One of the more surprising decisions this season has come from the Vancouver Canucks, who found themselves with too many forwards to start the year. Because of that, the team waived and assigned veteran Sam Gagner to the minor leagues, loaning him to the Toronto Marlies so that he could be close to family if he were to be playing in the AHL. That looked like the end of his Canucks career, but amazingly just a few weeks later Vancouver found themselves in need and recalled Gagner once again. In fact, after his recall Gagner immediately went to an important spot in the lineup and rejoined a Canucks power play.
Now, the team has sent Gagner back to the minor leagues again, and back to Toronto to play for the Marlies. Again it would seem like his time is over in Vancouver, but at this point no one can be sure. What is known, though, is that Canucks GM Jim Benning is open to moving Gagner to another NHL team if he can find a good fit for him. The Vancouver executive told The Province that the team continues to look for opportunities for Gagner around the league and notes that as teams start incurring injuries there could be an opening.
Just this week, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet suggested that the Chicago Blackhawks could have some interest in Gagner, though Benning would not comment on specifics. As with almost any team acquiring the veteran forward, the finances might be tight. Gagner carries a cap hit of $3.15M this season, but it’s the additional year on his current contract that quite severely limits his appeal. Taking him on at this point would be a risk for any team hoping to recapture some of the magic that made him a 50-point man in Columbus two seasons ago, a mark he had never reached previously in his career. If it goes south, like it has in Vancouver, being on the hook for another $3.15M next season is a deal-breaker for a team like Chicago.
If then it would take a retained salary transaction to move him, what is the benefit for the Canucks? The team currently has plenty of cap space to carry his buried contract, and he’s shown the ability to step right back into an NHL role and produce. Gagner did after all have three points in seven games after being recalled from Toronto, and played admirably given the circumstances. The value he brings as a veteran option that can be recalled at any time may be worth more than any return, meaning a trade would be entirely for his sake. That might be exactly what happens in this situation though, as Benning told The Province: “if something is there, we’ll do it.”