Red Wings: Sam Gagner Is an Important Part of Detroit’s Bottom-Six

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Sam Gagner was quietly one of the more efficient members of the Detroit Red Wings bottom-six in 2020-21. Will the 2021-22 season be more of the same for the veteran forward?

Age: 32
Center/Left Wing
Second Season With the Red Wings
Stats Snapshot:
Goals: 7
Assists: 8
CF%: 49.4
Pts/60: 1.4
ixG: 9.31
GAR: 2.7

(Advanced Stats Courtesy of Evolving-Hockey)

Last Season With the Red Wings

From our “player grades” after the 2020-21 season ended:

The hockey metrics agree: Sam Gagner was quietly solid throughout the year. The highlight of his first full year in Detroit was the hat trick against Nashville Predators in February, but other than that flash-in-the-pan, most of Gagner’s contributions to the time were under-the-radar.

Gagner finished the season with a 48.4 CF% and tied for the most points among Red Wings players over 30. While he didn’t light up the scoresheet, Gagner was a great fit for Jeff Blashill’s scheme: defensively sound and occasionally effective offensively. He did all the “little things” right, winning puck battles and making smart, safe passes to drive the offense.

Now, I don’t want to make it seem like Gagner is a statistical dream. He’s not. He’s only 0.5 wins above replacement and 2.7 goals above replacement. However, considering his position on the lower lines of a well below-average team that struggled offensively, and the fact that his contract was less than a million dollars, Gagner is a high-value player. He did what he was asked to do and more in 2020-21. Not to mention dealing with an inconsistent rotation of line mates due to injuries and lineup changes throughout the season.

Best Case Scenario This Season

Gagner continues his trend as one of the better bottom-six forwards in Detroit, providing solid defense while also generating offense. However, the difference this year is that the points scored start to reflect what he actually brings to the offense. Gagner’s goals and assists both increase slightly.

He also takes on the responsibility of guiding the young forwards on the team. As prospects like Givani Smith begin to really take on minutes with the team, Gagner can fulfill that good ‘ol fashion veteran NHL player role model, much like what Nick Leddy is doing with Moritz Seider. Ideally, he’d pass on the key fourth line skills of shutdown defense and combing safe/conservative offensive play with a bit of efficiency.

Worst Case Scenario

Gagner starts to show his age and his offensive output (both statistically and points-wise) regresses. He hits his floor (which to be honest is not that low) and just becomes a below average fourth liner in the NHL, As the season chugs along, he’s one of the first vets swapped out of the lineup to make room for the kids. He ends his last season in Detroit as a consistent healthy scratch.

The Prediction Part

I think it’s a solid year for Gagner. Like I mentioned before, statistically, he was very solid last year and the goals and points will reflect that this year. He scored under his individual expected goals this past season, hurt by a slightly below average shooting percentage (7.95). This year, he either meets his ixG or exceeds it. The overall offense of the team should be improved, even on the blue line. With (hopefully) consistent line mates and the team generating more scoring chances, Gagner will get a better chance to illustrate his offensive skills – especially if Head Coach Jeff Blashill’s scheme starts to reflect the improvements the team has made in the offseason.

Probability of Becoming a Trade Deadline Target: Very Possible

I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s likely, but there it is very possible Sam Gagner ends up as trade bait at the deadline. He’s on a one year deal worth $850,00, great value for such an efficient player. Typically, teams acquire veteran depth in spite of poor statistical performances, trying to add “grit” to the team. With Gagner, not only do you get a forward with tons of experience in the league, you also get a cheap bottom-sixer that is actually favored by statistics. And with the prospects coming up the wing, it might makes sense for Steve Yzerman to flip Gagner for assets instead of letting him walk at the end of the year.

The Bottom Line

In a few years, Red Wings fans probably won’t be talking about Gagner, let alone his performance in the 2021-22 season. However, he does have a pretty important position in helping along Detroit’s offense. Gagner showed last year he was comfortable playing on just about any line he was put on; if he can help develop some chemistry between the new players (or prospects) and new lines, he’ll have done his job well. Also, keep an eye on trade deadline rumors with Gagner – he’s on a high-value contract, it frees up space on for rookies and it won’t have much of an effect on the future of the team.

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