Sam Gagner is growing weary of having to peer through a face mask that’s still protecting his fractured jaw. But seeing himself centring the fourth line in Vancouver undoubtedly was even harder on the eyes — not only his, but also those of owner Daryl Katz, who’s paying him $4.4 million. That decision was made by coach Dallas Eakins, who hasn’t liked Gagner’s defensive report card. He has 11 points in 21 games — roughly his normal production of a point every two games — but he’s minus 12, making too many mistakes when he doesn’t have the puck. While Eakins is one of his biggest boosters — it’s hard not to like a guy who bleeds orange and blue after seven years with the organization — the coach had Gagner playing with tough guy Luke Gazdic and hard worker Ryan Jones during the humbling 4-0 loss Friday night to the Canucks. Mark Arcobello played second line with Ales Hemsky and Taylor Hall. Boyd Gordon, just back from rehabbing a sore shoulder, was at centre with Nail Yakupov (only 12:45) and Jesse Joensuu on a th ird unit. It may only be temporary for Gagner, who played 13:58, his lowest ice-time this season against the Canucks. He might be in a different spot against the Ducks on Sunday after being one of the few good players in Vancouver, but all the NHL pro scouts at the lopsided Canucks win duly jotted down the line combos. “I’m not worried about Sam; he’s a character guy, he’ll rebound,” said Eakins, who talked to Gagner before the game to let him know his reasoning for the line shuffle. “This was partly Sam’s play (minus 4) and partly the play of (Mark) Arcobello and Nuge (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) in the game against Boston (on Thursday). Sam knows he has to do some things better.” For his part, Gagner isn’t ducking his role. “I want to be a first-line player. I’ve had spurts where I’ve been good, but I have to find it consistently. I have to play hard and be responsible,” he said. “I’m trying to get better defensively. I think it’s a case of some misreads here and there and it’s fixable.” He’s only had four games where he’s been a plus player. Part of that is a reflection of the team, but Eakins has seen slippage. He isn’t concerned with Gagner’s playmaking, but his all-around game.
Oilers’ Sam Gagner painfully aware he has to lift his game
Edmonton Journal | Dec 15