In conversation today with several Oiler fans, it became clear to me that Sam Gagner is perceived in a very specific way: an underachieving offensive center with major issues when it comes to playing the position.
I think that's typical, fans see things in front of them and we forget the past (and possible future). I'm reminded of the story of Patrick Sharp, who Philadelphia traded to Chicago in 2005—because they felt Sharp was a better center than winger, and needed to improve their depth on wing.
December 5, 2005: Philadelphia trades F Patrick Sharp and F Eric Meloche to the Chicago Blackhawks for R Mat Ellison and a 3rd round pick in 2006*.
*The pick was later traded to Montreal and they picked Ryan White with it.
The interesting thing about the trade was the reasoning behind it.
Bobby Clarke (then Flyers GM): "We felt that with all the injuries we have had that Matt would bring more versatility to our lineup. He can play center and wing. We always felt that Patrick was a better center. We have lots of centers, even though we have some injuries right now. We just felt that Matt was a better fit for our team, although we realize that we gave up a good young player."
Ken Hitchcock (then Flyers Coach): "Patrick is a natural center, not a wing, and we have too many centers. That's all this is about. We had too many centers."
Reading those words (from established and respected hockey men is rather funny today, but it happens all the time. Teams routinely get themselves into situations where short term (now) takes precedent over long term (future). I'm sure Oilers fans feel the same way about Andrew Cogliano in Anaheim these days, and Philadelphia would certainly like a do-over on the Patrick Sharp deal.
New York wants to dump Del Zotto, Sam Gagner's name is 'out there' and there are other cities in the NHL rife with rumors about young players who are not filling specific roles. Often times, those players end up filling even more important roles in their new towns, as the fit matches their skills better.
Sam Gagner, right wing. All we're missing is the destination.