Sam Gagner was the longest serving Edmonton Oiler on today’s roster, having played nearly 500 National Hockey League games with his 25th birthday just over a month away. Shocking, or perhaps not, he has not yet played his first NHL playoff game.
His career stalled in Edmonton, Gagner was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night for 6-foot-3 winger Teddy Purcell, in a swap of guys who simply require a change of scenery to hopefully put their careers back on track. His time as a Bolt didn’t last long, however, as Tampa Bay then flipped Gagner, along with B.J. Crombeen, to the Arizona Coyotes for a sixth-round pick in the 2015 draft just over an hour later.
Gagner, who is getting married in July, was almost exclusively a centreman through 481 games in Edmonton (101 goals, 295 points.) But he never figured out the faceoff circle, where his winning percentage topped 47 percent just twice in the past five seasons, and averaged out closer to 46 percent.
His 2013-14 season was knee-capped when Vancouver’s Zack Kassian busted Gagner’s jaw with a high stick near the end of the pre-season. Gagner came back too soon, and typical of players who miss the first two months he was playing catch-up for the rest of the campaign. He ended the season with 10 goals, 37 points, and a horrendous minus-29.
Defensively, Gagner wasn’t strong enough in a division that pitted his 5-foot-10 frame up against giants like Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton. Through nearly 500 career games he became a tweener — deemed too small to play the wing, but not good enough at all aspects of the game to thrive at centre.
Edmonton’s roster right now holds only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at first-line centre, and Boyd Gordon on the fourth-line.
Is general manager Craig MacTavish counting on newly minted draft pick Leon Draisaitl to play No. 2 centre in the NHL as an 18-year-old this fall? Or does the timing of this trade suggest that MacTavish has already landed a No. 2 centre during the interview period prior to the opening up of free agency at noon Eastern on July 1?
It’s not often you can trade, ostensibly, a 5-foot-10 winger for a 6-foot-3 one like Purcell, but this appears to be a classic case of two guys whose organizations felt it was time to move on.
Purcell comes billed as a Top 6 right-winger, but at times late in the season Tampa coach Jon Cooper had him toiling on the fourth line. He’s a pass-first player — even though Purcell is reputed to have a wicked wrist shot — who surely does not play as big as his frame might have you hoping he will.
Gagner, who we would categorize as a small player, averages about a half-minute of penalty minutes per game throughout his career, and has been known to drop the mitts the odd time — once, frightfully, with Francois Beauchemin, a poor choice by young Sam.
Purcell, comes in at far, far less than that, with just 66 PIMs in his 401 games. He finished a distant 15th among Lighting forwards in hits last season, credited with just 13 hits in 81 games. Purcell, a St. John’s Nfld. native who turns 29 on Sept. 8, only blocked 12 shots as well.
The story out of Tampa goes that, when Stamkos went down with a busted leg, Purcell was one of the veteran forwards whom Cooper wanted to dig in and pick up the slack. That Purcell lost his Top 6 job during that time likely tells us how successful he was at picking up any slack, in Cooper’s eyes.
In Edmonton though, he’ll join a right-wing corps that includes Jordan Eberle (5-foot-11), Nail Yakupov (5-foot-11), and whomever plays the fourth line. A second line of David Perron, Draisaitl and Purcell would be a decent bet, behind a first line of Nugent-Hopkins between Taylor Hall and Eberle.