They need Drury, not Briere
Here we go again, ANOTHER Sam Gagner post. Maybe the single most talked about athlete on this site. Its not just me, all the other bloggers on here post about him too….
So Sam signed his new deal with the Oilers back in July just before they went to arbitration. If you check this site daily (man alive I hope you don’t because I had not done anything in weeks seeing as how its the dead time of year in sports) then you might have seen where I wrote a piece on Sam the day he signed his deal. It would have went up at 7 AM MST, and Sam signed roughly right before that I believe. So it was all for nothing. But I love writing stuff on the Oil because it gets the most response so here is another, and this time its more about taking the Edmonton media to task.
First of all I can’t stress enough that I like Sam Gagner. It is impossible not to like Gagner. He is a great kid, hard working, lots of heart in his game, lots of balls, he is just a damn likeable player. So this isn’t a crusade against him that I have, its just calling it the way it is. The best way to view sports is by removing the emotion. Once you can learn to do that then things can become a lot more clear. I’m still learning how to do this. NFL I have it down, MLB I’m pretty good, NBA I’m pretty good, NHL….I still have the Oilers.
It is funny that both the Oilers and Gagner’s camp going into arbitration were using Kris Versteeg as a comparable. I actually had been using that comparison for about a year and a lot of fans I said that to thought I was nuts. But that is who he plays like, and Versteeg is just a nice 2nd line winger. I don’t know how many times I have said Sam needs to be on the wing, not in the middle. He doesn’t have elite speed and definitely doesn’t have the size to matchup against the better center’s in this league. Especially in the West where size is basically king.
BUT….Sam is staying in the middle weather I like it or not. Taylor Hall said in an interview with Bob Stauffer about 10 days ago that he is willing to play the middle until Nugent-Hopkins is ready to go, but that long term he prefers to stay on the wing. VERY disappointing news to my ears. I really believe Hall would thrive play center in this league, and it would make the Oilers better if he was in the middle and Gagner was on the wing just because Hall has more size and much more speed to handle the responsibilities.
But I digress, Gagner is the 2nd line center so the focus needs to be on him becoming the 2nd line center the Oilers need. Most people don’t think it matters. They think if you’re a 2nd line center than that’s fine. Just get guys to fill the slots on the roster no matter how they play. If Hopkins is a 1st line C, Gagner is a 2nd line C, Gordon is a 3rd line C and Lander is a 4th line C then the Oilers are set, no issue. This is chess, not checkers (ohhhhhh baby I’ve been waiting to work that line in!!) Nugent-Hopkins is only 20 years old this season, he desperately needs 2 way support down the middle, especially now with Horcoff gone. Say what you want about Horcoff, but this team heavily relied on him and while I’m a huge Boyd Gordon guy I don’t know if he can replace what Horcoff brought to the table.
And once again I’m getting off the topic at hand. Many of the media in Edmonton are saying something along these lines: “IF Gagner can become a consistent 50 point producer then he is a good 2nd line center”. Actually, they would spell center the Canadian way and be better Canadian’s than I am eh? But that’s what most of them say when speaking of Gagner. That is so not the case. The problem with Gagner is that he has never learned to play center. He has finally improved his points per game (although still his career high is 49 points which happened in his rookie season), but he really hasn’t improved his play in the middle. There is a difference between being a scorer and being a center.
Steven Stamkos is a perfect example of this. Stamkos has tore up the NHL since his 2nd season in the league (albiet in the absolute worst division and weaker conference). But he’s never been at 50% in the dot (although this year he came close) and he’s far from a guy who knows his way around his own zone so it can be tough for a coach to get him on the ice. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I wouldn’t take Stamkos on my team. But if Tampa wants to start getting in the playoffs and becoming a legit threat, then he needs to learn how to play center. And its ironic that he plays for Tampa, where his GM is Steve Yzerman. Scotty Bowman struggled for years to get Yzerman to buy into being a center not just a scorer. But once he did, the Wings started rattling off Cups. 3 in 6 years to be exact.
So what is this the 4th time I’ve gotten off topic and I still haven’t mentioned Drury or Briere? The reason that is the title is because heading into the 07 offseason they were both UFA’s if you recall. And all the experts were ranking Drury as the bigger fish to land than Briere, and me being young and dumb I thought they were idiots. Briere was clearly the more flashy and talented of the 2 players, and he was 2 years younger. So why was Drury SO special? Because Drury knew how to play the middle and Briere scorer who happened to play the middle.
Now, Briere was in fact the better signing of the 2 as it turned out because Drury ran into injury problems and really slowed down after only a year or two in New York. But that’s not the point. The Flyers ended up putting Briere on the wing almost instantly and rarely used him at center when they had a fully healthy roster. He is extremely clutch, but he’s one dimensional. Drury was clutch too if you recall, and he could be used in any situation. THIS is what the Oilers need Gagner to be.
The 50 point seasons will come, I have very little doubt of that. My concern is the rest of his game. Can he get over 50% in the dot (or even 48 for that matter)? Can he become a better player from the top of the circles to the goal line in his own zone? Can he start winning puck battles? If he can become this type of player, then the Oilers can win with him as their 2nd line center. If not, he’ll have value around the league, but he won’t have much to the Oilers because he just simply won’t fit. He has to start at least showing signs of being this type of player this season. If he doesn’t, then the Oilers brass will need to start thinking with their heads, not their hearts when it comes to Sam Gagner’s future with the club.
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