The Detroit Red Wings are a little more than a week from closing out their season.
They take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, one of five games remaining on the schedule. Sam Gagner hopes to lead the Wings towards a strong finish.
“I really enjoy it here,” Gagner said Wednesday. “I like my role. I feel like my responsibility has grown over my time here. I think that we’re closer than a lot of people project. We have an opportunity to turn things around quicker than people expect and I’d like to be a part of it. We’ve got some games here left and I’d like go do my best to help the Wings and and get as many wins as we can and keep on building.”
The Wings have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for a fifth straight year. But with Steve Yzerman as general manager, there is a perception within the locker room that better results are ahead. Between injuries and the pandemic, the Wings have not had the expected lineup since the opening week of the season.
“We got off the tracks in that stretch when our guys had COVID,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That hurt our confidence. It took us a little while to get out of that. All I’ve tried to continue to focus on is us as a hockey club and us improving as individuals and try to lay a foundation here of winning hockey. So that we can have days that are better than today.”
Gagner was one of five Wings who spent the first week of the season in COVID protocol. By the time he returned in early February, Tyler Bertuzzi was done for the season.
“That’s just part of this, especially in a year like this,” Gagner said. “We all came into it knowing that it was a possibility, that we would be without guys at different times. For the guys who have played every game this year, it’s pretty impressive to out off the fire, so to speak. With COVID and all that comes with that, the amount of games we play.”
Gagner, 31, was an add-on when general manager Steve Yzerman unloaded Andreas Athanasiou on the Edmonton Oilers at the 2020 trade deadline. Yzerman re-signed Gagner, who was drafted at sixth in 2007, for one year at less than $1 million. Repeating such a deal makes a lot of sense. Gagner fits onto any line and is a terrific model for young players.
“He wins his shifts,” Blashill said, “His expected goals-for, when he’s on the ice, is better than his expected goals-against on a consistent basis, night in and night out. Wherever he’s at playing in the lineup. He’s done an excellent job, to be honest, in his play and in his example. He’s learned to be committed to the 200-foot game. He’s been excellent for us. It’s something that he said to me he wanted to take lots of pride in, and he’s done an excellent job of that.
“I think he’s been a great example of having poise with the puck and also taking what’s given. it’s a really hard balance to try to get through to guys to not be careless with the puck, not turn the puck over, but try to make plays at the same time. That’s a hard balance. He’s been a great example of trying to make a play, having poise with it, when there is a play to be made, make it, and when there’s no play to be4 made, live another day. He’s been our best example of that and that’s a huge thing for our young players.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.