Some news on the Sam Gagner contract front this afternoon; the Oilers centre has filed for arbitration just hours ahead of today's 3PM (Edmonton time) deadline. Since taking over as the Oilers GM in April, Craig MacTavish has repeatedly said that getting a deal done with Gagner is a priority, but it seems that the two sides are still far enough apart in negotiations that the Gagner camp felt this was in their best interest right now. Of course with arbitration hearings not starting until July 22nd there is still plenty of time to get a deal done.
I'm a big fan of Gagner, and I hope that a deal - one that's beneficial to both the team and the player - can be worked out, but I don't think this is an easy deal to get done. Although it seems like he's been around forever Gagner is only 23 years old and is coming off a year where he set a new career best for points per game. Given that any deal longer than a single year will be buying free agency seasons, seasons that could very well include some of his "prime", I would guess that Gagner is looking for something well north of $5M annually. Rumours are that he has also requested a no trade clause.
On the other side of the equation you have the Oilers who need Gagner in their lineup, but will also need to find money for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and Justin Schultz in the coming years, so getting value out of this (and every) contract is important. Earlier this summer Scott took at look at what Gagner should cost based on comparable players/contract situations and came away with something as high as $4.5M. If rumours are to be believed, this is exactly what the Oilers offered on a multi-year deal. Obviously that offer was rejected.
Working against the Oilers in negotiations is the fact that Steve Tambellini failed to get a long term deal done with Gagner last summer. That mistake means that a settlement through arbitration will be for one year only, making Gagner a free agent next summer. To say Gagner has leverage here would be an understatement. If he doesn't get a deal to his liking he can fall back on arbitration and what would likely be an awarded contract worth around $4.25M, and then try his luck next summer as an unrestricted free agent. Basically the Oilers cannot low ball Gagner if they want to guarantee that he's a part of this team to start the 2014/15 season.
If the Oilers don't want to pay Gagner then the only choice left to them is to look for a trading partner but even that's easier than it sounds. First, they'll need Gagner to agree to a deal with that team before any deal gets finalized and Gagner will be holding all the cards in those negotiation as well. And if I was a GM trading with the Oilers I wouldn't be giving them anything significant in return because they're desperate. The Oilers are between a rock and a hard place right now, and they are probably going to end up with either a contract or a trade they don't really like.
My guess is that the Oilers will blink first and get a deal done with Gagner. I'd love the deal to worth $5M or less, but I suspect it'll be a little more. To try and offset the risk on the dollar side of the deal they will look to add an extra year or two on the back end. I'll guess six years with an cap hit of $5.0 to $5.25M annually. And hopefully someone in the Oilers front office will learn a lesson about starting a player's entry level contract at 18.