Re-Sign or Resign: Sam Gagner
Should Steve Yzerman prioritize signing Sam Gagner?
Welcome to Re-Sign or Resign, a new segment covering the pros and cons of Detroit’s pending UFAs. We’ll be taking a closer look at each UFA while going over two schools of thought: re-signing the player, or letting him run free into the sunset. So far, we’ve covered Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Marc Staal, and Alex Biega. Today’s topic is defensive king Sam Gagner.
What do Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Sam Gagner have in common?
They’ve all scored eight points or more in a single game.
Gagner is the last player in over 30 years to have an eight-point game, and with the way hockey is evolving, it’s unlikely that we’ll see anything like it anytime soon. While he’s a few years shy of this record, he’s no slouch on his own end. Gagner is the only Red Wing to score a hat trick last season. Funny enough, it was his first hat trick since his iconic eight-point game in 2012.
Gagner was acquired in the Andreas Athanasiou trade along with two second-round picks and Red Wings legend Kyle Brodziak. In that time, Gagner has played 48 games for the Red Wings and notched 16 points. Athanasiou, on the other hand, scored two whole points with the Edmonton Oilers before signing with the Los Angeles Kings.
Yet another huge win from Yzerman.
But, point totals and wins aside, did Gagner do enough to garner a new contract with the Wings? Does the shifty center have a home in Hockeytown next season? Let’s go over the pros and cons and find out for ourselves.
On One Hand: Re-Sign Gagner
Here’s a weird fact: Gagner was 7th in scoring for the Wings last season, and of the seven players in the top-seven, he had the least amount of time on the ice. With limited minutes at his disposal, it’s fair to say he did a very amicable job in his role. He’s not going to lead the team or score another eight-point game, but he did exactly what he was signed to do: perform at a bottom-six level.
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press a few months ago, Gagner laid out exactly why he wants to continue his career in Detroit:
“You want to be a playoff team and help the team win...But we’re closer than people think and I’d like to be around for it.”
This is the exact kind of locker room attitude and ethic you hope to find in a rebuilding team. People often praise Bobby Ryan and Luke Glendening for their positive attitudes, but Gagner lays out exactly why he chose to return to Detroit after becoming a UFA in 2020. A guy who can put up solid point totals as a fourth-liner, brings his best every night, and stays positive is a perfect candidate for a one-year league-minimum deal.
Additionally, Gagner’s advanced stats speak for themselves:
Gagner is a better defensive forward than 90% of the NHL. Gagner’s defense last year was better than all three of Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, and Connor McDavid. He was so good on defense that he actually carried the team on more than one occasion. Obviously, limited ice time and easier assignments played a part in this, but these defensive results are terrific to see (and a fun fact to throw at fans with star players on their rosters).
On the Other Hand: Let Gagner Go
Sure, those defensive numbers are nice. Yeah, the scoring is okay too. Even the attitude about Hockeytown earned him some bonus points. But Club Vet is filling up in Detroit and it’s got a very, very limited capacity. If we stack the roster too full of older players, there won’t be any room for the young guns to shine. Gagner might be another logjam for a guy like, say, Chase Pearson, who might actually be a better version of what he is. We won’t know unless he’s given that opportunity, and it’s hard to say he’ll have much of a chance with Gagner taking up a roster spot.
Gagner mentioned in his interview that he wants to win. It might be a while before the Wings get to that point. By that time, how old will he be? 33? 35? (Please don’t let it be older than that hockey gods). Will he have the chance to see the Wings win it big, or will he be retired by then? Additionally, does the roster have room for a guy like Gagner when it’s time to contend?
The more I think about it, the more questions I have.
With plenty of young guns on the rise in the organization, direction and perspective will be needed when the going gets tough. Gagner represents the blue-collar work ethic of the Detroit Red Wings on every shift. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want on your roster — but he shouldn’t be acquired for anything above $1M/1 year. Guys like Gagner can flex their defensive muscles during tough games while mentoring the younger players on how to do the same. This signing seems like a no-brainer.
Should the Red Wings re-sign Sam Gagner?