Friday, March 15, 2013

Oilers have a very tough decision to make on Sam Gagner

If you follow the Edmonton Oilers, you can't help but pull for Sam Gagner. He has limitations in certain areas of his game but he is an extremely talented player, has the heart of a lion and appears to be one of the guys that desperately wants to be part of the equation in the Alberts capital.

With that being the case, GM Steve Tambellini has to answer three important questions before deciding what to do with his twenty-three year old centre. How much is he worth? Where and how will they acquire size? Who will help Shawn Horcoff in the faceoff circle?

If this organization can answer all of those questions in a positive manner, than there would be no real reason to not keep #89 around for the long haul. However, getting those answers may be far more challenging them many think.

From a financial standpoint, it's pretty straight forward. He will not take home the same pay cheque as Jordan Eberle or Taylor Hall but he most certainly will be looking for a hefty increase on his current $3.2 million price tag. To his credit, he has managed to put together his best NHL season to date...when it mattered most.

That being said, is Gagner a $5 million player? In my mind he is not and from an organizational standpoint, they can't sign him to that sort of number. With the team already having Eberle and Hall signed to cap hits of $6 million a piece and hefty increases coming for the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz following the 2013-2014 campaign, having a second tiered player making similar coin, is not realistic.

The Oilers have been able to get a way with that in the here and now, having Horcoff and Ales Hemsky taking up $10.5 million on their current cap but that won't be possible moving forward. Apparently, they are already starting to feel that crunch as they have yet to open negations, of any sort, with defenceman Ladislav Smid. Make no mistake, money is an issue.

Now if the former sixth overall selction was willing to sign a log term deal in the neighbourhood of say $4 million, Edmonton would serious;y have to consider that. The thing is, keeping Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins as this club's top two centres, means they have to go out and find two bigger bodies via trade or free agency. It is far easier to sit here and speculate about it but having the Oilers GM go out and accomplish it, is something completely different.

For example, should San Jose Sharks winger Ryan Clowe make it to free agency this off-season, you can bet Edmonton will take a legitimate shot at the thirty-one year old vet. You can bet whatever team that convinces Clowe to sign on the dotted line, will likely overpay for a guy that has currently zero goals in twenty-four games for the Sharks.

Does that mean Tambo and company should not be targeting a player like Clowe? Of course not because signing Gagner long term will leave holes that have to filled and the only real way for them to go about, is via free agency.

Same goes for the struggles this team faces in the faceoff dot. Many feel, myself included, that Eric Belanger will not be a member of the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-2014. Some feel Anton Lander may be ready to be given a shot in a bottom six role. Hard to disagree with that sentiment but again, if Gagner and RNH  are your top two centres, how can Lander be in the mix?

Is the plan to revert back to having their captain taking every important face-off? We have seen that show before and the results were not very pleasant. Meaning Tambellini will have to go out and acquire another veteran centre to help out in the circle. Is there any real issue with that? No but it is another expense and body that will have to be brought in because neither of their top two centres can currently get the job done.

The point to all of this is rather simple. Are the Edmonton Oilers better off with Sam Gagner as their second line centre and filling in the holes that re-signing him will not address or are they better off bringing in a big centre to take his place and fill in some smaller holes? It is a tough call.

Filling in what I refer to as "smaller holes", would be easier for the organization to do but on the other hand, finding that big centre may prove to be tougher than all the other moves put together. Signing quality UFA's will make it difficult to keep the aforementioned kids, Nail Yakupov and Magnus Paajarvi around but at some point the Oilers front office brass is going to have to make a decision.

For their sake, they had better choose wisely when it comes time to decide what to do with Sam Gagner. As it may very well decide what direction the Edmonton Oilers re-build ultimately goes. 

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