Jets Sign Gagner but Fail to Address Needs Up Front

The Winnipeg Jets’ signing of Sam Gagner to a one-year, $750,000 contract highlights three things the team hasn’t fully addressed. They have little offensive depth, lack experienced leadership to navigate through disappointment, and need to make some moves to increase the scarcity of NHL-calibre forwards on their roster.

Jets Have Offensive Depth Issues

Don’t get me wrong, the Jets have a good number of solid forwards in their system. However, few are NHL-ready. The signing of Gagner definitely provides an upgrade to the roster. He invariably replaces Evgeny Svechnikov who was not offered a contract over the summer and will likely be installed as a third-line winger to bring a much-needed right-handed shot to the forward group. The Jets are loaded with depth on the blue line but lack that same depth up front.

Sam Gagner Detroit Red Wings
Sam Gagner, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Gagner has spent the last few seasons improving his defensive game which should sync well with the new focus on team defense. He led the Detroit Red Wings last season with 191 minutes on the penalty kill, another weakness of the Jets last season. This signing definitely adds value to the team and makes sense in the short term.

With the likes of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blake Wheeler, and Nikolaj Ehlers, the Jets are as good as any team when comparing top-five forwards, but it drops off pretty quickly after that. Signing Gagner shores up a possible third line with Adam Lowry and Morgan Barron, giving them slightly more scoring punch up front and another option on the power play.

Last year, Svechnikov could not find a consistent scoring touch with only seven goals and 12 assists in 72 games. Gagner doesn’t bring huge numbers with him either, (13 goals, 18 assists in 81 games) but he does bring more dependable play day-in and day-out. He was drafted sixth overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, yet has never had a 20-goal season.

Does Gagner alleviate the depth problem? No, he’s more of a band-aid to a problem that can’t be solved this close to training camp. Svechnikov also had an inexpensive contract with a year of experience in the system and some felt that the Jets should have re-signed him.

Related: Jets’ Perfetti is Primed for a Breakout Season in Year 2

This season, the Jets will be relying heavily on the likes of David Gustafsson and Cole Perfetti to pick up some of the offensive slack that was missing last year. Being as young and inexperienced as they are, it may be unrealistic to expect them at this point to fully embrace the scoring role the Jets need. Possibly in time, but for this season it might be an unrealistic expectation. What Gagner does provide is the experience and ability to play consistently over an 82-game season and be a potential scoring threat in the process.

Jets Need New Leadership

This marks Gagner’s 16th NHL season. As such, the biggest asset he will bring to the Jets is experience. There are two pieces to the puzzle here. The Jets, as stated before have great top-line forwards, but the scoring drops off dramatically after that. They are missing a solid third-line with forwards that can be a consistent offensive threat. He will potentially provide the team with some production this season but he is not a long-term solution.

Secondly, his lengthy NHL career comes with vast experience from playing on various teams, most recently with a losing club in Detroit. This should come in handy as the Jets have shown that they lack a calming influence in the face of adversity. In 2021-22, that was a glaring weakness, as the leadership group demonstrated it had trouble dealing smoothly with hard times and disappointment. He provides something this team desperately needs.

He could also help replace some of the wisdom lost with the departure of 36-year-old Stastny, who was a mentor to many of Winnipeg’s young players and a much-needed voice of reason when the going got tough last year.

– Mike McIntyre (from: “Jets still have time to make some off-season noise”, Winnipeg Free Press, 2/9/22)

Last season, the Jets were a team poised to take a deep run into the playoffs and were predicted by many to be a Stanley Cup contender. When their season started to go south, the leadership group did a poor job of dealing with the media and in the end, Connor, Dubois and Stastny became the team’s spokesmen instead of the captains.

Sam Gagner Detroit Red Wings
Sam Gagner brings leadership and experience to the Jets. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

As last season progressed, it became apparent the Jets’ system wasn’t working, their execution wasn’t consistent and the coach had lost the dressing room before deciding to quit in December. The players in leadership roles were unable to effectively navigate the media through a difficult second half of the season. Before long, the Jets were no longer in a Stanley Cup conversation but instead, trying hard just to make the playoffs.

Is Gagner’s presence going to change things this year? Not likely, unless they sign him for another season. If he’s able to help in this department, it will require gaining the trust of his teammates which takes time. Whether or not he takes on the role of spokesman or locker room leader, he will still be someone the Jets’ younger forwards can lean on to ask questions and learn from. His experience will benefit the club one way or another.

Jets Needed to Make an Offseason Move

Signing Gagner is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. He will provide a little more scoring from the bottom-six forward group and can supply some special team minutes. But, is that enough to fit their needs? Yes, for this year. The real question is why didn’t the Jets use their incredible depth on defense to swing a deal for a younger forward or two with some length on their contracts? Players that, for the next few seasons, could have added more depth with real scoring punch. That would have better addressed the real issue.

Gagner’s signing is a last-minute stopgap for an issue the Jets weren’t able to fix during the offseason. Does he bring the Jets some value? Yes he does, but the fact remains that most of the Jets’ core are unrestricted free agents in two seasons and the window to win is narrowing. Jets’ management was either unwilling, or unable to make a trade or sign a significant free agent of note this summer. They also failed to add anyone who could immediately be inserted into the lineup and make an impact offensively for the next few seasons.

However, at this late date, Gagner is a good addition to the club. “One of Gagner’s strengths is being a strong presence in the dressing room. He’s calming voice, a player who can speak from experience. Consistency has been one of his traits through his career,” wrote Kevin Allen of detroithockeynow.com

Sam Gagner Detroit Red Wings
Sam Gagner is the newest Winnipeg Jet. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The move adds value to the Jets but it may be too little, too late. He is inexpensive and unlike many free agents, actually wants to play in Winnipeg. However, signing him throws more fuel on to the proverbial fire for those who say the organization failed this summer to add real depth up front. He will be an asset to the team but at this point, age and experience isn’t entirely what the doctor ordered going into 2022-23.


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