Monday, October 29, 2007

Sam Gagner

Sam Gagner officially played his 10th NHL game Saturday night at Staples Centre in Los Angeles, thus stapling his stay in the NHL for the rest of the season. There has been some concern on the Oilogosphere and by Oiler fans in general, that the Oilers are burning a year of his entry-level contract by keeping him up with the men. This side feels that Gagner should spend another year developing in Junior, thus helping the Oilers in his most productive, most salary-restricted years (19-22) in his entry-level contract. In other words, ''milk every production out of him before he gets the big bucks.'' Fair enough. I completely understand the reasoning behind this argument.

On to another issue...

Regarding the development, some feel Gagner would better develop playing against men at an earlier age. It's difficult to say. Guys like Eric Staal and Patrice Bergeron gained valuable experience as 18 year olds in the NHL. On the flip side of the coin, Wotej Wolski's 9 game stint with the Colorado Avalanche in 2005-2006 (6 points) before being sent back down to the junior certainly didn't seem to hurt his development. He came back to the NHL at 19, and posted 50 points in 76 games. 10 games into this year, he has posted 8 points. Some point out to Schremp's years as an 18 & 19 year old in Junior were a waste of time since he didn't develop the defensive side of the game. Perhaps the argument has merit. Or perhaps he just wasn't a very good hockey player. It's truly difficult to say.

Another concern among these skeptics however, is not as understandable.

Another concern is one of which that stems from the possibility of Gagner being signed to an RFA offersheet. Under the current CBA, arbitration rights do not exist for both the player and the team, should a player have less than 4 years of professional hockey experience. This means Gagner will have full unrestricted ability to sign an RFA offersheet after his entry level contract expires. Of course that is irrelevant to the decision to send him down to the juniors or not, but noteworthy to discuss.

So far, two years removed from the new CBA, we've only seen 3 RFA offer-sheets in the NHL. Two of them were by a very desperate Kevin Lowe. However, it is under my opinion the recent influx of longer term contracts to young players have little to do with the RFA Game. Players such as Nash, Staal, Cheechoo, Hemsky, and Beregeron, etc. all received long term contracts well before Lowe's RFA offersheets. It's a solid tool for teams to lock up their rising stars. For players, they receive the comfort and security of longterm guaranteed money, enough so to feed their dogs and their grandchildren. The key is, both sides bear the risk of the contract. That is, teams overpay in the earlier years of the contract with the hope that the player will elevate on the ice, while the players give up a few of their UFA years.

So, based on the brief post-CBA history, why the concern of Sam Gagner getting raided by a GM? Will he be the only young player in the league who will have posted solid numbers? Will he be the most attractive target to raid? Will all GMs be even in a position of holding the necessary draft picks to sign him? Do all GMs even believe in the RFA game? I'm not so inclined to believe that RFA offersheets are set to become a common theme.

Then, above all, is the "human element." The Oilers developed loyalty with Sam Gagner by keeping him up in the Majors. Is he, going to take the first opportunity available to sign an RFA offersheet? Or will he give the Oilers a chance to make a fair offer before considering external influences? A bit difficult to say, but the trend of younger players signing 6 year contracts with their only organization inclines me to believe the latter.

On to another issue...

After the draft, Lowe was quoted as saying he believed that Gagner could be in the NHL in 1 or 2 years. Some have accused the Oilers as keeping him up for PR reasons. In other words, "A reason for Oilers fans to believe in the future."

I can't share that assessment. I believe Sam Gagner earned his way to the NHL. He spent the summer in intense workouts. He posted 15 points in 8 games in the 2007 Super Series (next closest was John Tavares with 9 points, followed by Kyle Turris with 8). He followed that up by a strong training camp and pre-season, surpassing the likes of Pouliot and Schremp in the depth chart. The just-turned 18 year old didn't stop their either - he went on to post 7 points in his first 9 NHL games. I don't believe the Oilers kept him up for PR reasons - Sam Gagner left the Oilers with no choice but to keep him in the big leagues.

Perhaps the best Oiler draft pick since Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth. Sam Gagner will develop and grow in Edmonton.

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