Philadelphia Flyers: Sam Gagner Looks Like He Enjoys Playing Hockey Again

Mar 21, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Sam Gagner (89) celebrates his goal during the third period against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center. Philadelphia Flyers won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Not much was expected of Sam Gagner, the former first round pick, when the Philadelphia Flyers traded for him back in June. A trade that many experts deemed a coup by Ron Hextall back when it was completed in June.

Sam has persevered, even after early struggles and injuries marred his first half with his new team, hitting his stride and has contributed to the Flyers finding themselves oh so close to a playoff berth.

The Trade

The Flyers got Sam Gagner and a conditional draft pick (a 4th rounder in 2016 or a 3rd rounder in 2017) for the ghost of Chris Pronger and the sentient rock known as Nicklas Grossmann, whom the Flyers became responsible for only $500,000 of his 3.5 million dollar cap hit.

LOL. Ron Hextall is savage.

The Struggle

The Coyotes were so fed up with Sam Gagner the team was planning to buy him out if they didn’t find a trade partner. Lucky for Sam, the Flyers were in need of two things, scoring depth and skill players. Gagner fit the bill and the Flyers were able to create cap space in the process. A win-win.

Sam’s time in Philadelphia has not exactly been one of sweet redemption. He’s been a regular scratch of Dave Hakstol’s, he’s suffered a concussion that kept him out for almost two weeks, and he had a lengthy stretch playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Flyers’ minor league affiliate, after clearing waivers.

Gagner’s stint with the Phantoms though seems to have been something of a wake-up call for the 25-year old, saying his stint with them was,

“an opportunity to evolve my game. I wasn’t playing when I was up there, and when I got down there I got a chance to play a lot of minutes. The last two weekends, we had three games in three nights, so you get in pretty good shape pretty quick. I feel my timing got better and better and my game got better and better.” – as told to Sam Carchidi

The Call-Up

Sam Gagner was called back up to the big club to replace an injured Sean Couturier January 21st.  Since then, the Philadelphia Flyers have only lost seven games in regulation. During this stretch Sam recorded a point in nine of those games. The Flyers record in those contests? 8-0-1. The only loss was that heart breaker against the Florida Panthers.

philadelphia flyers

10-game rolling relative CF% 1/21/16 – 3/31/16

The chart you see above paints, with a rather broad stroke, of the effectiveness of Gagner since his return to the Flyers lineup. At no point during this two and half month stretch does his Rel CF% fall below 50%. He’s played a majority of these minutes with Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl. Most recently though, he’s found himself lined up with Matt Read and Nick Cousins, and the early returns have been very, very good.

The sample size for this new line of Read, Gagner, and Cousins is incredibly small. They’ve only shared the ice for 35 minutes, but they have amassed a combined CF% of 61.18. That’s the 3rd best CF% of any line the Flyers have put out this entire season.

philadelphia flyers

The Flyers new 3rd line has been pretty damn effective.

If the Philadelphia Flyers expect to be competitive in the playoffs they are going to need to have their 3rd and 4th lines not just contribute scoring chances, but make sure the ice is tilted in their favor. So far this new look 3rd line is making sure that happens, using their speed to create high-danger chances and disrupting opponent rushes with strong back checking.

Now, while it’s important to once again mention that the sample size is very small here, this line looked very impressive in the Flyers win over the Washington Capitals, a team that has already secured the NHL’s best record. As a matter of fact, this line combined for three high-danger scoring chances, the most of any line on the Flyers.

Is it possible that this line continues to put up CF% above 60% the rest of the way? I’d say it’s very unlikely, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot continue being an effective 3rd line tandem.

In Conclusion

Sam Gagner deserves a lot of respect for the way he handled his demotion and how he has responded since his call-up. He could’ve pouted and made a scene of his limited playing time but he kept a level head and evolved into a productive team player. His teammates love him and the fanbase has embraced him.

As the Philadelphia Flyers continue their march to a playoff birth, Sam Gagner looks to play a pivotal role by doing what he’s done since he came back to the Flyers, play smart and effective hockey. And have fun while doing it.

Charts provided by Corsica

Stats provided by Corsica, Hockey-Reference, and War-On-Ice