• Betting on Gagner

    by Tyler Dellow • July 19, 2013 • Hockey • 30 Comments

    If the Oilers and Sam Gagner don’t reach a deal between now and Monday, they will go to arbitration. An arbitrator will hear the arguments from each side, consider their positions and award Sam Gagner a one year deal at a salary worth somewhere in between what each side is asking for. If this was the only issue for the Oilers and Gagner – what does he get paid next year? – I’d expect a deal to have been done by now. Arbitration’s been around long enough that both sides probably have a reasonable sense of where an arbitrator would likely come down.

    The difficulty, I suspect, is in dealing with what come after next year. The Oilers have expressed an interest in signing Gagner to a longer term deal in order to avoid having him become a UFA next fall. Gagner has expressed an interest in being in Edmonton long term. The problem, I assume, is determining the right number for him.

    If Gagner makes it to unrestricted free agency, he’ll famously be the youngest unrestricted free agent of all time. An August birthday, he made the Oilers the year he was drafted at the age of barely 18. He scored 49 points in his rookie year, a total he has yet to match, making it sort of look like he’s spun his wheels. If you just glance over his scoring totals, you see 38 points last year, which looks even less impressive until you remember the lockout. If you pro-rate his scoring line there, you come up with a 24 goal and 41 assist season, which is legitimate offensive production.

    I pulled a list of forwards who are UFA age for 2013-14 and have a cap hit of between $5.3MM and $7MM for a comparison. I’ve stuck some information in there: how many sixty point seasons they’d had after their age 23 season and how many 60 point seasons they’ve had overall.

    Outside of the scoring on a per game basis, Gagner stacks up reasonably well with those guys – a 60 point season (or, in his case, an equivalent due to the lockout) is a pretty impressive notch in your belt for a 23 year old. The problem with that list though is that it kind of reflects the really good years of guys who are older than Gagner – Gagner hasn’t enjoyed his seasons in his mid-twenties yet.

    What if we did that list and just included scoring through age 23? Well, you get this:

    Gagner scores pretty well by that measure. In that group of guys who turned into really highly paid NHLers, he’s in about the middle in terms of pts/gm through age 23. That’s got a bit of survivorship bias – there may be guys who scored early, petered out and didn’t make the big bucks but even if we look at all active forwards who played at least 100 games by age 23, Gagner is 67/253.

    It’s hard to conclude anything other than “Gagner has shown reasonably good levels of offence for a player his age” and we know that, historically, those players tend to get paid. I haven’t talked too much about possession but I’m optimistic about Gagner in that regard. Last year was a disaster but I tend to think it was a tactical thing – Gagner’s been a reasonably consistent 49%ish guy in the past, playing on poor teams. A good second will be 53%+ – with better teammates, I don’t think it’s impossible for Gagner to get into that range. The Oilers’ second line, whoever it might be, is probably going to be a good bet to have a higher shooting percentage than most, which provides value and reduces the need for a huge Corsi%. From a possession standpoint, I can see a way in which Gagner fits into a Stanley Cup contender on a second line.

    What makes Gagner difficult, I think, is that the Oilers have to deal with the UFA question before teams generally do. Usually, you have a better idea of what a guy is when it comes time to decide if you’re willing to commit to him. As Gagner made the Oilers right after his draft year (and because, frankly, the Oilers were kind of chaotic for a few years there) and because the lockout cut out a chunk of his age 23 season, it’s harder to know precisely what he is. Which makes figuring out what he’s worth kind of difficult.

    The Oilers list of options is pretty straightforward:

    1. Let the arbitrator decide Gagner’s salary for 2013-14;

    2. Negotiate a one year deal for 2013-14; or

    3. Negotiate a multi-year deal.

    Two of those options just push the issue off, in that they leave the UFA issue to be resolved, whether by Gagner leaving or by a new deal negotiated after January 1. I’m inclined to think that that isn’t likely to end well for the Oilers, unless someone out there really likes Gagner and makes a whale of a trade offer for him.

    If the Oilers are at X and Gagner is at Y in terms of a long term deal, I think you have to ask what happens if next season plays out. Gagner could have a great year, an average year or a poor year. Would an average or a poor season reduce whatever he’s asking from the Oilers? I’m not so sure it would. There’s already an expectation out there that the salary cap will be rising next year and, unlike virtually every free agent in the history of the NHL, Gagner would come with a legitimate expectation that his best days were ahead of him. Assuming he doesn’t want something completely outrageous, I suspect he’d find it as a free agent next summer.

    Of course, if they don’t sign him to a multi-year deal now, they run the risk that he has an excellent year. If he puts up 65 points, his price probably rises. If he has a 70+ point year – and that’s not impossible, given that he’s the de facto number one centre to start the season and the group of young forwards around him – his price will presumably rise. I’d expect he could do really well as a UFA in those circumstances and one would expect his price to go up accordingly.

    The other thing that makes a multi-year deal great is that one of those years will be an RFA year and have a lower price tag. Say he wants $4.5MM for his RFA year and $5.5MM a year for his UFA years. By doing a multi-year deal that includes the RFA year, you’ll knock the cap hit down a little bit – it might just be $100K but that’s not nothing.

    Without knowing what Gagner’s looking for, it’s hard to judge how realistic it is. That being said, I’d think of anything under $6MM as being realistic – it’s tough to look at Travis Zajac’s number and age and not suspect that Gagner’s going to be a more valuable player over the next eight years, a period in which Zajac will make $5.75MM a year. I kind of think that the Oilers have an opportunity for a real steal on this deal. Say it was a four year deal at $4.5MM for his RFA year and $5.5MM for his UFA years. That’s $21MM, a $5.25MM cap hit. It’s hard for me to imagine how the Oilers could find a player as good as Gagner on the UFA market for as little money.

    All said, it’s a bit of a weird deal because we don’t entirely know what Gagner is yet. I’ve been optimistic about him in the past – I called him the best Oilers 2C since Messier two years ago – and I still am. The price of top hockey players is going to go up quickly in the immediate future. Gagner’s production through age 23 looks very respectable, even if he has yet to really put up a big, full season. Deferring this issue by letting the arbitrator deal with it doesn’t seem likely to me to produce a better result. Make a longer term bet on him now seems like a reasonably smart bet to make to me.

    Email Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey@gmail.com

    About Tyler Dellow

    30 Responses to Betting on Gagner

    1. speeds
      July 19, 2013 at

      The problem here could be CBA related with no easy fix. Gagner might well be willing to take marginally less to stay, might be willing to sign long term, but wants a NMC/NTC to do so.

      The problem is, he can’t protect himself from getting traded like Jeff Carter if he signs a long term deal now – the NMC/NTC can’t go into effect, due to CBA limitations on eligibility for NMC’s, for Gagner until July 1, 2014.

      A solution for this might be a two year bridge deal, for the sake of argument at 5M per year, with a NTC/NMC kicking in next July 1st. At that point, Gagner would be eligible for an extension, and could sign for another 4-5 years at the same/similar money, but could be protected via NMC/NTC at that point.

      From Gagner’s POV, he’d be delaying his UFA age by one year vs. just going to arb now, but would be protected from the situation where he signs a 6 year deal and is traded somewhere he doesn’t want to go before his NMC kicks in. True, EDM could still trade him, but it would at most be for two years, one extra yr into his UFA eligibility, reducing the risk. EDM is in a situation where if they can’t sign him long term they might feel they have to trade him, so if Gagner wants to stay, a 2 year deal like that might be the best both parties can do to get them to the day where Gagner can be under NMC protection, while still being an Oiler.

      • Triumph
        July 19, 2013 at

        I don’t see how a guy with his pedigree doesn’t get a 7 year offer from somewhere if he hits UFA. Like Tyler said, this is the youngest high-profile UFA ever, even if you give him a 2 year bridge deal he is still only 26. So yeah, you can give him that 2 year deal, but expect to offer 8 more years if you do.

    2. rw970
      July 19, 2013 at

      Sounds like someone is cranky they missed out on the Tyler Bozak sweepstakes.

    3. GriffCity
      July 19, 2013 at

      I think Gagner is worth no more than 4.5 Mil per season. Even then, he’s only worth that much because he played outside himself last season (half season) and ended up banking in goals off his back and assists of his shin pads etc. Good for him to have set a career high in points and put pressure on the Oilers to pay him more money but has everyone forgotten his play before last year? Aside from having some fancy dangles in the shootout the guy was a liability. Turning the puck over was his specialty and his size and speed are less than special. Before last season i would have been happy to ship him somewhere else and now we are talking 5-6 mil/year?

      If Gags is willing to play for less for a longer term and a NTC then fine, but his career is going to go in one of two directions. Upwards, given that he is only 22 and just coming into his own. Or downwards, given that he only posses one dimensional offence and little else. Time will tell and i am hoping for a superstar to blossom but its not worth a 25 million dollar gamble over 5 years.

      Also, sign Brad Boyes. What are you waiting for, he smallish but a good player and he is way undervalued and can play center or wing which makes him versatile through lines 2, 3 and 4. Would have rather had Stephen Weiss but since thats no longer an option and the Oilers are desperate for help up the middle, this seems like a no brainer unless im missing something.

    4. Ceeber71
      July 19, 2013 at

      The big problem with Gagner and the Oilers is that he is not the ideal center behind the Nuge. I truly believe the Oilers are better off trading Gagner and signing one of Boyes or Grabovski for under $4million/year. The Oilers would get the same production for less money and have whatever asset(s) to use for the future from the Gagner trade.

    5. Jason gregor
      July 19, 2013 at

      Curious that you use Zajac. When he was 23 he scored 62 points and then had 67 when he was 24.

      I understand using prorated season for Gagner, but that is only in best case scenario. Not certain Gagner would maintain that pace for remaining 34 games.

      Also since Zajac signed his extension, he hasn’t produced nearly as well. Of course injury hurt him in 2012, but last year he struggled. Oilers should use Zajac, but they should use it as a prime example of a player who was overpaid.

      You can hope and project Gagner becomes better, but he hasn’t officially produced as well as Zajac to this point, and Zajac is must better defensively. To me Zajac is prime example of an overpay, and right now the best deal for Oilers is a two-year term.

      • Tyler Dellow
        July 19, 2013 at

        The problem that I have with that, Jason, is that at some point if you just want to pay for certain production, you run out of money and aren’t good enough. In a capped league, the team that makes smart bets wins.

        A deal for Gagner that was, say, six years long at $5.5MM per and front loaded, you could move him if you needed to. If he turns into a consistent 60 point guy, he’s a bargain. I’d like to see the Oilers use their financial resources that way.

        • Jason gregor
          July 19, 2013 at

          At $5.5 he needs to do more than just score IMO. Hall makes $6 mill and he’ll do much more….

          I think the big question is can the Oilers win with RNH and Gagner long term? And if he gets $5.5 how much trade value would he have?

          I’d do a two-year deal at $4.5…If Gagner is very good next two years, you can still sign him for $5.5 or more for six years and he is still young.

          The most perplexing thing is how some think he’ll get $5 mill from arbitrator. I can’t see a comparison, cause can’t use UFA, that he matches with that total.

          There is a risk that Gagner might put up big numbers, but I don’t see him putting up more than Hall in the next two years, so he wouldn’t get more than $6 mill…. Two years is deal I’d do…we will see what happens…

        • Bank Shot
          July 20, 2013 at

          The problem I have with the Oilers paying Gagner $5.5 is that its an overpay right from the start,

          Jamie Benn who is basically the same age and has outproduced Gagner each of the last two seasons signed a 5 year extension, $5.25. He’s also mean.

          Krejci who has a 70 point season and has hit 60 points in each of his last two seasons. 3 years $5.25. Believe he’s had a better history of two way play.

          There are two guys who already ARE consistent 60 point players getting paid less then what you are willing to pay Gagner on the bet that he might become these players. It just seems off to me.

          Ribiero is a guy that just signed contract for $5.5 and he’s consistently a point per game. Not really a great comparable due to age, but it shows the market for guys that are seen as complimentary pieces, as most of us see Gagner.

          Last season you spent a lot of time taking Oilers to task over them signing Eberle to a $6 million dollar contract for a guy who you called a true 50-60 point talent. This season you are calling signing a 50-60 point talent in Gagner to a $5.5 contract a smart bet and potential bargain.

          I would have thought you would be as down on overpaying Gagner as you were on Eberle.

      • Puckhandler
        July 20, 2013 at

        I have to agree with Jason Gregor 100 %

        Gagner has not officially had a Zajac season.

        The oil should think long and hard before reliving the Horcoff contract that everyone in oil country is so happy to say goodbye to.

        I watched the 8 point game Gagner had and it was exciting to watch. If you remove that game from his production totals what do his g/g look like? One thing is for sure we shouldn’t be rewarding Gags with a salary that the other 8 point in one game oilers of the past.

        Just sayin’

    6. Lewis Grant
      July 19, 2013 at

      The Oilers’ second line, whoever it might be, is probably going to be a good bet to have a higher shooting percentage than most, which provides value and reduces the need for a huge Corsi%

      OK, but then this will be true for whatever player plays 2C for the Oilers, including Gagner’s potential replacement. That shouldn’t increase Gagner’s value or justify what would otherwise be an overpay.

      I appreciate the context you’ve provided here, and it’s not unreasonable to think that Gagner is ready to break out and be a producer. He’s still pretty young. But will he produce much beyond counting numbers? Those are the kinds of players that get overpaid. (Players like Paajarvi who do everything but score get underpaid, which is why I’m not really excited about that trade.)

    7. SKINNY65
      July 19, 2013 at

      Good take on things Tyler. This article sums up the 2 different ways of looking at Gagner. People say that the player himself isn’t worth 5 mil a year. I think we can all agree he is a decent, if flawed player and do we really want to give that player 5 mil?
      But what you are talking about isn’t the player, but the player in regards to the marketplace for such a player.
      In that context you show how generally speaking, that type of player is bound to improve and teams should be prepared for that and of course you are going to have to pay for that expectation.
      History would tend to favor the idea that Sam Gagner at 27 is going to be a much more useful player then the one we have seen so far.
      When you factor in the probable expansion of the cap the next few years, this is a good bet. Try to buy some free agent years in the 5 mil range and it looks like a sound play.
      He’s not a perfect 2nd line center, but if he goes away, tell me where you find that replacement? I agree Grabo is there, but other then that I can’t see this type of player with this up side being on the market.
      I’m assuming MacT sees this as well and is having problems with the NTC. He wants to keep maximum flexibility going forward, but in the end I think this gets done even if the Oilers have to go over 5 mil a year.

      • Benhur
        July 20, 2013 at

        I agree the NTC is probably the sticking point!

    8. tony
      July 20, 2013 at

      He’s dating a UofA med student, and her dad works as a Prosthodontist at the UofA. He really is Mike Comrie, gambling on a good thing and risking it all blowing up in your face

      • Mc80Hockey
        July 21, 2013 at

        No, she’s now locked into a 2 year residency program at the U of Eh

    9. Benhur
      July 20, 2013 at

      By all means sign Gags to a multi-year contract at ~5.5 M. If they have the cap room sign Grabovski to centre the third line. This will put some competition in to the centre spot plus leave the team with a scoring 3rd line with Grabs, Hemsky and another winger (Smyth?).
      Then you have two valuable assets to move if you want to trade for a top Dman. Grabs could replace Gagner in the 2nd line Centre position.

    10. Bank Shot
      July 20, 2013 at

      The problem I have with the Oilers paying Gagner $5.5 is that its an overpay right from the start,

      Jamie Benn who is basically the same age and has outproduced Gagner each of the last two seasons signed a 5 year extension, $5.25. He’s also mean.

      Krejci who has a 70 point season and has hit 60 points in each of his last two seasons. 3 years $5.25. Believe he’s had a better history of two way play.

      There are two guys who already ARE consistent 60 point players getting paid less then what you are willing to pay Gagner on the bet that he might become these players. It just seems off to me.

      Ribiero is a guy that just signed contract for $5.5 and he’s consistently a point per game. Not really a great comparable due to age, but it shows the market for guys that are seen as complimentary pieces, as most of us see Gagner.

      Last season you spent a lot of time taking Oilers to task over them signing Eberle to a $6 million dollar contract for a guy who you called a true 50-60 point talent. This season you are calling signing a 50-60 point talent in Gagner to a $5.5 contract a smart bet and potential bargain.

      I would have thought you would be as down on overpaying Gagner as you were on Eberle.

    11. Mr common sense
      July 21, 2013 at

      Gagner should be traded for the simple reason that he and Nuge represent a wrong 1, 2 punch down he middle. Too frail. Did any of you watch the playoffs this yr????!!!

    12. Jackson
      July 21, 2013 at

      Why is Gagner worth 1.5 – 2m more than Bryan Little ?

    13. Pingback: Spectors Hockey | NHL Weekend Blog Beat – July 21, 2013.

    14. Tyler Dellow
      July 21, 2013 at

      I don’t like to be a jerk about this stuff but I am gobsmacked by the inability of people to separate RFA contracts from UFA contracts. It’s like a disease.

      Jamie Benn who is basically the same age and has outproduced Gagner each of the last two seasons signed a 5 year extension, $5.25. He’s also mean.

      Four of those are RFA years. Not an appropriate comparable.

      Krejci who has a 70 point season and has hit 60 points in each of his last two seasons. 3 years $5.25. Believe he’s had a better history of two way play.

      Krejci one’s not bad. If the Oilers did three years with Gagner, I bet they could get something similar.

      Of course, when Krejci signed that deal, he’d had one 70, one 60 and a fifty point year and the cap was lower.

      Last season you spent a lot of time taking Oilers to task over them signing Eberle to a $6 million dollar contract for a guy who you called a true 50-60 point talent. This season you are calling signing a 50-60 point talent in Gagner to a $5.5 contract a smart bet and potential bargain.

      It’s the issue between buying UFA years and RFA years. That stuff matters. You can’t just handwave it away.

    15. Tyler Dellow
      July 21, 2013 at

      Ribiero is a guy that just signed contract for $5.5 and he’s consistently a point per game. Not really a great comparable due to age, but it shows the market for guys that are seen as complimentary pieces, as most of us see Gagner.

      Is this an argument against what I’m saying? Look what Ribeiro had done up to Gagner’s age.

    16. Bank Shot
      July 21, 2013 at

      It’s true. RFA and UFA contracts are different. RFA’s get paid on potential in many instances. UFAs get paid on past results and market scarcity.

      Gagner as a UFA has neither strong past results, and his player type is not highly coveted in free agency. Why are we going to pay him a premium based on potential then?

      I don’t really care about Gagner’s age at this point. The Oilers have finite cap space to build a contender, Spending $5.5 million on a 50ish point, one dimensional player doesn’t get them closer to a Cup.

      When you look at UFA’s like Roy $4, and Ribeiro $5.5 you can see how that player type is valued around the league, Why should the Oilers pay a premium for a player type that is undervalued league wide? That’s the opposite of moneyball.

      If Gagner won’t take a contract in line with his production, the Oilers would probably be better off flipping him for Ribeiro or the like. The Oilers would have a better player for the next 2-3 seasons when they still have the cap space to afford an expensive second line center.

    17. Jack
      July 21, 2013 at

      How has Gagner done 5V5 ?

      What type of competition has he played against?

      • Jerodd
        July 22, 2013 at

        5V5 very weak a 2m dollar player

    18. gogliano
      July 21, 2013 at

      I don’t know, Tyler, it seems strange to pro-rate this past season. Small sample sizes do funny things. And I know basic observational stuff can mislead but by most eyes Gagner was having a nice string of luck this past season (note the career high S%, for instance). That stuff usually balances out but no so much in a 48 game season.

      Thing is, without pro-rating this past season you don’t have a 50 point season in Gagner’s history. He probably gets into the 50s if last year was an 82 game season but I don’t know if he hits 60. Add in the uncertainty that arises from the possession problems last year — and how much of his counting stats this past season can be attributed to cheating for offense? — and that is a lot of question marks going forward. That second chart is more reassuring but there are a lot of things that might skew such a chart, e.g., playing/pp time.

      I still Gagner can be a 2C on a winning team but this still strikes me as a worse bet than the Eberle contract.

    19. gogliano
      July 21, 2013 at

      I don’t know, Tyler, it seems strange to pro-rate this past season. Small sample sizes do funny things. And I know basic observational stuff can mislead but by most eyes Gagner was having a nice string of luck this past season (note the career high S%, for instance). That stuff usually balances out but no so much in a 48 game season.

      Thing is, without pro-rating this past season you don’t have a 50 point season in Gagner’s history. He probably gets into the 50s if last year was an 82 game season but I don’t know if he hits 60. Add in the uncertainty that arises from the possession problems last year — and how much of his counting stats this past season can be attributed to cheating for offense? — and that is a lot of question marks going forward. That second chart is more reassuring but there are a lot of things that might skew such a chart, e.g., playing/pp time.

      I still think Gagner can be a 2C on a winning team but this still strikes me as a worse bet than the Eberle contract.

    20. Bank Shot
      July 21, 2013 at

      P.S. The Cap was not lower when Krejci was signed. It was 64.3 million in 2011/12, same as it is this season.

      Not sure why you aren’t seeing alarm bells at that contract compared to $5.5 for Gagner when Krejci was clearly better all down the line.

      Lecavilier-4.5
      Iginla-6
      Horton-5.3
      Weiss-4.9
      Sharp-5.9
      Staal-6
      Neal-5
      Krejci-5.25
      Couture-6
      Filppula-5
      Brown-5.75
      Pacioretty-4.5
      Zajac-5.75
      Parenteau-4
      Hudler-4
      Ribeiro-5.5
      Clarkson-5.25

      That’s a nice cross section of forwards that have signed longer term contracts in the last 2 seasons. Gagner would be one of the poorer players in the bunch. Down with guys like Hudler, Parenteau, and Clarkson.

      Not sure why that should entitle Gagner to a long term contract making more then players that have clearly outperformed him.

      I can understand giving him a long term contract, but why would he get $5.5? If we are using joke contracts like the one given to Clarkson as the bar, then we aren’t setting our standards high enough. I’m not sure why Gagner should be paid more then James Neal for example.

      Neal had a 55, and 45 point season under his belt when he signed for $5 million while sitting at 56 points in 58 games.

    21. Vic Ferrari
      September 1, 2013 at

      Gagner is a case study
      . The counting numbers flatter him, and the underlying numbers demolish him, completely unfairly in both cases.

      We’ve been doing it all wrong, Tyler.

    22. Pingback: Bits: Arbitration begins, Olympic camps underway | All New York Islanders

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *