downside is that Gagner will cost any inquiring club at least one defensive-minded roster player plus at least one good prospect. It’s a steep price for a player due for a significant pay raise from his $3.2 million salary.