As I posted on David Staple's Cult of Hockey Blog, here is my opinion on Gagner's struggles and what MacTavish should do about it.
There is all this talk about Sam Gagner not being worried about not getting any goals or not playing up to expectations. All this talk about him being composed and mature about it.
All the while this Peckham fellow seems to be performing above expectations.
You know what I think? I think Gagner should be worried. Because the poster boy is human too and if I were Craig MacTavish, all these goal-causing errors would mean simply two things:
1) Bench his ass for a couple of games.
2) Send him to Springfield for a week.
There's a time to tolerate sloppy play from your future franchise player, but there's a time to pull a Mike Keenan and send the message "if you still plan on being the future franchise player you better play like it."
It's not only Gagner's job to lose right now, it's also MacT's. And he should do something about it.
I think it's pretty simple. There's always talk about whether the kid line should stay together and Gagner is the weakest link right now. Nilsson and Cogliano are versatile enough to play different roles and Gagner's play so far has not shown that he is even capable of switching on either his offensive or defensive awareness.
Composure? Maturity? I'll believe it when it shows up on the ice, not in the interview.
I propose these changes:
Let's see how the team plays with the kid line split up and with both energy guys MacIntyre and Stortini split up.
As the topic on topic on the Oil blogosphere regarding the need for a 3rd line C has been exhausted, I won't go into the details. On this list of potential Oilers is Scott Nichol, Mark Smith, Bryan Smolinski, Todd Marchant, Samuel Pahlsson, John Madden, Bobby Holik, among others who are not officially tied to the organization but would do the job amiably.
Sending Gagner down to Springfield for the weekend would mean bringing up a good faceoff man. I know O'Marra was pretty invisible for most of the September training camp but a defensive 3rd line centerman isn't supposed to be flashy - he's supposed to win draws and dump and chase. I think we should get the right-handed O'Marra come up for a week and see what he can do with his 1 million salary in the big leagues.
If O'Marra were recalled or a 3rd line C were signed, I'd have to change the potential lineup to:
Whatever the case, the Oilers need guys who play with Hemsky and Nilsson to shoot more, because they are built like passers. That means Horcoff, Penner, Cogliano, or potentially Brodziak need to start firing every pass they see in the high slot and hoping for a rebound.
more assists = more goals
more points = more confidence = shoot more = more goals
And we've already seen how this works beautifully with Hemsky so lets try it with Nilsson too.
It's interesting that the Phoenix Coyotes acquired Alexander Nikulin, considering they are already filled to the brim with young talent. Gretzky definitely believes in the play 'em while they're young theory, and has followed through with the Turrises Porters and Muellers.
But this is interesting not because of the young talent they have put onto the ice so much as the young talent that they couldn't. This is because Phoenix had to trade Blake Wheeler, a guy who couldn't crack the depth chart in Phoenix but is now finding success after demanding a trade out of Phoenix to go to Boston.
Unless it's some sort of organizational problem in Phoenix, I don't see why Wheeler would've wanted to leave except for not figuring into the long-term math in Phoenix in terms of who was next up to fill the roster spots. He took less money to go to Boston and obviously wanted out badly.
What does that mean for the disgruntled Alexander Nikulin. Is he a different case? I hear he refused to report to the Ottawa Senator's AHL farm team, which makes him a tough nut to crack himself. I have a feeling he will demand another trade, making him a blacklister in terms of NHL circles, but who knows, maybe he'll come around with a little coaxing from the Great One.
Perhaps Phoenix or Boston want Mikhnov because we shouldn't let an asset go to waste. He's a guy who refuses to come over and start in the AHL because his KHL contract is proof to him it's not worth it to come over, make less cash, and not be guaranteed the NHL roster spot he didn't play well enough to keep.
Who knows, Phoenix has had some success with those kinds of players and same with Boston. I say trade Mikhnov and his buddy Bumagin to Phoenix and maybe we can pick up Steven Reinprecht to come play on our 3rd line.