Sam Gagner struggled in consecutive years heading into 2016-17, but the adversity helped him get tougher and his belief he could still contribute has led to a bounce back season in Columbus.
There was a point during the 2015-16 season where it looked like Sam Gagner’s time in the NHL could be over. On a middling Philadelphia Flyers squad, Gagner was mired in the bottom-six, demoted to the AHL for a stint and finished the campaign having been in and out of the lineup while producing the worst point total of his big league career.
Worst of all, Gagner, 26, was supposed to be in his prime. The sixth-overall pick in the 2007 draft, Gagner had consistently been a 40-plus point player and everything looked as though it was coming together in the lockout-shortened year when he scored 14 goals and 38 points in 48 games for the Oilers. But having followed that up with a 37-point campaign in 2013-14, Gagner found himself out of Edmonton, the only NHL city he had known, and on his way to Arizona come 2014-15.
Gagner’s points per game dropped for the second-straight season during his year with the Coyotes, and when he was shipped to Philadelphia ahead of the 2015-16 season, it was seen as another chance at a fresh start. Instead, it was one of the most difficult seasons of his career.
“It’s always hard to go through those struggles,” Gagner said of the consecutive down years in Arizona and Philadelphia. “But I truly believe that if you handle them the right way, the adversity can help shape you and help make you stronger. I feel like coming into this year I’m a lot stronger mentally than I maybe have been in the past.”
And if mental strength has been the biggest change in Gagner’s game, the 27-year-old might want to think about entering his brain into a strongman competition because the changes in Gagner’s play — and, most notably, his production — have been remarkable.
Entering the off-season as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, he landed a one-year, show-me deal with the Blue Jackets. It pays $650,000, which is more than $4 million less than Gagner had earned during the 2015-16 campaign. Gagner couldn’t care less about that, though, because he only wanted the shot at showing his game hadn’t gone anywhere.
“I still felt like I had a lot to give as a player and if I was able to get some opportunity, that I could help a team be successful,” Gagner said. “I think coming into Columbus, I got the chance to do that, I’m playing some really important power play minutes and in a lot of different situations. It’s definitely helped me add another level to my game, and it’s been a good fit.”
Good fit? There’s an understatement. The Blue Jackets, looking for someone to produce in the bottom-six and possibly push some of the youngsters to earn their place in the top-six, called on Gagner and he’s been dynamite. Through 45 games, his 14 goals and 33 points have him on pace for the best offensive season of his career. It’s been eye-opening for those thinking Gagner’s time as a productive player int he NHL was over. Least surprised of anyone, though, is Gagner, who said he expected this of himself and knew he put the work in to make it a reality.
“I feel confident in my game,” Gagner continued. “Obviously there are ebbs and flows during a season in terms of offense and whether the puck goes in the net or not, but it’s just a matter of staying consistent with it and having a proper mindset. A lot of the struggles in the past help you with that mindset.”
Gagner’s focus is shifting as the season progresses, however. While maintaining consistency in his game, he wants to help the Blue Jackets take the next step forward. For the organization, that's going to mean not just a playoff appearance, but actually winning a round. And a Blue Jackets team that went on an unthinkable 16-game win streak has designs on a deep run.
Going on a month-long winning streak has no bearing on playoff success, to be sure, and there has been bumps in the road since Columbus’ win streak ended. Though if there’s anyone familiar with turning a tough time into a period of success, it’s Gagner.
“You learn a lot about your team in a streak like that, and I think all that pressure that comes on you when you start to build up those wins, that only helps you come playoff time,” Gagner said. “I think it was a good thing for us, and now you go through a little adversity and fight your way through it. It’s all part of an 82-game schedule, and you learn from everything.”
In applications to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, the CHL describes itself as "professional." That might prove crucial in deciding if a class-action lawsuit can proceed.
When the Canadian Hockey League tries to convince the courts that its players are amateur athletes and not paid professionals, and therefore don’t deserve minimum wage, it may want to consult its own application for trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
First, the news. None of this will be decided for another couple of weeks, Feb. 7 to be exact. That’s the day a Calgary judge will make a couple of crucial decisions. The first one will be whether the CHL will be granted a sealing order over all financial records, some of which the CHL made public media last week. The hearing for that was supposed to be held Tuesday, but has been pushed to Feb. 7, the same day the judge will decided if the plaintiffs have grounds to proceed with a class-action lawsuit.
Now, the context. The crucial question here is whether junior hockey players are amateurs or pros. Part of that answer might be contained in the CHL’s trademark application to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, a document that is being used as part of another lawsuit in which the CHL is involved involving a trademark issue. The trademark was last renewed in 2014.
Here’s a list of all the goods to which the CHL applied to be able to trademark: Coffee mugs, shot glasses, drinking glasses, flat glass, water bottles, bubble gum, bubble gum cards, trading cards, hockey cards, buttons, caps, hats, gloves, hockey pucks, sponge pucks, picture pucks, jackets, mitts, pennants, scarves, shirts, jerseys, sleep wear, stickers, bumper stickers, toques, vests, running shoes, jean shirts, t-shirts, neon t-shirts, shirts, muscle shirts, crew neck shirts, cut off sleeve shirts, sweat pants, sweat shorts, bunny jackets, v-neck sweaters, shorts, hockey t-shirts, sweaters, pants, jackets, tank tops, badges, sew-on crests, stick-on crests, hockey sticks, goalie sticks, hockey uniforms, hockey jerseys, hockey pants, hockey gloves, socks, dolls, toy figures, cardboard collector board, board games, opera glasses (binoculars), sunglasses, paper weight holders, cartoon comic books, magazines, greeting cards, autograph sets, lithographs, posters, sports bags, wallets, rod hockey games, towels, adhesive bandages, first aid kits, bulletin boards, calculators, clocks, lamp shades, calendars, embroidered picture frames, magnets, neck warmers, oil dip stick cleaners, playing cards, stained glass window ornaments, sun visor radios, sweat bands, vinyl stickers, wood plaques, wristbands, infants’ and children’s short sets, leisure suits, shots, sweat shirts, turtlenecks, belts, buckles, coasters, ear muffs, flags, inexpensive jewelry, namely lapel pins, stick pins, pendants, charms, earrings, rings, tie racks, cuff links, leather bracelets, key fobs/key chains, foam fingers, noise makers, place mats, towels, watches, phone cards, hip pouches, knapsacks, license plate frames, miniature bells, money clips, spoons, pens, pencils, bottle cap openers, soap (namely deodorant soap, skin soap, toilet soap and liquid soaps for hand, face and body), game of hockey played with cards, radio earphones, videos, video games, arcade and pinball machines, snack foods (namely ice cream, hot dogs, soft drinks, hamburgers, candy and popcorn).
Wow, that’s thorough. Because you never know when every man in the world is going to lose his mind and begin using leisure suits as a fashion statement. As thorough as it was, though, under the Services portion of the application, the CHL is responsible for, “(1) Operation of a hockey league and entertainment services through participation in professional and amateur ice hockey contests, and promotion and benefit thereof…”
Hmmm. Professional and amateur ice hockey contests? Not exactly sure what that means, but you’d have to think the word professional gives you an idea of what the CHL thinks of its players. I mean, the word is right there, isn’t it? Professionals are not amateurs.
Another area that would go a long way to making a distinction would be whether or not the players receive earning statements such as T4 slips. Well, there’s where the picture gets murky. It seems players did receive them in the past, but in the past few years the standard player contract has been altered to reflect that players are being “reimbursed” or paid an “allowance” to offset their expenses of playing junior hockey. But according to one agent who is also a lawyer, the semantics might not matter.
“This isn’t the first time the issue has been raised,” said Anton Thun, who has represented OHL players for about 25 years. “The definition is something that is relevant, but I would say it would go by however it would be defined by the Employee Standards Act. And part of the problem is, the employment laws might be different if you play for the Erie Otters or the Flint Firebirds than they would be if you play in Ontario.”
The good thing is, there’s only two more weeks of sleeps before we might start getting some answers to these questions.
Jake Allen’s recent struggles could have Blues GM Doug Armstrong scouring the trade market for help in goal as the post-season approaches. Meanwhile, trade talk surrounds the Flyers and Coyotes.
St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen's recent performance has left much to be desired. After a strong effort through the opening two months of the season, the 26-year-old's play declined through December and into January.
After reeling off eight straight wins from Nov. 15 to Dec. 6, Allen has only four victories his last 13 starts. He had a save percentage below .900 in eight of those games and was pulled early in his last two starts.
Appearing on Montreal's TSN 690 last Thursday, NHL insider Bob McKenzie said the Blues are worried about Allen's decline this season. He thinks they could keep an eye on the trade market for a goalie, though they must be careful over what they afford in dollars and return.
In late-December, McKenzie's colleague Darren Dreger suggested the Blues should consider acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury carries a no-movement clause and the Penguins must move him in order to protect Matt Murray in the expansion draft. If Allen fails to snap out of his current funk and Fleury's willing to waive his clause, perhaps Blues GM Doug Armstrong might come calling.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop could be another option. The 30-year-old began his NHL career with the Blues. He's eligible for UFA status in July and isn't expected to be re-signed by the Lightning.
The Bolts need a top-four defenseman and the Blues have a pending UFA blueliner in Kevin Shattenkirk. While that seems like a perfect fit for both clubs, Armstrong appears in no hurry to move Shattenkirk. He'll likely remain patient with Allen for the time being, but could consider other options if the netminder fails to improve.
CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio reports Flyers GM Ron Hextall said he'll only swing a deal if it'll significantly help the club. Given the Flyers poor performance of late, Panaccio feels a trade might be Hextall's only option to improve things.
Finding a suitable deal won't be easy. Panaccio acknowledges Hextall carries “only a few marketable commodities” that might fetch a good return. Rival GMs could have more interest in the Flyers' crop of promising young defensemen.
Hextall won't part with established young blueliners Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Panaccio suggests prospects Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Phillipe Myers have potential to become franchise defensemen. Hextall might not be keen to part with any of them, but it might be necessary if one or two could fetch a return that helps right the Flyers' sinking ship.
The Colorado Avalanche are in the market for good young defensemen and reportedly entertaining offers for left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Matt Duchene. The Flyers limited salary-cap space, however, would complicate things.
DESPITE DOWN YEAR, DOAN COULD DRAW INTEREST
The ongoing struggles of the Arizona Coyotes makes the club a frequent topic for media trade chatter. Most of the speculation concerns center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Michael Stone. Both are eligible for unrestricted free agency in July and could be moved by the March 1 trade deadline.
In recent years, right wing Shane Doan usually surfaced in the rumor mill, though the conjecture was always quickly quelled by Doan or Coyotes management. This year, however, might be different.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Coyotes might consider moving Doan before the deadline. He believes if management approaches the 40-year-old with an opportunity to play for a winner, he might consider waiving his no-movement clause. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch doubts Doan's movement clause will prevent some rival clubs from making inquiries. He claims the San Jose Sharks attempted to land the veteran forward over the last two years.
With only 12 points in 42 games, the aging Doan is on pace for 24 points, his lowest output in a non-lockout season since his 22-point campaign in 1998-99. Still, the 6-foot-1, 223-pound winger has good size, years of experience and leadership ability. He also netted 28 goals and 47 points last season, so perhaps he might regain his scoring touch on a deeper club.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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