Will the Oilers be Better with Purcell Over Gagner?

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Now that the dust has settled and a few teary eyes have been dried, I wanted to take a sober look at the Gagner for Purcell swap. It might be easier said than done, talking about the (former) longest serving Oiler, but here it goes.

Gagner Draft

The Give

  • C, Sam Gagner and all that he gave for this city without ever even getting a taste of winning in his seven years with the copper and blue

By the Numbers:

Gagner_TSNStats

Gagner_Xtra1

Gagner_Extra2
For anyone unfamiliar with any of the above statistics, the majority of these numbers were pulled from the always-wonderful Extra Skater. In as few words as possible though:

  • TOI numbers are measured as a percentage of the team’s total minutes for that game state (EV, PP, PK)
  • QoC = Quality of Competition, measured as a weighted average of opponents’ total TOI%
  • OZ% = Percentage of non-neutral zone starts (offensive + defensive) taken in the offensive zone
  • CF% = Percentage of the total shot attempts (corsi) that are taken by the player’s team while the player is on the ice
  • CF% Rel = The CF% of the team while the player is on the ice – the CF% of the team while he is off the ice.
  • PDO = The team’s 5v5 SH% + 5v5 SV%. Over time, this number regresses strongly to 100 (individual skaters don’t have much control over it over time)

So what can we gather from Gagner’s numbers? A lot of what we may have already known, actually (and should know after watching him for seven straight seasons). Gagner’s 3-year scoring pace puts him around 53 points/82 GP, a very respectable number, even with his less-than-spectacular 2013-2014 season factored in. This all came while generally playing top-6 EV minutes, 1st/2nd unit PP time, fairly average competition, with a slight bump in offensive zone starts. All-in-all, not too shabby.

Unfortunately though, a big knock against Gagner was always his defensive zone play, and this looks to be reflected in his corsi numbers above. Though it may be unfair to grade a player based on his team’s CF%, his CF% Rel is more or less fair game. What Sam’s CF% Rel tell us is simply that while he was on the ice over the past three seasons, his team was not (on average) performing any better than when he was off the ice. That’s not good news when you’re your team’s second line centre. Yes, there are of course many more factors that have to be taken into consideration when using these numbers, and no, this is not definitive proof that Gagner is not fit to be a team’s 2C, but they are definitely red flags.

The Take

  • RW, Teddy Purcell

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By the Numbers:

Purcell_TSN Purcell_Extra1 Purcell_Extra2

First off, he’s got size. This is good. It’s not a requirement, but on this squad and with this fanbase, it might as well be. Purcell’s also near his prime/not a dinosaur at 28 years old. Another plus.

As far as scoring goes, Purcell’s 3-year scoring pace puts him at about 56 points/82 games, slightly higher than Gagner. He also posts a very similar G/A ratio as Gagner, so we can expect him to be much more of a setup man than a finisher.

His usage compares very similarly to Gagner’s as well. Over his previous three seasons Purcell looks to have been playing top-6 EV minutes, on the 1st powerplay unit, with no PK time and against middle of the road competition as well. Where the two players start to differ is in their offensive zone starts. Purcell has historically been receiving very favourable zone starts, putting him very close to his opponent’s net.

Taking all that into consideration, his underlying numbers still look very favourable. Though he hasn’t always played on positive possession teams, his teams in the last three seasons have all benefited from having him out on the ice, consistently posting positive CF% Rel’s. These numbers will surely be due, in part, to Purcell’s softer zone starts, so it is advisable to take these results with a grain of salt, but there are a lot of positive signs here for Oiler fans. After all, it’s not as if he wouldn’t also be able to find similarly easy minutes in Edmonton as he was given in Tampa. He just may have to fight Yakupov for them though, so long as Yakupov stays on the right side.

Overall, I’d say it looks like MacT acquired a fine player in Purcell, someone who has regularly succeeded playing top-6 minutes with softer zone starts. Give him similar minutes, maybe a couple shifts in the offensive end with Hall, and I don’t see why he couldn’t reproduce his success here.

The Verdict

Comparing the two forwards side by side, they look to be very similar players so long as you overlook the fact that one is 6’3″ and the other was nicknamed after a hobbit.  They also share similar cap hits on identical terms. Where they differ though is that Purcell has had a slightly higher scoring rate as of late and posts the stronger possession numbers, though he is also given slightly easier zone starts than Gagner. That, and Gagner is a full four years younger than Purcell. Their age, I think, will be the factor that determines whether this deal is a success story or not.

Purcell looks like he could very well be the better player at this point in time, but he’s soon to be on the wrong side of 30, where Gagner has yet to hit his prime. This trade could look great next season, but come a few years down the road, if Gagner progresses as a forward, this could be a deal that Oiler fans will regret. What might make that more of a reality is if Gagner moves to the wing like Cogliano did once he was traded to Anaheim and starts posting much stronger numbers.

Gun pointed to my head though, I’d have to say that I like this deal from Edmonton’s point of view, both short-term and long-term. Short term, because I think Purcell might provide this club with immediate help, if only slightly, and his size is a definite plus. Long-term, because I feel that had we kept Gagner for the remaining two years, from what I’ve heard throughout the media-verse, it may have been pretty difficult to convince Gagner to stay put in the city that hasn’t won a thing since Katz’s son was just a wee lad. Of course, things can change if the team starts winning, but I’m not sure how much could be won with Gagner as this club’s second-line centre. And losing for so long, as we continue to hear, can have a pretty big impact on the psyche of a proud athlete.

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