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The Case For Free Agent Sam Gagner

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From a noted Sam Gagner enthusiast.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

I’m sure everyone is incredibly surprised that noted Sam Gagner fan Ann Atkinson is here to tell you why the Stars should sign Sam Gagner. I’ll pause to let you recover from the shock.

So here it is: the Stars should sign Sam Gagner because the Stars need more veteran forwards, he’s available and (probably) cheap, not to mention he just had the best year of his career playing mostly on the fourth line of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler, and Patrick Sharp are all pending UFAs who, between the three of them, took up $11.9 million in cap space last season. Hemsky missed most of an important contract season in rehab for hip surgery. Hudler, signed to a one year contract in the summer of 2016, never truly found his footing with the Stars, was sidelined by injury, and ended the season with only 11 points in 32 games. Also, not sure how the league feels about signing zombies to extended contracts.

Patrick Sharp has his own set of issues. He was plagued by concussion symptoms early in the season, and after the Stars were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it was revealed that Sharp would be having surgery that could potentially sideline him through the start of the 2017-18 season. The injury is one that he’s been playing through for years that has steadily progressed. While I’d love to see Dallas re-sign Sharp on a shorter term and smaller money contract, his health is certainly a factor to consider in any signing.

We haven’t yet heard which, if any, of these players might be returning next season, though I’d place bets on only one of them.

While some hope remained at the trade deadline that Patrick Eaves might return after serving his time in Anaheim, Eaves signed a three year contract extension with the Ducks. Eaves was an integral part of what success the Stars had last season and served the role of “line fixer” during the many absences that plagued the team all season long.

Sam Gagner is an NHL veteran with ten seasons under his belt. Yes, eight of those were with the Edmonton Oilers, but I’d happily argue that he was one of the bright spots on that team, playing under an inconsistent system with a rotating cast of coaches and assistant coaches. Despite reports from Arizona’s former GM, Gagner was the best producing forward on the Coyotes the season he was there. His time on the Flyers was more forgettable, but despite their berth in the playoffs that season, so was that team.

With Cody Eakin gone in the expansion draft, Gagner’s versatility at center will be useful to the roster.

From hockeyviz.com

So let’s talk about Sam Gagner’s production last season. He played an average of 11:16 a night at even strength, but also played on the first power play unit, which contributed 18 points to his career high of 50. The Stars finished last season 20th in power play percentage. Columbus was 12th.

His even strength scoring was that of a first liner, which is truly impressive on the fourth line. And he definitely earned his spot on the first power play unit.

From hockeyviz.com

And let’s also consider that he played this way with a rotating cast of linemates. Please also pay attention to that third graph where you can also plainly see that his line drove possession while on the ice.

Gagner is not without his detractors. While he was in the league basement for salary last year, he’s coming off a career high year and will be in a position to command a higher salary. He’s also never proven to be the most consistent player, but keep in mind that he spent eight of his ten seasons in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, who themselves had only been consistently bad during his tenure. With the right usage, Sam Gagner could be exactly what the Stars need.