Alright, look. I get it. You don’t have to say it. When a writer makes their debut on CanucksArmy with an article exploring the Trade Market for Sam Gagner, and a week later Sam Gagner clears waivers, it doesn’t look great. GM Jim Benning even confirmed that he had shopped Gagner around the league and found no takers. So much for that vaunted list of seven potential landing spots!
At this point, I’m left with no option but to retract, apologize, and hang my digital head in shame. Or, alternatively, I could double down on my careless speculating and suggest—nae, guarantee—that Sam Gagner can, and will, be traded to another NHL team by the Vancouver Canucks at some point during the 2018/19 season. That’s right, I’m staking my burgeoning reputation on this one, and I’m not just doing it reflexively to cover my previous blunder. There are actually a bunch of reasons to believe that a Gagner trade is still quite possible—even after he’s already passed through waivers unclaimed.
Seasons Change, People Get Hurt, Kids Disappoint
When Sam Gagner went on the waiver wire—October 1, 2018 a date which will live in infamy—he did so at a time when the active rosters of various NHL were at peak fullness. On the verge of the regular season, most teams are optimistic, healthy, and stocked with youngsters coming off impressive training camps. But the National Hockey League is a cruel mistress, and situations inevitably change.
Elsewhere in the league, major injuries to major players are inevitably going to occur. Rookies that looked promising in the preseason will inevitably hit a wall and stop producing. Trusty veterans will slow down to the point of no return. There’s no telling which franchises will fall victim to this misfortune, but it is certain that some of them will. In other words, there are probably going to be some teams that had no use for an extra forward in October, but will be singing a different tune in a few months’ time.
Speaking of situations in flux, Gagner has been assigned to the Toronto Marlies so he can play closer to home–a generous arrangement that has all the markings of a temporary fix.
There Are Some Benefits To Trading For A Player, Rather Than Claiming Them On Waivers
Why would a team trade for Gagner when they could have just plucked him off of waivers for free? In addition to the situational motivations mentioned in the previous section, there’s a bundle of potential benefits to trading for a player who has already cleared waivers.
The most obvious of perks is the possibility of salary retention. Any team claiming Gagner on waivers would be on the hook for the entirety of his $3.15 million cap hit, and that could be a tough pill to swallow. By negotiating a trade with the Canucks instead, there’s a chance a team could get him at a slightly reduced stipend.
Another benefit is the possibility of swapping contracts. A team trading for Gagner might want to send a similarly overpaid player back—though that probably wouldn’t be of much interest to Benning. More realistically speaking, a potential trade partner may just want to send a “no-name” contract back the Canucks’ way in the transaction, so as to avoid Gagner taking up an extra slot in their 50-contract limit.
Lastly, the fact that Gagner has already cleared waivers may be seen as a benefit in and of itself. Contending franchises are always seeking organizational depth, and a player who has cleared waivers can be safely stashed in the AHL until playoff time, when the limits on roster size are relaxed. Having a bit of veteran scoring depth that won’t immediately take up a spot on your active roster might look mighty appealing to a team with their eye on April.
Post-Waiver Trades Are Hardly Unprecedented
As evidence of the above, one can find a multitude of examples of players being traded after having previously cleared waivers. Such transactions take place in all manner of shapes and sizes, and a bunch of them involve former Canucks.
The Leafs are particularly fond of trading for players who have already cleared waivers—doing so with Calvin Pickard last season and Colin Greening the year before. They also traded for Raffi Torres after he had cleared waivers with San Jose in 2016, but declined to offer Torres a spot on their AHL roster and asked that San Jose just keep him with the Barracuda instead. Former Canuck Christian Ehrhoff and Rob Scuderi were traded for one another in 2016 after they had each cleared waivers and spent time in the AHL for their respective clubs.
The most high-profile, high-ticket example is probably Bryan Bickell, who spent most of a season with the Rockford IceHogs before being dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes. At the time, Bickell was making $4 million per season, which is more than Gagner is currently earning. Cases like Bickell’s prove that, while post-waivers trades aren’t exactly common, they’re definitely not unprecedented, either.
Sam Gagner Still Represents Some Serious Roster Depth
All of this makes for fairly solid evidence that a player in Sam Gagner’s situation could be traded, but it fails to address a very important question—why trade for Sam Gagner, specifically? The real answer is, coincidentally, the same reason that Gagner bamboozled the Canucks into giving him a three-year contract in the first place: he’s a respected veteran with a history of scoring at the NHL level, and there’re only so many of those to go around.
Gagner is only one year removed from a career season of 50 points, and he typically averages more than 40 points in a full season. Even his abysmal 2017/18 campaign with the Canucks saw Gagner scoring at a 34-point pace, so there’s every reason to believe he’s still capable of putting up some numbers at the NHL level. He’s also currently showcasing his skills in Toronto, the Center of the Hockey Universe™. A team looking for scoring depth could certainly do worse, and less-skilled players than Gagner are dealt to contenders at the Trade Deadline each and every year.
In conclusion, Jim Benning’s pitch to his potential trading partners looks like this:
Sam Gagner is a respected veteran who can adequately fill-in on any scoring line, and is a known quantity in the dressing room. He’s already cleared waivers, so you can stash him in the AHL until the playoffs if you want. We can take a random contract back, too, so you can keep slots open for college free agents. We’re not asking for much in return, and we’re willing to retain some salary in exchange for a pick or two.
At some point this season, someone will bite on that. And it only takes one.