A couple of weeks ago, I looked at what the Oilers need to do over the summer in order to make this team better, and how they might accomplish that goal while keeping new contracts for core stars like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and Justin Schultz in mind. That means being careful with any new additions, but it also means being careful with new contracts for players who are already in Edmonton. Last week, I looked at my estimate for Magnus Paajarvi's new contract ($1.5M over 2 years), and concluded that, if anything, that's probably a bit higher than what similar players have received.
Today, I'll look at a more difficult case, namely, Sam Gagner. My estimate for Gagner's new contract was a longer term deal that would pay him $4.5M per season. With Gagner coming off the best offensive season of his career and just one year away from unrestricted free agency, it's fair to ask whether or not that number is reasonable. As with Paajarvi, I decided to look for similar players who were looking for new contracts in order to answer that question. For Gagner, I used the following criteria: all comparable players will have completed between four and six NHL seasons; will have played in at least 250 NHL games; will have scored between 0.56 and 0.68 points per game and 0.24 or less goals per game over their careers; will have signed new contracts in the summer of 2008 or later; and will have a contract of at least three years in length with at least one of those years being a UFA season. That criteria resulted in eight matches:
The pricing of these contracts seems quite supportive of a $4.0 to $4.5M per season valuation, but it needs to be acknowledged that Gagner's platform year is the best in the group, which might mean his agent tries to push the price higher. The unfortunate thing about that is that Gagner is coming off his worst season in terms of driving possession and his increase in points per game came almost entirely on the power play (Gagner scored 0.44 points per game at even strength and 0.31 points per game on the power play this year compared to 0.42 and 0.18 over the previous five seasons). Given that the Oilers probably don't envision Gagner playing on the top power play unit over the long haul, it's probably not wise to pay him for a bump in power play performance.
Given all that, this might be a really good time to trade Gagner for another young center with a better defensive track record at even strength or as the key piece in a deal that brings back a top pairing defender. Of course, that deal might not be out there, and if it's not, the Oilers could be in a tough spot. A one-year contract results in Gagner going to unrestricted free agency in 2014, a trade for lesser assets doesn't help move the team forward, and a long-term overpayment could come back to bite them when more important players need new contracts. This situation is a big test for Craig MacTavish. I look froward to seeing whether or not he's able to work out an advantageous trade or acceptable contract. I certainly hope that he is.