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Free Agent Spotlight: Sam Gagner could be the Hurricanes’ secondary scoring solution

With the potential to lose Lee Stempniak to Vegas, would Gagner be a natural replacement?

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes have already bolstered one of their three main needs this offseason with the acquisition of Scott Darling. The remaining two needs are a third-pairing defenseman and more offensive help. For the Canes to boost their offense, they either must make a trade or explore the second tier of free agents.

Enter Sam Gagner.

Gagner has never been an over-the-top elite scoring forward, but he has consistently performed in the 40-50 point range, outside of his forgettable stint with the Flyers in 2015-2016. While he may not replace the leadership of Lee Stempniak, should he head elsewhere this summer, Gagner would replace the scoring. Is he a serious option for the Canes to pursue?

Tale of the Tape

  • Age: 27
  • 2016-2017 season: 18 goals, 32 assists, 50 points in 81 games
  • Career (EDM, ARI, PHI, CBJ): 142 goals, 260 assists, 402 points in 696 games
  • 2016-2017 Advanced Stats: 54.1% Corsi for, 100.8 PDO, 51.2% zone starts, 59.9% goals for
  • 2016-2017 Salary: $650,000
  • Contract ending: 1 year, $650,000, signed August 1st, 2016

Making the Case

The 6th overall pick in 2007 has had an up and down career, only reaching 50 points one time. However, that one time was this past season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Heading into last season Gagner was at a career low after being ousted from Philadelphia, and had to wait for anyone to show an interest in him. But the Jackets took a shot and signed him to a cheap one-year deal — and they sure got their money’s worth!

Gagner put up a career high point total, and was a pivotal part in helping the Blue Jackets become one of the league’s best teams. “I put him at wing and he took off,” said Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella. “We’ve tried to put him in offensive situations and he has come through. He has surprised me how well (he plays) away from the puck, too.”

The Hurricanes need point producing players. It is entirely possible that the team will lose Stempniak to the expansion draft. So how can the Canes replace those 40 points? Gagner would be a quality replacement with a higher upside who can be brought in on a similar or decent contract.

On the Other Hand...

Going in to last season Gagner was a major question mark, to the point that nobody was willing to take a chance on him until training camp was about to begin. He has a miserable year in Philly and his one season in Arizona was also rather unremarkable. So the question has to be posed: Did Gagner really find his old game, or did the supporting cast in Columbus make him look much better than he was?

Another downside is the fact that he is no longer a serviceable center. The Canes need a top-three center to take some load off of Victor Rask and Jordan Staal. While Gagner can fill in at, center similar to how Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen did this past season, his 47.5% face off percentage is less than ideal.

It is also possible that Gagner could seek a hefty raise and contract length after taking such an extreme pay cut last season. Will the Hurricanes be willing to fork up the money to pay someone who may or may not produce 45 points?

The Verdict

Gagner’s sudden revitalization last season can be looked at as a fluke or a guy on a comeback mission. Losing Stempniak would leave a giant hole in the Hurricanes’ lineup. While the Canes may be better suited to make a run for a player like Justin Williams, should the aforementioned demand too much on the open market, Sam Gagner would be a good alternative. He will certainly not be the one guy who puts the team over the top, but he would be a good filler for the void Stempniak’s potential departure would create.