He weaved right.
Then left, before stickhandling – and adding a bit of distraction – in the crease.
Spotting an opening, Gagner released a rising wrister over Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Curtis McElhinney’s left shoulder and under the crossbar, lifting the Red Wings to a 1-0 victory.
Gagner Fitting in With Red Wings
It was fitting Gagner got the game-winner.
Fitting in that Gagner has endured a trying season and found a way to make a difference within the locker room.
Fitting in the way he persevered.
Since being acquired at last season’s trade deadline, Gagner weaved in and out of the lineup, hampered by injuries and COVID-19 protocol.
In his opening 28 games this season, Gagner collected just nine points. But he created value for his roster spot by advising the youngsters who suddenly found themselves in expanded roles because of an injury-depleted lineup.
When captain Dylan Larkin was sidelined for the season, Gagner was awarded additional uniform swag, the “A” for alternate captain.
It was deserved.
“Wherever he’s playing in the lineup he’s done an excellent job, both in his play and his example,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said via Red Wings TV.
Analytics Deep Dive
Blashill added a deep dive into analytics would uncover additional value for Gagner’s roster spot.
“If you look at most of the underlying statistics that we keep, generally, he wins his shifts,” Blashill said. “His expected goals for when he’s on the ice is better than expected goals against on a consistent basis, night in and night out.”
Entering the final two games of the season – the Red Wings play Friday and Saturday at Columbus – Gagner spent time last week on a line with Evgeny Svechnikov and Joe Veleno, two top prospects learning on the fly.
It’s no coincidence.
Gagner will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman, who signed Gagner for a one-season cap hit of $850,000, will have a decision to make. He likely won’t think long.
Gagner will be needed next season.
Like Bobby Ryan, it would be prudent for Yzerman to keep roster spots for both affordable, affable veterans.