Gagner back in Coyotes lineup after ‘frustrating’ healthy scratch

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With just three goals and 10 points in 27 games, it’s safe to say Sam Gagner’s first season in Arizona hasn’t gone especially well — which culminated with his healthy scratch in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Wild.

Tonight, Gagner will draw back in for a tilt against Edmonton, but still sounds like he’s stinging a bit from his stint in the press box.

“I don’t think this one was as expected,” Gagner told the Arizona Republic, alluding to an earlier healthy scratch during his Oiler days. “I don’t think this one was as expected. I feel like I want to be out there helping the team get out of it. It is what it is.

“It upsets you and it fires you up, and it makes you want to go out and prove yourself. I’m not happy with the way my season’s gone personally or the way the season’s gone for the team.”

Gagner, 25, was the biggest acquisition in Arizona’s quiet summer, coming from Tampa Bay along with B.J. Crombeen in a cap-clearing move by the Bolts (the Coyotes sent just a sixth-round pick in return.) On paper, the move looked to be a nice get for the Coyotes — they didn’t give up any assets, and Gagner was pegged to replace the offense left following the Mike Ribeiro buyout.

Now, though, the move doesn’t look as sharp.

Gagner’s struggled to fit into Dave Tippet’s system, one that is predicated on defensive awareness and sound two-way play. Case in point: Tippett’s explanation as to why he parked Gagner on Saturday…

“There’s a second effort without the puck that I think can improve in his game and sometimes when offensive players get in a slump, they think the only way to get out of it is to create offense.

“So they start thinking about not defending and just all about offense and in actual fact, good defense lets you play good offense because it lets you play in the offensive zone. Simple as that.”

Given Arizona’s woeful season, their fuzzy financial future and GM Don Maloney’s earlier roster shakeup, it’s fair to speculate that Gagner could be in play come trade deadline time. He’s in the second of a three-year, $14.4 million deal with a $4.8 million cap hit — a little spendy given he’s in a down year, but possibly worth a shot for a team needing center depth and willing to gamble on Gagner for next season as well.