Based on just about everything we know about the Edmonton Oilers’ management group, it’s safe to say the boys in the rafters of Rogers Place enjoy themselves some good ol’ nostalgia.
After all, the front office consists of names like Gretzky, Lowe and MacTavish and a seeming preference for players with grit and intangibles over actual talent. That’s part of the reason why the team has become one of the laughing stocks of the league, despite having its best player in Connor McDavid.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that, in the Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks finally found a taker for Sam Gagner. The veteran centre—and former Oilers first-round pick—has spent most of this season playing out a contract that still has another year on it on loan with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
Early today, the Canucks dealt Gagner to the Oilers for centre Ryan Spooner, a former 49-point scorer with the Boston Bruins who has steadily fallen from grace.
We’ll get to Spooner in a moment, but this represents the end of the Sam Gagner era for Vancouver. Gagner signed a three-year, $9.45 million deal in the summer of 2017 that many had their doubts about.
The veteran was coming off an inflated 50-point season with the Columbus Blue Jackets (he mostly played against inferior competition and logged a lot of minutes on the powerplay). He wasn’t able to replicate those numbers in his first campaign with Vancouver, putting up 31 points in 74 games.
He was then sent to the AHL at the start of the season, joining the Marlies to be closer to his family. He did perform decently in a seven-game stint with Vancouver, however, putting up three points in seven games and generally being a solid force on a Canucks team that was playing some of its worst hockey without Elias Pettersson in the lineup. He was good in the AHL as well, scoring 37 points in 43 games with the Marlies.
Meanwhile, Spooner became something of a punchline in Edmonton. It’s not necessarily his fault, but if you trace the lineage of former Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli’s decision to trade Jordan Eberle, he turned the former star into Spooner, who has not been particularly good.
In fact, the Oilers, who are absolutely starved for forward depth, sent Spooner down to waivers earlier this year. He has one year left on his deal, worth $4 million. However, the Oilers are retaining $900,000 of it, making the two cap hits more or less equal (Gagner will cost $3.15 million next year).
It’s somewhat of a typical deal for Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning, who has shown a love for reclamation projects. Spooner fits that bill, having had some success with the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers before flaming out this year with the Oilers. It was only last season that Spooner registered 16 points in 20 games for the Rangers after being traded at the deadline.
This year, he has three points in 25 games with the Oilers and six points in seven games with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
He’s also something of a nostalgia trip for Benning, who was part of the Bruins' management team that drafted Spooner in the second-round of the 2010 draft.
Benning is clearly rolling the dice that his down season is more on the Oilers than Spooner himself. That’s not a bad gamble to take. After all, the club has shown a tendency to mismanage pretty much anything they stumble across. Forward Drake Caggiula wasn’t working out with the team this year either, and has had some success since being traded to Chicago.
So the Oilers take another trip down memory lane with Gagner, who is still a useful player at the NHL level. And the Canucks take a shot at another project in Spooner, who may not have anything left at the top level but has a history that makes you think perhaps he can be useful in the right situation.
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