By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
Sam Gagner began quite frankly.
“It’s a very storied franchise, if I had a chance to play there, it’d be very exciting,” Gagner said Sunday on a conference call.
The Flyers on Saturday acquired the 25-year-old from the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Nicklas Grossmann and Chris Pronger’s contract.
General manager Ron Hextall’s intentions were clear, as the move saves the Flyers a shade over $5 million in salary, even with Gagner’s $3.2 million salary.
After the move, the Flyers have $6.4 million in cap space. (Next year’s salary cap is $71.4 million.) Yet, Gagner’s status with the Flyers remains unknown.
Hextall was noncommittal Saturday if he’s planning on keeping Gagner, who can be bought out until June 30 at 5 p.m.
“We’re going to look at all of our options over the next few days and we’ll make the decisions we have to make,” Hextall said. “We’ve got to get our numbers in order, our cap is still not totally cleaned up, but we’re a lot closer now.”
Buying out Gagner would save the Flyers additional money. Since Gagner is under 26, they’d only have to pay one-third of his salary.
Have the Flyers given the 5-foot-11, 201-pound forward a timetable of when a decision might be made?
“When I talked to Ron, he said that he’s going to try to get it done as quickly as he can,” Gagner said.
From his discussions, what are the odds Gagner wears the orange and black next year?
“I honestly couldn’t even give you a ballpark,” Gagner said. “From the conversations I’ve had, it’s just trying to figure out where I fit amongst the cap.
“They said they like me as a player and they’re going to try to make it work, but obviously with today’s league and the cap situation, it’s hard for me to say.”
Gagner was a buyout candidate in Arizona, too. In addition, after the Coyotes traded him, general manager Don Maloney had some harsh words about the former No. 6 overall pick.
Maloney said he didn’t believe Gagner can play center in the NHL, and that it was time to move on. However, Gagner is pleased with how he played last season.
“I thought that I actually last year, regardless of what’s been said, once I got settled in,” he said, “I felt like I played some pretty good hockey down the stretch, played some two-way hockey and was able to produce a little bit in a pretty tough situation.”
Still, it hasn’t been the smoothest couple of weeks for Gagner, whose wife, Rachel, is pregnant with their first child.
“It’s not the easiest of times,” the London, Ontario, native said. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to make me stronger. I think that Philly likes me, but it’s just a matter of finding the dollars that work and sometimes that doesn’t happen.
“In the cap market today, it’s just the nature of the business. For me, it doesn’t change things. Coming into camp, wherever it is — hopefully it’s Philly and if it’s not, I’m going to be ready to go and prepared to have a really good season and be a big part of a winning team.”
Last season was Gagner’s first in the desert. He began his career with the Oilers, who drafted him in 2007, before being sent to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2014 NHL draft and then being sent from Tampa to Arizona that same night. He played 81 games last season, scoring 15 goals with 41 points and a minus-28 rating.
The Coyotes finished last in the Western Conference and 29th in the NHL, and Gagner led all Coyotes forwards with 41 points and finished tied for second behind defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the team lead.
“I’m as motivated as you can get,” Gagner, who turns 26 on Aug. 10, said. “I was motivated coming into the season regardless.
“I still have a lot to prove and now obviously, it’s a little more heightened. I think that I have a lot of people to prove wrong, and I’m set on doing that. For myself, I always want to be the best that I can be. It hasn’t happened yet. I still feel very confident in my abilities that I can be a very successful player in this league.”
If Hextall opts to keep Gagner, where does he fit in? The Flyers have holes at the wing, and while Gagner is a natural center, he’s played all three positions throughout his career. He also excels in the shootout, an area the Flyers have struggled with since its inception in 2005. Gagner is 19 for 62 all-time in the skills competition.
“I’ve played wing in the past, including this year,” he said. “I was pretty much switching situations the entire year. I played a couple games at center, a couple games at wing. I can adjust to whatever kind of role the team needs me to play.”
The Flyers have needs at left wing, as well as right wing. Gagner hasn’t lived up to his pre-draft hype, but is a skilled forward. His openness to play any position is a positive.
If he stays and the Flyers want him to play wing, does it matter to him which side of the ice he’ll play?
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “There’s some differences in terms of taking pucks off the wall in your own end, there’s differences in the attack, but I’ve been able to adjust to both sides. It’s really not a problem for me to adjust.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)