Gagner never given honest chance with Flyers

When the Philadelphia Flyers made the Sam Gagner trade this summer, it was always more about what was going out than what was coming in. The Flyers sent Niklas Grossmann and Chris Pronger to Arizona, and taking Gagner back was the price of doing business.

For a few days it was not clear what the Flyers were going to do with Gagner. Buying him out was always on the table, before the Flyers ultimately decided to keep him. So while the Flyers never really had a great desire to add Gagner, there was some calculus that justified keeping him around.

Gagner brings some assets to the Flyers. He's got high-end skill and speed, two things the Flyers forward group is short on. He can also be pretty good on the power play, and I thought he could have been a candidate to play the Claude Giroux role on the halfboards of the second power play unit.

Gagner didn't make much of a first impression on coach Dave Hakstol. A mediocre preseason performance led to Gagner being a healthy scratch to start the season. Fortunately for Gagner, he got a chance a few games later, and played pretty well. Once in the lineup, Gagner showed flashes of his skill and speed and scored four points in his first five games as a Flyer.

The big problem for Gagner is that he has hasn't scored a point since October. He went on a 10-game pointless streak, before sustaining a concussion.  Once he recovered from the injury, he has been a healthy scratch.

A cumulative stat line of five points in 18 games is disappointing for Gagner, although his +1 rating still makes him one of only four Flyers forwards on the positive side of plus-minus. Additionally he has been a generally average performer by Corsi metrics.

Should Gagner have done more? It's hard to say. His usage on the ice shows the coaching staff never placed much trust in Gagner. Here's his game log as a Flyer:


The general theme of these games is a player buried on the fourth line. He saw some early action with top-9 players, but since then it's clearly fourth line duty with guys like Vincent Lecavalier, Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier.

Also notable is the names absent from the list. There's not a single game with either Claude Giroux or Jake Voracek. In fact, of all the players on the Flyers roster, Gagner has spent the second-fewest time on ice with Giroux. It's not a recipe for maximizing utility of skill on the ice when you keep an offensive player like Gagner away from your other top offensive players.

In the end a player must always play with the cards dealt to him, but the deck must feel stacked against Gagner to succeed as a Flyer.  He could hardly be expected to produce much offense playing fourth line minutes with lineup outcasts like Lecavalier or AHL call-ups like Leier. Gagner's play never fell apart, but it didn't overcome either.

Now Gagner finds himself in the AHL. Even there, he made his debut last night on the third line. I suspect the Flyers would probably prefer to send down R.J. Umberger, who is on a 39-game goalless streak, or Lecavalier, but both players have no-movement clauses. Gagner is clearly a victim of the cap game in today's NHL, but he will be stuck in the AHL until there's a shakeup in the Flyers lineup such as a trade. That is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

It would've taken something special from Gagner to assert himself into the Philadelphia Flyers long-term plans. He was taken on as a spare part, but there was a glimmer of potential for positive results. Halfway through the season, that hope appears extinguished, but truthfully it was never allowed a chance to blossom.

Marc Naples is a contributor to Flyerdelphia and Sports Talk Philly. Follow him on Twitter@SuperScrub47.

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