When one door closes, another one apparently gets kicked open: Welcome to the desert, Sam Gagner. The Arizona Coyotes certainly had a void to fill at the center spot once they bought out the remainder of Mike Ribeiro’s contract three days ago, but it did not take long for GM Don Maloney to figure it out. The Coyotes traded a sixth round draft pick for center Sam Gagner and forward B.J. Crombeen, quickly replacing the hole left behind by Ribeiro. However, the deal made by Maloney in order to get these players might be the most surprising – and best – part about it.
When Don Maloney and the team decided after just one year to buy out the rest of top-line center Mike Ribeiro’s four-year contract, fans were left confused as to what possibly could have gone so wrong that the team was willing to eat an extra $2 million a year just to say goodbye to him. Citing “behavioral problems” that the team could just not move past, the confusion just got worse. The next step that the team was going to take would greatly determine what route Maloney and the Coyotes were going to go: Was the team officially now in rebuilding mode? With so many roster holes on the front end and only $10 million in spending room left, how could the Coyotes possibly put a competitive team on the ice next season? Who could the Coyotes even get to fill that many holes for so little money? Those questions were all answered with this one move by Maloney on Sunday.
Early Sunday morning, the Edmonton Oilers talked to Maloney about a possible trade for 24-year-old center, Sam Gagner, stating that they would even retain some of his salary. By Sunday afternoon, the Oilers reported to Maloney that they already had an agreement to trade him to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In response, Maloney said he would work his way “in the middle of the deal”- and work he did. Tampa was reportedly going to buy out the rest of Gagner’s contract, but instead they sent him and B.J. Crombeen to the Coyotes, inevitably saving the Lightning more money in the long run.
Sam Gagner has two-years left on his contract and is set to be getting paid $5 million annually. Tampa though, will be claiming a third of that contract, roughly $1.655 per year. Now the annual $1.94 million eaten up by Mike Ribeiro’s contract does not look as bad.
After having one of the best years of his career, Gagner followed it up last year by having arguably the worst one. In the shortened 2012-13 season, Gagner was able to nab 39 total points in 48 games played (GP), a 0.79 points/game. Last season, he could only muster 37 total points in 67 GP. His 10 goals, 37 points and minus-29 plus/minus ratio last year were all career-lows. However, Gagner will be moving from an offensive system in Edmonton that is a very aggressive, up-and-down, two-man pressure system, relying heavily on their young and talented forwards to create turnovers and make big plays. In Arizona, the Coyotes play at a much different pace, relying more heavily on their defensemen and team-style of play on offense.
Gagner will be coming into this season with much less pressure to be a big playmaker and more encouraged to be patient playmaker. Last season, the Coyotes had eight players with 40-plus points, which included two defensemen. The playmaking ability of Gagner would definitely be a plus to the team, but his intelligence in being able to play in a defensive system is of the up most importance. Maloney has touted Gagner as an intelligent player who also has the “character and skill (the Coyotes) were looking for.” He also stated that “(the Coyotes) believe he has further growth in his game,” which – at only 24-years of age and 295 total points – is a completely legitimate statement.
Also picked up in the trade is big B.J. Crombeen. Crombeen’s acquisition more than likely signals the end of enforcer and fan-favorite, Paul Bissonette. In his first two seasons with the Coyotes, Bissonnette earned a spot on the roster as a grinder and enforcer on the team. Through that time, he averaged 43 games played with 100 hits and 94 penalties in minutes. Over the past few seasons though, his fights, hits and total penalties in minutes decreased by a substantial amount. Last season, playing in 39 games, “Biz” was only able to get 53 penalty minutes and 51 hits, but he did get a career-high in total points with eight. B.J. Crombeen, who played in Dallas with Dave Tippett before, understands the system and should fill the role being possibly vacated by Bissonnette nicely.
With this one move, GM Don Maloney and the Arizona Coyotes were able to kill two birds with one stone. They were able to pick up a center to fill the role that was supposed to be Mike Ribeiro’s and picked up a true fourth line grinder and enforcer in Crombeen. Maloney will be the first to tell fans that he made a mistake with the signing of Ribeiro and no one truly knows how well Gagner will do in the Coyotes system, but to see him make the same mistake twice in two years would be hard to imagine. Arizona clearly sees something special in the 24-year-old, and they can get special results from the six-year vet next year, do not expect the Coyotes to be sitting and watching the playoffs from the comfort of their own homes for a third straight season.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles