After the departures of Mike Ribiero and Radim Vrbata, the Coyotes needed to find a way to replace their production levels; the two combined were good for 98 points last season, and both ranked in the team’s top five players.
Coyotes management has been rebuilding smartly, though, and General Manager Don Maloney had a solution to the problem before the problem was even able to fully develop. Just days before free agency, the Coyotes acquired both Sam Gagner and BJ Crombeen- for nothing but a sixth round pick- from Tampa Bay, who had aquired Gagner in a trade that sent winger Teddy Purcell to Edmonton just hours before.
Gagner, who turned 25 on Sunday, is headed into his eighth full season. Gagner will most likely step into the third line center role for the Coyotes this season, a step down from his second line minutes with the Oilers.
The Oilers selected Gagner with the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft when he was just 17 years old. A few months later, finally 18, he began making an impact in the NHL.
Gagner played in 79 games for the Oilers in 2007-2008 and put up a career high 49 points. The Coyotes have to be hoping that a change in scenery will help Gagner, as he will have lower expectations in the desert.
Here is The Hockey News scouting report of Sam Gagner:
Assets: What sets him apart is his awesome vision and uncanny ability to always find the open man. Can play center and wing. His great moves are an asset in one-on-one and shootout situations. Flaws: Is somewhat smallish and frail, so he struggles to win more battles in the corners and avoid injuries. Doesn’t shoot the puck nearly enough. Must continue to work on his play without the puck. Career Potential: Creative playmaker with some upside.
General manager Don Maloney also had the following comments regarding the Gagner acquisition in a press release.
“He has the intelligence, character and skill set we were looking for and we believe he has further growth in his game. We look forward to welcoming Sam to Arizona.”
Gagner has averaged 42 points, 28 assists and 14 goals per season. If Gagner can just make that extra push and hit 50 points over the course of a full season, it would make for a great season, especially from your third line center. 50 points would’ve placed Gagner fifth on the team in points last season- and as an achievable goal for the young forward, this could be the extra push needed towards developing a system where Tippett can comfortably roll all four lines.
The Coyotes, much like the Bruins, Stars, and Rangers, have begun to heavily rely on a scoring-by-committee approach. Pushing some of that group scoring ability to the third line will have a tremendous impact next season.
The only real concern surrounding Gagner’s role in replacing Ribeiro and Vrbata is his aggression and puck possession. If you’re a subsciber to more advanced hockey stats, you already know how a player’s Corsi number works. (For those who don’t, head over to Second City hockey. They give a clearer explanation of CORSI than I do.)
For Gagner, his CORSI for percentage was under 50 percent… which was about even with the team’s CORSI for percentage when he was off the ice. What that says is that Gagner didn’t have much impact on possession- and for a second line center, particularly on a team fighting for a playoff spot, that’s not a good thing.
Mike Ribiero, on the other hand saw, his CORSI three points higher than the Coyotes as a team when Ribiero was off the ice. Just looking at possession, Gagner fails to provide even skill compensation for the loss of Ribiero, even though their point totals from last season were pretty even.
Dropping from a second line center to a third line center could be a huge boost for Gagner. It will allow him to put less pressure on himself and make him a more focused and productive player. It could also benefit the rest of the third line, though, as well- it’ll be interesting to see how the lines play out heading into the regular season.
Coyotes fans can check out Gagner for the first time on September 22, when the ‘Yotes face off at home against the Kings.