ST. PAUL, Minn. — When young Sam Gagner arrived in Edmonton back in 2007, the Oilers were rebuilding.
“Attention Toronto Maple Leafs,” advised this reporter, in a March 2008 piece in the National Post. “If you must rebuild, then this is the way to do it.”
“You feel it in the room,” gushed head coach Craig MacTavish. “I feel it and sense it, and normally if the coach feels it, you’re the last guy to feel the optimism of improvement.”
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General manager Kevin Lowe, awash in money in the NHL’s new economy, issued a seven-year, $50 million Group 2 offer sheet to Buffalo’s Tomas Vanek that summer. When the Sabres matched it, the money still burning a hole in Lowe’s pocket, he settled on UFA defenceman Sheldon Souray at $27 million over five years.
“We’re building that foundation for the future: a great group of core guys,” a young Gagner said that autumn. “We’re getting better as a team and enjoying every moment.”
For Gagner, as for the Oilers, the future did not unfold quite as it seemed it would that fall. The sixth overall selection in the 2007 draft, Gagner would become the first of the rushed-into-the-rebuild Oilers first-rounders, playing 79 fairly productive NHL games as an 18-year-old.
“When it happened originally, I didn’t feel rushed,” he said on Sunday, freshly called up from the minor leagues by the 2019 Oilers, a team he ash circled back to after stops in Arizona, Philadelphia, Columbus and Vancouver. “I had a good first season (13 goals, 49 points), but when you go through some of the struggles, some …read more