GAGNER SIGNS ON

Jason Gregor
July 20 2012 09:03AM

As expected the Oilers and Sam Gagner avoided arbitration as Gagner signed a one-year, $3.2 million deal early this morning.

What does it mean?

For me it means that both sides, just like Nation, view Gagner differently.

Gagner's abillity as a player is easily the most debated topic on the Nation. One faction feels he is only 22 and poised to become a legit top-end #2 centre or low-end #1, while the other side feels he will only be what he has been through five seasons. A 45-50 point player.

A one-year deal shows me that the Oilers are still a bit unsure where Gagner fits in the overall outlook, while Gagner's camp feel he has lots of room to grow and didn't want to sign a long-term deal because he's on the cusp of a breakout season.

It truly is a great debate because no one knows for sure which side will be right.

Gagner has great offensive instincts, and this year he'll play with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Ales Hemsky. It is clear he will have some incredibly skilled wingers on his side all season. Some will suggest the Oilers made a mistake in not wrapping him up long-term because they'll likely have to pay him more next season, after he surpasses the 50-point mark this year.

It is possible, and likely, if he stays healthy that he'll set a career-high in points, and that is precisely why his camp might have only wanted a one-year deal. We can only speculate what a two-year term would have cost, but I'm guessing two years would have been closer to the $3.7-$4.0 range.

Had he gone to arbitration I'm guessing he would have gotten more from an arbitrator. History tells us that the arbitrator usually favours the players. They base everything off of comparables, which aren't always accurate considering how teams view players differently within their own organizations.

For instance T.J Oshie is considered a cornerstone forward by the Blues, but with RNH, Hall, Eberle and even Yakupov in Edmonton, Gagner likely 5th on the forwards depth chart. Teams will pay guys within their team based on how they rank them, not always of course, but in most cases they try to chart out their place on the team.

WHY NO ARBITRATION

Neither side really wants to have an outside party determine how much a player makes. Even though the players have usually gotten a better deal in arbitration, many don't want to go through with it, because the process isn't pretty. They have to hear what the team doesn't like about them, and sometimes it isn't flattering. Plus most players don't want to be perceived as selfish.

This is a fair deal, but it also leaves both sides open to losing the deal. It is risky for the Oilers, because Gagner could have a breakout season and then the Oilers will be forced to re-sign him along with Hall and Eberle.

Gagner might not break 50 points, and if he doesn't then he likely won't be getting much of a raise next year. There is also the ugly risk of injury, and hopefully for both parties, and the fans, that doesn't happen.

I also believe both sides can win on this deal. If Gagner pots 55-60 points this year, he'll be in line for a raise, but that would mean the Oilers are closer to a playoff spot. This team needs to improve, and in order to improve as a team they will need certain players to improve individually.

Gagner is one of the guys, and if he can take the next step in development that he feels he's capable of the Oilers might actually compete for a playoff spot.

Gagner is working hard on his foot speed this summer, just like he did last year and if he has the same amount of improvement this summer that he did last year, he will come to camp a bit quicker, which will make him more dangerous.

Is this the year Gagner becomes the player he, and much of the Nation, feel he can be? We'll see. Watching it unfold should be interesting.

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor