The Canucks and Edmonton Oilers exchanged disappointments on Saturday, Gagner and Spooner swapping NHL organizations while playing in the American Hockey League on rich one-way contracts.
"It’s two players who need fresh starts," Canuck general manager Jim Benning said. "Ryan’s a good skater and we think he has a chance to play the style of hockey that (coach) Travis Green wants. The last couple of years, he was good. But for whatever reason, things haven’t gone his way this year. He’s still young, so he has a chance to get back to his NHL game."
Waived by the Oilers, Spooner has been playing in the AHL for the Bakersfield Condors.
The 27-year-old will be remembered in Edmonton as the downgrade on the downgrade former GM Peter Chiarelli orchestrated when he traded Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome, then dealt Strome to the Rangers for Spooner.
Gagner, 29, was jettisoned by the Canucks before this season, one year after signing a three-year, $9.45-million free-agent contract. When Gagner went unclaimed on waivers due to his salary, the Canucks loaned the centre to the Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs’ farm team.
Spooner is earning $4 million this season, but the trade is essentially salary-cap neutral because the Rangers retained $900,000 of the forward’s salary. The Canucks save $50,000 on the transaction. Both players’ contracts expire after next season.
Benning drafted Spooner with the Boston Bruins in 2010 and probably feels there could still be a spark to a player he remembers as a rising star. Of course, Chiarelli, who was Benning’s boss with the Bruins, probably felt the same way before Spooner went to Edmonton, produced just three points in 25 games and played his way out of the NHL.
But there is no risk for Benning in Saturday’s trade. If Spooner can play in the NHL, it’s a win. If he can’t, the Canucks are no worse off financially or organizationally for sending him to the Utica Comets.
Trying to survive an injury crisis, the Canucks plan to call up Spooner from the AHL after Vancouver’s road trip ends Saturday night in San Jose. But it’s unclear how Benning will get Spooner on the roster.
The team is still awaiting clarity on the extent of Jake Virtanen’s upper-body injury, and the winger could be placed on injured reserve. Or the Canucks could make room for Spooner by sending a player to the minors, possibly recent call-up Zack MacEwen, who does not require waivers.