Nashville Predators Trade Rumors: Is Sam Gagner a trade target?

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The Fourth Period is reporting that the Nashville Predators are looking at their future depth chart at center, and may be targeting Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner as a replacement for David Legwand if the Predators move him at the upcoming March 5 NHL Trade Deadline:

In an attempt to replace Legwand, the Predators have been on the lookout for a young center. The Predators have reportedly shown interest in Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner, who is on the trade block.

The Preds are believed to be dangling the likes of forward Colin Wilson and defenseman Ryan Ellis as trade bait.

What Sam Gagner might bring to Nashville

Gagner is a moderately effective offensive center, who posted 41-49 points in each of his first five NHL campaigns and scored at a 64-point pace in last season's shortened schedule. He's nine years younger than Legwand, so would represent a potential long-term solution at a position where Nashville is loaded with players on the far side of 30.

He is not without his shortcomings, however, as detailed over at mc79hockey.com in a post which detailed sloppy play in the defensive zone which led to a goal against (follow that link earlier in this sentence for the full read):

The thing with Gagner is that there are just endless examples of this sort of stuff him. Pointless, low reward plays. For all the talk about Gagner's size and speed, there are plenty of plays - like this - that are nothing to do with size and speed. Hockey's a funny game, in that you can cheat and lots of times you'll get away with it, which reinforces the cheating. The pass from behind the net hits Nick Schultz's skate, Mike Ribeiro doesn't take the pass cleanly, Dubnyk makes a big save...you get away with it.

You can't get away with it forever though and every so often the bill comes due, just like it did tonight. Part of turning yourself into a postive possession guy is just taking stuff like this away from the opposition. It's low hanging fruit. If Gagner stops in front of the net, he intercepts the pass, knocks it over to Hemsky and it's an easy out. No damage done. If he gets in the habit of doing that all the time, of cutting out the high risk, low reward players, maybe the Corsi% ticks over 50%. You start doing that, you start scoring more and allowing fewer and winning more.

...

I don't know how much longer the Oilers can wait for this. He's played 430 NHL games as of the end of tonight's game. How many more games does it take to learn this stuff? Is there a reason that he hasn't learned it yet, can it be resolved? Does it take ten years to gain this sense? At what point do the Oilers just say "This isn't going to work" and either turn him into a winger or move on?

Hmm... anyone else wonder how Barry Trotz might react to a player like this? While Tyler watches Gagner a lot closer than I ever have, I am encouraged by the numbers below, pulled from a spreadsheet I used to compare guys last summer (so it doesn't include this season's data - all of which is sourced from Behind the Net):

Season 5on5 Pts/60 Corsi Rel On-Ice Sht % On-Ice Sv% PDO Shots/60
2012-13 1.84 -4.3 10.7 901 1007 6.48
2011-12 1.96 +6.3 10.2 923 1025 6.44
2010-11 1.91 +7.0 9.7 876 973 6.73
2009-10 1.56 +10.9 7.9 901 980 9.50
2008-09 1.69 +6.0 9.2 924 1016 7.18
2007-08 1.96 +0.6 9.1 898 989 6.06

What this tells me is that perhaps the defensive concerns might not be so damning, since Gagner was usually a positive force in the possession game (positive Corsi Rel values mean the team fared better in Shots For & Against during his ice time as compared to when he was on the bench), he shoots the puck with reasonable frequency and he's had his shares of ups and downs with the puck luck (PDO values both above and below 1000). There's not much reason to believe there's any irrational exuberance (or pessimism) about his game.

His fancy stats from this season may well provide context for his declining offensive production, too (6 goals and 18 assists in 47 games, down by a third of last season's scoring rate). The Oilers' on-ice shooting percentage during his play is uncharacteristically low, as his own personal shooting percentage (6.7% vs a career average of 10.2).

If anything, this might prove a chance to buy cheap on a player who is experiencing a temporary slump.

Salary Implications

Gagner has two more seasons after this one at $5 million each, with a cap hit of $4.8 million. He may represent a younger version of Legwand, but not a cheaper one, especially considering that he's approaching the prime earning years of his career.

My Take

If the Predators are resigned to Life After Legwand (I'd prefer to keep him over Mike Fisher or Matt Cullen, but that writing has been on the wall for a while), Gagner would seem to make a decent replacement; not one to help lift the team to a higher level, but a replacement nonetheless. His salary may place constraints on the team's ability to acquire proven talent up front, as a quartet of Fisher/Gagner/Cullen/Gaustad would command $17.2 million next season in total.

Giving up a player like Colin Wilson or Ryan Ellis (presumably one of them in addition to a draft pick or prospect) would certainly be costly, but both have limited upside in Nashville. Both have been among the Predators' top possession players over the last few seasons, but Wilson doesn't create shots often enough to be a consistent offensive threat and Ellis faces an uphill battle earning ice time with Shea Weber and Seth Jones on the right side of the defense.

My question to you - setting aside the mechanics of how you get there (multiple trades raises the complexity of the situation), how comfortable are you with a swapping out David Legwand for Sam Gagner at center for the next few years?

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