Oilers sign Gagner before arbitration

The Oilers signed centre Sam Gagner before going to arbitration on Friday, July 20, 2012. (David...

The Oilers signed centre Sam Gagner before going to arbitration on Friday, July 20, 2012. (David Bloom/QMI Agency/Files)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:26 AM ET

EDMONTON - Itís not a fun process listening to an employer state their case against you, trying to convince an independent arbitrator youíre not worth the money.

Yet Sam Gagner was ready to go through it Friday as he and the Edmonton Oilers were to square off in a salary arbitration hearing.

Fortunately for both sides, it didn't come to that.

ďIt was close,Ē said Gagner, who avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $3.2-million deal. ďWe were in the hotel where the arbitration meeting was going to take place. We were pretty much going in when we came to an agreement. We came to a deal early (Friday) morning.Ē

Gagner, 22, had rejected the Oilers qualifying offer and decided to roll the dice in arbitration.

The London, Ont., product made $2.275-million last season, going on to score 18 goals and adding 19 assists for 47 points in 75 games.

That included a record, eight-point game against the Chicago Blackhawks in February.

ďI kind of knew to a certain extent what to expect in arbitration,Ē Gagner said. ďMy dad (Dave) was pretty close to arbitration a couple of times, but he never had to go through with it. Iíve heard from different people a little bit what it was about, so I was kind of ready for it.

ďI thought there was a possibility that we would have to go. I was prepared for it even though itís something you never want to do. Itís something you have to prepare mentally for, but Iím glad it didnít come to that.Ē

The Oilers have not gone to arbitration since they and Jason Smith couldnít come to terms on a deal in 2002.

On a few occasions since, they practically had a foot in the hearing room when a deal was hammered out.

In Gagnerís case, both sides agreed a one-year contract was the best option at this point.

ďFor me, itís good, itís just another opportunity to prove myself and to grow with the team,Ē Gagner said. ďObviously we have a lot of great young talent and weíre starting to improve as a group together and itís something you want to be a part of. To be locked up for another year is a chance for me to continue to grow as a player. It should be a fun year.Ē

This is Gagnerís third contract with the Oilers since being selected sixth overall by the club in 2007.

The term lengths resemble a Cape Canaveral countdown going from three, to two, to one. He'll remain a restricted free agent at the end of next season, meaning the two sides could go through the process again.

ďYouíre always looking for security, but I think the way it worked out, it worked for both sides,Ē Gagner said. ďItís a chance for both of us to go through the year and gauge where weíre at. Itís exciting times.

ďI donít worry too much about the length of the contract, Iíve never really worried about contract situations until youíre actually in negotiations. When Iím playing I just concentrate in trying to improve as a player, regardless if Iím locked up for one year or Iím locked up for 10. Itís another opportunity for me to grow as a player and a person.Ē

Since arriving in Edmonton, Gagner has grown up in the public eye of Oilers fans.

He set the bar high by collecting 49 points in his rookie season.

At the time he was anointed the future of the franchise, which was going through transition after making it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

However, in his four subsequent seasons with the Oilers, Gagner has failed to match his rookie totals.

ďWhen you look back at my first year, a lot of things went right for me,Ē Gagner said. ďI was pretty fortunate to be a great situation where I got an opportunity to play a lot. I got pretty lucky as well.

ďI obviously think Iím capable of getting beyond those numbers, I just have to make sure everything comes together at the right time. I have to continue to grow and be ready for the opportunity presented to me. With my skill level, I know itís something that Iím capable of doing it and itís just a matter of putting it all together.Ē

Considering how long heís been with the club, itís easy to forget how young Gagner really is, just nine months older than Jordan Eberle.

Heís interested in staying with the Oilers beyond next season and could potentially hit the jackpot by simply getting the puck to Eberle, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Ales Hemsky next season.

ďItís a really exciting time for this team, thatís what made me so happy to get the deal done and be signed on for another year,Ē Gagner said. ďItís an exciting time for us as players. Obviously the last few years have not gone the way we would have liked, but the upside of that, is that weíve been able to draft high and bring in a lot of young skill. I think itís time to turn around now and make a push towards getting in the playoffs. Iím looking forward to getting things started.Ē

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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