Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)

Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)

How To Use Sam Gagner

Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)

Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)

The newest Flyer may not be a Flyer very long, but if he is Sam Gagner has all the tools needed to contribute in a way the Flyers need.

Gagner’s scoring ability is what earned him the right to be selected 6th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2007. Injury issues frequently shortened his seasons and probably kept him from becoming a true top tier #1 center, but he’s been a serviceable second line center his entire career. The Flyers would do well to keep him because his skill set is actually what Vincent Lecavalier was advertised to be.

Via Own the Puck

Via Own the Puck

Gagner’s Impact chart shows that over the last three seasons, he drove offensive production on a slight level while being a tiny drag defensively. Luckily, the Flyers have 2 players who would benefit from being with Sam Gagner. Gagner could play the other with the defensively responsible Matt Read and Sean Couturier unit. Couturier and Read are strong enough defensively to cover up Gagner’s weaknesses while moving Gagner to wing would also take away his responsibility on the ice to be a defensive force. In turn, Couturier and Read’s offensive production would jump as they’d have an offensively capable linemate skating with them instead of replacement level talents like Zac Rinaldo or Ryan White.

Via Own the Puck

Via Own the Puck

When isolating for 2014-15 only, there is a glimmer of hope as this past season Gagner actually did drive defense on the Arizona Coyotes. It’s possible he drove defense because the Coyotes were bad, but he’s still an upgrade over Lecavalier and Umberger for the Flyers.

 

Via Own the Puck

Via Own the Puck

Via Own the Puck

Via Own the Puck

 

Via Own the Puck

Via Own the Puck

The HERO charts for Gagner, Lecavalier and Umberger paint some telling news about Vinny and RJ. The fact is, Vinny is below replacement level and more or less makes his living by somehow still driving scoring at a decent rate. Umberger is actually a good fourth liner, but comes with a middle-six forwards cap number.

Bringing in Sam Gagner to take the middle six minutes allows the Flyers to bury Lecavalier and Umberger on the 4th line with Bellemare and use them in a way where they’re not overmatched. In fact, if the Flyers roll something akin to the following next season, they’ll have some very good forward lines.

Raffl-Giroux-Voracek
2LW-Schenn-Simmonds
Gagner-Couturier-Read
Bellemare-Lecavalier-Umberger

Raffl’s talent fits in the top line which would match skill and ability for Giroux and Voracek. The second LW spot could go to B Schenn if the Flyers commit to a full season of Scott Laughton and make Schenn-Laughton-Simmonds the third line with Gagner-Couturier-Read as the second line. In reality, those middle six forward units are interchangeable. The fourth line would be the perfect place to shelter out Lecavalier and Umberger, though given the fact that both Lecavalier (concussion) and Umberger (hip) ended the season with severe injuries, the Flyers are probably hoping, for the sake of their salary cap, that one or both decide that LTIR is better than injuries. Obviously, I would never wish an injury on a player, but from a cap perspective, LTIR for those two is way better than being drags on the ice.

Now, the powerplay is where Sam Gagner would most benefit the Flyers. Especially on the second unit.

With the Flyers likely keeping the 1-3-1 powerplay setup due to keeping the same assistant coaches, Gagner adds a right shot the second unit badly needs.

If the first unit runs:

Simmonds: Net
Giroux: Left Wing Faceoff Dot
Voracek: Right Wing Faceoff Dot
B. Schenn: Slot
Streit: Point

Then the second unit could be pretty decent with:
Couturier: Net which is where he played for Team Canada at the 2015 Worlds.
Gagner: Left Wing Faceoff dot
Raffl: Right Wing Faceoff dot
Read: slot
Manning/Ghost/Sanheim/MDZ: Point

This unit is, in terms of skill, a huge upgrade over what the Flyers used this past season. With Umberger and Lecavalier off the powerplay and Andrew MacDonald not playing due to a lack of right shots for the off-wing side the Flyers would likely see a jump in production from that second unit.

Going forward, if the Flyers contend next season, a 26 year old 35-45 point center would be a huge boost. If they’re still not a playoff team, Gagner’s likely to rebuild enough stock to be pawned off at the trade deadline for an extra second or third round pick. Either way, keeping him is a win/win.