Sam Gagner signs one-year deal to return to Red Wings

Detroit News

Nolan Bianchi
| The Detroit News

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It’s been such a long offseason for Sam Gagner, he broke it up into three offseasons.

Between the second and third offseasons — after the resumption of the playoffs, but before the plans for next season have been rolled out — the pending free agent got some business done. Gagner, 31, inked a one-year deal worth $850,000 to return to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

Gagner was acquired by the Red Wings from the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 24 alongside two second-round picks (2020, 2021) in exchange for forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner. He scored one goal over six games before the pandemic halted Detroit’s season on March 12.

The former sixth-overall pick and 13-year NHL veteran has accumulated 459 points over 844 career games. He had five goals and seven assists in 36 games with the Oilers last season.

“Sam plugs a hole for us,” Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said on a conference call on Saturday night. “One, he’s a right-shot forward. He’s good on the power play. He’s a high-quality character person. Along with Marc Staal (who was acquired from the New York Rangers and a 2021 second-round draft pick for future considerations), we’re trying to add these veteran guys to help our younger players, help the culture, help the locker room and help the entire organization.”

The new deal is one that benefits the Red Wings on multiple fronts: He’ll be a key veteran presence in a young locker room that’s trying to find its way. 

“I think I’ve handled adversity in my career, and I think you grow from that,” Ganger told reporters on Saturday. “I think I can be a lot of help in that area for young players. I think I would be doing the team a disservice if I wasn’t pushing to be part of the lineup every night.” 

He’ll fill a much-needed role as a right-handed shot on a Detroit power play that finished 29th in the league a season ago, converting on just 14.9-percent of its chances.

“I think that me being a right shot kind of adds a different dynamic to that power play, so that’s something I think I can help,” Gagner said, adding that he sees potential to improve with the pieces in place.

“Having (Anthony) Mantha healthy toward the end there certainly helped. I think the more chemistry we got, the easier our reads are, and the more repetitions you get, the better off it becomes. I’m excited about the opportunity to continue to help in that area.”

And, perhaps most importantly, the cost is low, and the term is short. Still, Gagner said that when he was brought in by Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman, conversations surrounded the idea of Gagner having “an opportunity to be a part of things long-term.”

“It was great talking to Steve through this process,” Gagner said. He added that even though he was only here for a short amount of time, “I really enjoyed the three weeks I was there playing, and I’m looking forward to coming back to show what I’m capable of as a player.”

In the meantime, Gagner slots in nicely as a potential third- or second-line center with a low price tag. That adds stability down the middle of the lineup while still allowing the Red Wings, who still need to sign Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and a handful of other restricted free agents, to have a plethora of options for weaponizing their cap space.

This was an offseason unlike any other, and Gagner believes he’s handled that challenge well. He told reporters that he scheduled three different training periods, ready to go whenever his — or the Red Wings’ — number was called.

“I tried to break it up into three different offseasons: The first one being when we weren’t sure if we were going to come back and play, so I was just preparing as if we were going to be in the bubble,” Gagner said.

“As the playoffs progressed, I started training hard again, and I’ll probably take another break once we figure out what next season is going to look like. … If the season were to start tomorrow, I’ll be ready.”

But, believe it or not, negotiating his new deal with the Red Wings was one of his easiest contracts he’s negotiated as an NHLer, he added.

“I’ve had a bunch of different experiences, (because) I’ve been a free agent a few times,” Gagner said. “This time around, a long extended offseason … I think it was a great time to be with my family and reset mentally, reset physically. Kind of getting back into negotiations, I think I was really refreshed.”

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