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Postcards, UFA: Hey, Is That Sam Gagner?

Oilers’ 2007 first round selection is still out on the free agent wire.

Ottawa Senators v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

We are just about two calendar months away from the 2022-23 regular season, the Oilers have sewn up most of their offseason business, but a few things remain. They’ve got to find a new deal for RFA Ryan McLeod. McLeod doesn’t hold arbitration rights, and his contract might not come until just before camp opens. Edmonton’s got to shed at least one contract in order to become cap compliant. That might mean dealing a player like Warren Foegele or Tyson Barrie in order to get in under the wire. It also means not taking much back in the way of a contract.

Assuming McLeod is signed (and Dylan Holloway is on the big club this season), that leaves room for one more bottom six contract. I think there’s a good argument to bring Sam Gagner back into the fold if he’s willing to listen.

I know what you’re thinking, and bringing Gagner back for a third tour of duty might not be the best idea in the box, but it’s not a bad idea either. Consider all the boxes that Gagner ticks off for the Oilers:

  • He’s still a useful player at age 33. Gagner finished his second full season in Detroit, and he was able to put up 31 points (15-18-31). At this point in his career, 30-ish points isn’t going to light the scoreboard on fire, but it’s perfectly fine for a bottom six guy. I don’t think Gagner will get 30 points if he’s on the fourth line in Edmonton, but he did fine with Joe Veleno and Givani Smith as his most common linemates with Detroit. He didn’t see much time on the power play this season, so all but one of those points came at evens.
  • If Gagner’s time in Detroit is any indicator, he’d be perfect on a fourth line in Edmonton. Gagner averaged just a notch over 13 and a half minutes per game with the Red Wings last season. That’s more than any of Warren Foegele, Zack Kassian, Devin Shore, Colton Sceviour, Kyle Turris, Brendan Perlini or Josh Archibald averaged per game.
  • Gagner’s cap hit is probably right in Edmonton’s wheelhouse. Gagner had a tidy 850K cap hit as a member of the Red Wings in 2021-22, he pulled the same number the year prior. I don’t know if he’d take a call from the Oilers, but if he did (and he’d be near 850-900K for a year), you’d sign him for a year for sure. That’s cheaper than any free agent the Oilers have signed since free agency began this year on July 13th. (That’s cheaper than one year of Mattias Janmark at 1.25MM.)

Gagner’s fancies aren’t great, though they’re fine for a fourth liner. His line had an xGF/60 of 1.87 (though his xGA was a bit more than 2). It’s worth noting that Veleno and Smith did better with Gagner than without.

Could the Oilers go in another direction? Sure. I don’t think the options are as likely as Sam Gagner, and the Oilers aren’t exactly flush with cap space at this time. We’ve heard Phil Kessel’s name in recent days as a possible free agent pickup, and I suppose that could be possible. That could be a lot of fun if it happened, though I’ll believe it when I see it. At 35, Kessel just put up a 52 point season with the Coyotes, and it would not surprise me to see Kessel wait a bit longer to see how things shape up prior to camp opening.

For the Oilers, they’ve got a few moves they need to make. After the McLeod deal (and after they inevitably free up a deal for some cap space), they’ll need one more NHLer. For 8 or 900K, they could do a lot worse than their 2007 first rounder from London.