In the last week or two, Sam Gagner's name has begun to pop up in trade rumours from some very reliable sources around the NHL.
First, he was mentioned by Elliotte Friedman on "Hotstove Tonight" on Hockey Night in Canada this past Saturday and then his name was brought up by Darren Dreger during the most recent episode of "Insider Trading" on TSN.
"We will also continue watch the speculation around the Edmonton Oilers and Sam Gagner, there is no question the Oilers would consider moving him. The expected rate of return would be a top-six forward, a top-four defenceman or a starting goalie."
I don't think that Gagner's name being out there in trade discussions should be a surprise to anyone. Its become exceedingly obvious this season that Gagner's long-term NHL future may not be as a centre due to an inability to handle his defensive responsibilities away from the puck in his own zone. Given that the team already has an over-abundance of RW's capable of playing on a skill line, if the team wanted to replace Gagner as their 2nd line centre, they would either need to move out other players to make room to transition him to the wing, or say goodbye to Gagner himself.
Gagner had an unofficial no-trade clause this year based on a gentlemen's agreement with GM Craig MacTavish after Gagner signed a three year contract extension last summer that included a no-trade clause, but was not eligible to have the clause come into effect until next summer. Friedman indicated in his piece that both parties may have come to an agreement that moving him may be for the best, and that the Oilers will attempt to place him in a situation he is comfortable with.
So, if you're Craig MacTavish, this is the first significant trade piece to shake loose from the team (if you don't count Magnus Paajarvi as significant). This gives MacT some ammunition in trade talks that he has not likely had to this point. Still, Gagner is a clear step below the more high profile players in the Oilers' young forward group, and he is unlikely to fetch a #1 Dman or proven starting goalie on his own, in my opinion.
That said, the Oilers have no shortage of holes in need of filling, and while Gagner's departure would create yet another, they should also be able to solve one of their roster issues with what they acquire in return for #89. With the qualifier above regarding what is a reasonable return for Gagner (not likely to get a #1D or starting netminder), the team still has the chance to bring in either a forward with a different skill set to change the mix among the team's top 9 or add a top 4 defenceman to improve on the team's substandard blueline corps.
To get down to specifics, any player targeted by MacTavish in a Gagner trade is likely to be meet the following criteria:
- Likely a single player or player and prospect combination involving an established NHL talent.
- A player under contract for at least one season beyond this year or a pending RFA.
- Likely not a key piece on a team with significant playoff aspirations this year (teams the Cup dreams don't typically move out important pieces in order to add players mid-season...those deals are typically for picks, prospects, etc.)
- Depending on the team's cap situation, there may be a need to match dollars in with dollars out as many teams are not in a position to take on Gagner's $4.8M salary unless the send out a comparable cap hit in the deal.
Looking around the NHL, you can find players on pretty much every team that could help the Oilers. But how many true matches are there around the NHL for the criteria listed above? To begin, let's take a stroll through the Eastern Conference to see what we can find. Tomorrow we'll visit the opportunities in the West...
[NOTE: Just because I identify a player here, it does not necessarily mean I believe that a) that player alone represents fair value for Sam Gagner in a 1-for-1 deal, or b) that the player's current team would trade them straight up for Gagner]
Starting at the top, we find the team that is probably the most unlikely to be part of any trade discussions for #89, the Boston Bruins.
BOS - The Bruins are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and aren't likely to subtract any meaningful pieces from their roster, particularly on the blueline with some key injuries.
MTL - In Montreal, there has been some minor talk of Max Pacioretty being available, but I can't see it, he has a fairly unique skill set among their forward group. He'd be an ideal fit for Edmonton, but the Habs aren't likely to be interested.
TOR - Toronto has a number of players who qualify, with names like Jake Gardiner, Carl Gunnarsson, James Reimer and Nazem Kadri. They also have a need at centre so there is some potential there, but the Leafs unquestionably would be a team needing to balance dollars in any deal as they are among those closest to the cap around the league.
OTT - For the Ottawa Senators Zach Smith and Jared Cowen meet the necessary criteria, but I don't know that the Oilers would consider either to be reasonable value for a player like Gagner.
DET - Detroit's NHL roster doesn't offer many strong matches. Outside of Stephen Weiss (whose rough year probably ends that conversation before it starts), the list is probably limited to past Oiler target Danny DeKeyser and Joakim Andersson. The Red Wings however may be one of the few teams in the NHL where it makes sense to explore their prospect group as their track record of keeping players in the AHL until they are more-than ready for an NHL opportunity may lend itself to finding an under-valued asset who is waiting for their chance. Unlikely MacT would take non-roster players for Gagner (and he shouldn't), but if he were going to say accept a more unproven player and acquire a 2nd asset as well, this is one of maybe two or three teams where you could at least understand him considering it.
TBL - The Tampa Bay Lightning post a few matches, but none of them overly promising...Ryan Malone, Nate Thompson and Anders Lindback are all possibilities, but I'd suspect the Oilers have loftier expectations.
The final two teams in this division are probably two of the teams with the most possibilities from around the league.
BUF - The Sabres have Christian Ehrhoff, who should be near the top of the Oilers' shopping list, as well as back-up goaltender Jonas Enroth (should Ryan Miller re-sign) and less appealing options like under-achieving Dman Tyler Myers or Jim Matheson's favourite trade target, winger Drew Stafford.
FLA - Florida has pieces like often-discussed young-blueliner Dimitri Kulikov, winger Tomas Kopecky, and centre Tomas Fleishmann. Kopecky and Kulikov are decent potential fits in Edmonton, though I don't know about the balance of the scales in a deal involving "Samwise".
Summary: Decent potential in Buffalo, Florida and Toronto, others unlikely.
PIT - The Pittsburgh Penguins are an unlikely partner here unless the Oilers would be willing to accept young unproven blueliners like Simon Despres or unless the Pens somehow decided that Gagner would make a better 3rd line centre than Brandon Sutter...which...uh...yeah...lets move on.
WAS - Washington has Michael Neuvirth, who is no more proven than Devan Dubnyk in my opinion, and beyond that, Karl Alzner is likely a pipedream, though he certainly does check all the boxes in terms of what the Oilers would likely be looking for.
PHI - The Flyers have all the usual suspects from trade rumours gone by...Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Coburn or Luke Schenn. What the Oilers really need though is Sean Couturier, though again...not likely a possibility. With Philly climbing the standings in the weak Eastern Conference, I don't imagine they are moving any of their bigger pieces in the short term.
CAR - Carolina has a future stud top pairing blueliner in Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera has been among their best players since arriving this summer, so both are likely to stick around. Tuomo Ruutu is another name that fits the list, and Ruutu's contract is almost an exact match to Gagner's. He brings a skillset the Oilers could use, but has a lengthy injury history. Ruutu has not had a strong season, but then, Gagner isn't exactly lighting up the league either. The fear with Ruutu though is that his body is breaking down and his best days are in the past. Not someone that you bring in to be part of the long-term plans.
The New York teams don't seem like ideal fits.
NYI - Josh Bailey on Long Island is in sort of a similar state to Gagner as a guy who hasn't yet lived up to his potential despite a fairly lengthy career at a young age.
NYR - In Manhattan, Michael Del Zotto is unquestionably available, but doesn't bring the two-way game needed to improve the Oilers' defensive group. Carl Hagelin is a nice player, but, like Bailey, wouldn't really alter the look of the Oiler forward group. Chris Kreider would, but he's in the discussion for the Calder trophy and I don't suspect he's being dealt right now.
Once again, the final two teams may represent the best chances for a match within this division.
CBJ - In Columbus, there is Fedor Tyutin on the blueline and a couple of forwards in Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky up front, all viable names for the Oilers to make calls on.
NJD - In New Jersey, even though some fans are pleased with him, Adam Henrique's offensive production is down and there has been talk that he may be available. Henrique wouldn't make the Oilers bigger, but he has a history of strong offensive production when paired with skilled linemates and he is someone who has shown a strong two-way game, which is sorely lacking among Edmonton's forwards. He is signed long-term for $4M per season, which is comparable to Gagner's salary commitment. I'm sure there are some in New Jersey that would scoff at the notion of moving Henrique, but there's a possibility that the two teams could see a chance to swap players who can help solve problems for another market. It would take a great deal more to land Travis Zajac, but he would be a tremendous fit for the Oilers.
Summary: A number of excellent targets, however many are likely unavailable or would carry prohibitive acquisition costs. The most reasonable teams to have discussions with are likely Columbus and New Jersey.
This is really just intended as a launching pad for discussion among fans about which players could become targets for the Oilers. Making the trade in-season makes a number of otherwise attractive options become unrealistic, so its best to keep expectations in check.
We'll return tomorrow with a look at some potential trade partners from the Western Conference.