Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Will Sam Gagner Suit Up For Team Canada?

As both a major fan of Team Canada and of the Oilers, the answer to this question holds a particular interest to me. Sam Gagner caught my eye approximately a year ago when I attended a Team Canada World Junior tryout camp down at Father David Bauer arena. I thought that intrasquad game was a classic 'saw him good' moment for Gagner, and although he wasn't spectacular in the actual World Junior Championship, I felt he didn't look out of place, especially considering his young age.

He completed a dominating year with the Knights (playing with Chicago sensation Patrick Kane) scoring more than 2 points a game. He continued his international play with Canada playing in the 'Summit Series,' an 8 game showcase of Canadian Hockey dominance in the U-20 age group. Gagner was named tournament MVP.

It's that time of year again and the list of players invited to the Team Canada camp has come out. It's no suprise that all of Staal and Toews will not be playing for the team, but to me it's also no suprise that a decision has not yet been made on Sam Gagner. I don't think it is because the Oilers don't believe Gagner isn't contributing and so they're considering letting him get some confidence at a lower lever - rather I believe it is because the Edmonton Oilers are very strong believers in the value of World Junior Championship experience and are considering letting Gagner go despite the value he has in helping the team win.

Just a quick list of the reasons Edmonton won't send him:

1. He's already played in two international tournaments for Team Canada, and won in both. Although this year he'll be an undisputed leader and a player who is heavily relied upon in the same vein as Jonathan Toews last year, what does Gagner have to gain?

2. There's always the possibility that Gagner gets hurt during the tournament, I'm sure the team is cognizant of that fact.

3. There's no one to replace him on the big club. Although it seems the Oilers have a couple guys in their back pocket like Thoresen or Schremp, a couple of injuries and the Oilers may be forced to keep Gagner around.

4. He's making too much of an on ice contribution to let him go for any length of time. Although he statistically speaking has 0 GWG, he has four in the shootout already, and he has undoubtedly contributed to Edmonton's 7-1 shootout record. And that's ignoring his in game play, in which he's one of the ESPPM rookie leaders in the NHL.

Now a quick list of the reasons Edmonton will send Gagner:

1. What does Sam Gagner have to gain from winning? Learning how to be a leader on a winner. Edmonton has historically liked guys that have played for Team Canada; Stoll went twice, winning a bronze and silver and was named a Captain in 2002. Raffi Torres and Andrew Cogliano won a bronze and two golds respectively. Mathieu Garon played behind Roberto Luongo on a team with Eric Brewer. This list doesn't even include the guys that Edmonton has sent over to play in the World Championships; Roloson, Horcoff (x2), Staios (x2). And this list doesnt even include Ryan Smyth!

2. Edmonton might have extra bodies pretty soon. With Pisani having already returned, and Moreau coming in the next few weeks, a couple of regulars could be seeing a lot less ice time. Sure he may not be the most likely candidate (sorry Zach) but Gagner has not been strong defensively. One never knows.

As we can see, the not going list heavily outweighs the going list. MacT's thoughts on the subject are not encouraging from the perspective of a team Canada fan. However, I think the fact that Lowe is still considering the option, unlike his counterparts in Chicago, Pitsburgh, Boston and Minnesota shows just how much stock he puts in reason number one for Sam Gagner's participation. I'll end on a quote from Kevin Lowe, the man in charge of the decision.

"There's no right or wrong decision, it's what's best for the player and you have to factor in many's how his confidence is, no matter how many minutes (a game) he's playing. The bottom line for us is whether we feel we can afford to lose him and, secondly, is it good for his development? If he went to the juniors, I know he'd play a lot based on the summer (junior tournament). But (Sunday) night in Anaheim in a game where a lot of guys were good, he made some of our best plays. Not just offensively producing, he makes a lot of subtle plays that experienced guys make." - Kevin Lowe on Sam Gagner

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