With Sam Gagner's arbitration hearing set to start in just a few hours the two sides have reached an agreement on a one-year deal that will pay the Oilers centre $3.2M this season thereby avoiding the whole arbitration process, at least for now. At the end of next season Gagner will once again be a restricted free agent so unless the two sides can reach an agreement on a long term deal over the next 12 months, something I assume the two parties were trying to do over the last few months as well but couldn't finalize, there is a chance that we could all end up right back here at this time next year.
Gagner was picked sixth overall in the 2007 draft. He was the first player drafted as part of the Oilers first rebuild. He was dropped into the deep end that fall and this deal seems to indicate that even after five full seasons in the NHL the Oilers and and Gagner can't agree on what exactly he is as a player or what he means to this team. Compared to the rest of his draft class only Patrick Kane has played more games and Gagner ranks fourth behind Kane, Jamie Benn, and Logan Couture in points per game; he may not be what some had hoped, but I feel he is still a very good hockey player.
In terms of contract value I won't argue that the Oilers didn't get a very good deal here, especially considering who I thought his agent might consider to be comparable players, I'm just surprised that they weren't able to get a long term deal done. I would have liked to see the Oilers wrap up Gagner for four or five years for something in the range of $4M annually. But like I said, this is a good deal for the Oilers and potentially points to an overall team philosophy that I am very much in favour of.
Since signing Ben Eager and Eric Belanger to three-year contracts the Oilers haven't signed any player to a deal longer than two years, excluding ELCs of course. If this is a team philosophy and not just a coincidence it's something that has the potential to work out very well for the Oilers because it gives them a ton of flexibility from season to season and with a new CBA coming this fall (hopefully) they could find themselves very well positioned to benefit from any changes that might be coming down the pipe. I have said repeatedly that the teams that best control the CBA give themselves a better opportunity to win. This isn't something I've generally felt that the Oilers have done well but if this new way of thinking is in fact by design, it is almost certainly the smartest thing Steve Tambellini has done during his tenure as the Oilers GM.
But if only the Fab Four are eligible for long term deals, this does run the risk of creating two tiers within the Oilers, though it's premature to be too concerned about that at this time. This could be nothing more than a one-year plan designed to ensure that the team has the flexibility and ability to react quickly to opportunities that might present themselves when the new CBA is finalized. But it is something worth keeping in mind as the Oilers progress through next season with 13 players on contracts that will expire on July 1, 2013.