This post is part of Canucks Day on PHT…
Plenty of free agents take winding paths, particularly when it comes to joining struggling teams like the Vancouver Canucks. Even by those standards, Sam Gagner‘s traveled a strange path.
His NHL career started off strong as the Edmonton Oilers made him the sixth pick of the 2007 NHL Draft. Gagner made an immediate impact, scoring 13 goals and 49 points as a rookie in 2007-08.
The high point of his Oilers run came in February 2012 when he became the first player since Mario Lemieux to generate an eight-point night. He also broke a Wayne Gretzky record during that stretch.
That’s not to say that it was all good times for Gagner in Edmonton. There were some freakish injuries and, naturally, the Oilers struggled on the ice.
Things started to get weird when Gagner was traded twice on the same day on June 29, 2014. Gagner was sent to the Lightning and then to the Arizona Coyotes, with Tampa Bay essentially laundering $1.6 million of Gagner’s cap hit.
After some “tough years,” Gagner was hoping that he could take advantage of a clean slate with Arizona. That fresh start didn’t go too well, with a healthy scratch included.
The Coyotes decided that Gagner just wasn’t working as a center and then decided to trade him to the Philadelphia Flyers in that odd trade that sent Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona. Once again, Gagner was involved in teams dealing with odd salary cap machinations.
Once again, Gagner hoped to prove something, but he didn’t pull it off to the Flyers’ liking.
Along the way, there always seemed to be questions about his status, from buyout talk to AHL demotions. Gagner was also placed on waivers. He was occasionally bloodied and generally disregarded in Philly.
Here’s how low his status dropped by last summer: he signed a bargain-basement one-year contract with a Columbus Blue Jackets team that came off an awful 2015-16 season. Gagner accepted a $650K “prove-it” salary.
And he did indeed prove it as the trigger on a shockingly effective Blue Jackets power play. His resurgence became one of the feel-good stories of last season.
In scoring 18 goals and 50 points, Gagner resurrected his career, earning a three-year, $9.45 million contract with the Canucks in the process.
Rarely will you see such a combination of great bounces and lousy luck as Gagner’s experienced. He began as a high draft pick, broke some records in Edmonton, and eventually fell out of favor/was often a scapegoat with the Oilers. He was tossed around in trades and struggled to stick with teams. There was also a lockout run in Austria, a fight with Olli Jokinen, and some tough-luck injuries.
And now, after those twists and turns, Gagner finds what looks like stability in Vancouver.
Then again, it doesn’t look like Gagner has a no-trade clause, so who knows …