Sam Gagner was signed this past offseason, almost as an afterthought. The Columbus Blue Jackets took a chance on the journeyman forward, signing him to a one year contract worth $650,000 this year. Gagner, prior to playing in Columbus, had played for 3 different teams since being drafted 6th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He had never lived up to that draft status, with a career high of 18 goals in a season, and a career high 49 points in his rookie season.
Gagner was seen as a player who was generally on his last chance to stick in the league. Gagner struggled in Philadelphia last season, registering 8-8-16 in 53 games, and desperately needed a good showing to keep his NHL hopes alive.
Sam Gagner has delivered this season.
Gagner has stepped up in huge ways this season. In addition to registering 16 goals and 40 points this season, Gagner has been a key cog on one of the better power play units in the NHL this season. Gagner has been utilized perfectly this season, and when he produced, the results have been astronomical.
#CBJ move to 25-3-2 this season when Sam Gagner has a point and 18-1-2 when he has an assist. He had a helper tonight.— Kristyn Repke (@kristynrepke) March 8, 2017
Sam Gagner has not been pushed to play top six minutes this season, playing just 13:29 per game this season, which includes 2:38 of power play ice time per game. Gagner has been allowed to flourish and blossom in a bottom six role this season.
Gagner, however, did struggle for some time. Until his goal against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, Gagner had gone 30 games without finding the back of the net. Gagner found other ways to contribute, however, while slumping. Of players who have played 15 or more games with the big club this season (so, eliminating Markus Hannikainen from the discussion), Sam Gagner is third (!) among forwards in Corsi For % at 53.2% per game, behind Brandon Saad and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Gagner is 6th among forwards in point per 60 minutes this season, illustrating that he contributes in more ways than just on the power play.
Now that Gagner is finding the back of the net again, what does that mean going forward for the rest of the season and into the playoffs? Sam Gagner gives the team another playmaker who is capable of finding the back of the net, who can drive possession, and is usable in all three zones. His defensive workrate is also key, as he can win battles along the boards. Gagner gives the Blue Jackets flexibility as he can play both center and wing as well as take faceoffs.
Gagner has been one of the best signings in the NHL this season. At only $650,000, he’s been a bargain for the team. I don’t expect to see him re-sign here in Columbus, as it’s likely another team will overpay for him based on his numbers and not his usage - he’s been deployed in Columbus in pretty much the perfect scenarios. That being said, if he could sign for a discount to stay with the team as it develops into a contender (say, a Dalton Prout - type contract of 2 years, $3 million), I would welcome it.
Either way, Gagner has been a revelation for the team, and his performance this season should see him earn a payday this offseason. In the meantime, look forward to him continuing his playmaking ways as the Blue Jackets march toward the postseason.