[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was written for The Broad Street Bully, a blog and podcast my friend Drew and I started based off of our mutual interest in the Philadelphia Flyers. See it on http://broadstreetbully.net.]
Last week, we mentioned that the Flyers’ acquisition of Sam Gagner was overlooked while I was writing all those articles. And, I have to admit that it was because not much was made of the move. Gagner was received from Phoenix in the deal that sent Grossmann and Pronger’s contract away.
Gagner, a former sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft, comes to the Flyers by way of Phoenix. He was originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers and played seven seasons there before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And then he lasted on the Lightning for about an hour before he was flipped to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Gagner’s numbers don’t immediately blow you away for someone who went sixth overall. However, they aren’t entirely terrible. It’s hard to judge how good he could have been after he played all those years in Edmonton. The Oilers have been picking at the top of the draft board for multiple seasons now and they don’t seem like they can figure out what to do with all the talent they’re acquiring.
Gagner has shown enough flashes of brilliance, it can be assumed, that Hextall felt comfortable including Gagner as a piece in the trade with Phoenix. For an idea of what he can accomplish when he is firing on all cylinders, in 2012, Gagner cemented his name next to Wayne Gretzky’s when he collected eight points in a single game (four goals, four assists).
However, Gagner has played a majority of his career at the center position and the Flyers are in somewhat of a logjam at that position now. It wasn’t until last year, under Dave Tippet in Phoenix, that Gagner was moved out to the wing so Phoenix could see if he would flourish there. Playing with a decent center in Martin Hanzal, Gagner seemed comfortable and was able to collect some points.
So, where does this leave him now with the Flyers? My assumption is that Hextall brought Gagner in to start the season on the top line with Giroux and Voracek. If, after a string of games, the chemistry is not there, then maybe Hakstol moves him down to the second line. With the free agent market sparse on skilled wingers, and the Flyers needing something at that position to compete, Gagner seems like the appropriate gap filler.
Hextall reinforced that assumption by not buying out, or trading, Gagner when he had the chance this summer. It appears that Gagner will be starting the season with the Flyers main squad. And his $3,200,000 cap hit isn’t the worst thing for the Flyers lineup right now. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season so if Gagner doesn’t dazzle playing along side Giroux and Voracek then Hextall cuts tie and Gagner sails into the sunset.
It’s a low risk roster spot that has high rewards. When you think that Hextall got Gagner, in theory, for Grossmann, then it’s even more impressive. The logjam on defense needed to be cleared and Hextall picked up a promising, younger player in the process.
Whether he’ll play on a wing with Giroux and Voracek has yet to be confirmed. But, if he does, watching Gagner score should be fun.
**Stats from NHL.com and salary info from HockeysCap.com