July 20, 2012
Oilers sign Gagner before arbitration
By DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - It’s not a fun process listening to an employer state their case against you, trying to convince an independent arbitrator you’re 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.
“It was close,” said Gagner, who avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $3.2-million deal. “We 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.”
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.
“I kind of knew to a certain extent what to expect in arbitration,” Gagner said. “My dad (Dave) was pretty close to arbitration a couple of times, but he never had to go through with it. I’ve heard from different people a little bit what it was about, so I was kind of ready for it.
“I thought there was a possibility that we would have to go. I was prepared for it even though it’s something you never want to do. It’s something you have to prepare mentally for, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that.”
The Oilers have not gone to arbitration since they and Jason Smith couldn’t 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 Gagner’s case, both sides agreed a one-year contract was the best option at this point.
“For me, it’s good, it’s just another opportunity to prove myself and to grow with the team,” Gagner said. “Obviously we have a lot of great young talent and we’re starting to improve as a group together and it’s 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.”
This is Gagner’s 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.
“You’re always looking for security, but I think the way it worked out, it worked for both sides,” Gagner said. “It’s a chance for both of us to go through the year and gauge where we’re at. It’s exciting times.
“I don’t worry too much about the length of the contract, I’ve never really worried about contract situations until you’re actually in negotiations. When I’m playing I just concentrate in trying to improve as a player, regardless if I’m locked up for one year or I’m locked up for 10. It’s another opportunity for me to grow as a player and a person.”
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.
“When you look back at my first year, a lot of things went right for me,” Gagner said. “I was pretty fortunate to be a great situation where I got an opportunity to play a lot. I got pretty lucky as well.
“I obviously think I’m 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 it’s something that I’m capable of doing it and it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Considering how long he’s been with the club, it’s easy to forget how young Gagner really is, just nine months older than Jordan Eberle.
He’s 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.
“It’s a really exciting time for this team, that’s what made me so happy to get the deal done and be signed on for another year,” Gagner said. “It’s 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 we’ve been able to draft high and bring in a lot of young skill. I think it’s time to turn around now and make a push towards getting in the playoffs. I’m looking forward to getting things started.”