Sam Gagner has been a staple in the top 10 of this list for as long as I have been a part of the Copper & Blue family (and a great deal before that as well). Drafted at #6 overall in the 2007 NHL Draft, Gagner is now the longest serving Oiler on the roster and is nearing the completion of his seventh NHL season. All of this at the ripe old age of 24.
One way or another, this may be Gagner's swan song on the Top 25 Under 25. I'm not exactly sure how we calculate eligibility, but with Gagner turning 25 before the start of next season, I think a strong case can be made that including him in our off-season list is sort of pointless. However, that may be a discussion that never needs to take place as it appears there may be an appetite among both team and player to explore the possibility of moving young Samwise to a new team before his no-trade clause kicks in on July 1st.
Whether Gagner graduates due to age or is moved out in an off-season trade, it really doesn't matter at this point to me. I could write 2,000 words for you going over the positives and negatives of Sam's game...there is lots to discuss on both sides of that ledger...but I don't think it is necessary at this point. If you are reading this article, you know who Sam Gagner is and you know what kind of player he is. All I'm going to say about Gagner is that I am a fan of the person as we have come to know him over the last seven years in Edmonton.
I love the way he approaches the game. You can see how much he cares when he comes to the rink. That hasn't been as visible this season, maybe because of his injuries, or maybe the weight of another wasted season on a basement dwelling team has started to take its toll on him mentally. Whatever the case, if this is Gagner's final run in the blue and orange, the 2013/14 won't be the Gagner I recall.
Until this season, Gagner was one of the few guys who never seemed to develop an acceptance for losing. He's been through five coaches over the first seven years of his hockey career and may (I haven't checked on this, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised) have among the lowest winning percentages of any player in NHL history over the first 450+ games of a career. He's been a good soldier and an excellent representative of the franchise during the darkest time in its history. I wish he had the defensive instincts of Boyd Gordon to go along with his playmaking skills and since we're wishing for things, it wouldn't hurt if he was 3 inches taller and 20 lbs. heavier too, but Sam Gagner has been a good Oiler for a long time when being an Oiler hasn't been very fun.
If Gagner does find himself playing elsewhere next season, it won't be because he failed to succeed as an Oiler, it will be because the Oilers failed to put a decent team around Sam Gagner and ended up using his value to try and dig their way out of the hole they have dug for themselves. He's a flawed player, but he's a good player at a time when Edmonton doesn't have enough of them. He deserves better than what he's gotten over the first seven years of his career.
In much the same way as people are feeling about Ales Hemsky this year, I'm a Sam Gagner fan now. If he's an Oiler, cool. If he's somewhere else, that actually might be best for him, and I'll be not-so-quietly hoping he finds the success that has eluded him here.
Who knows if these final 15 games will be the last time Gagner plays for this team...I tend to think it probably will be...if so, then the only thing I really think needs to be said is "Thank you Sam, sorry this franchise let you down."