Yotes fans know all too well that the team's offense needs revamping. Will a $3.3 million investment this year do the trick? That's for Sam Gagner to determine.
If you're not hip to Arizona's offensive hockey woes, a simple month-to-month look at last season's team stats should be sufficiently revealing. During October, the first month of the season, the Yotes were tied for third in the league in goals per game. However, in the last full month (March), they sunk to a stellar 25th overall. And perhaps most alarmingly, during an abbreviated April comprised of seven pivotal games with the playoffs in sight, the Coyotes found themselves at an abysmal 29th out of 30 teams.
What began as a promising offensive campaign quickly ground to a halt, leaving the Coyotes without a playoff bid for the second season in a row and with plenty of offseason work to be done. After witnessing the departure of key components of that disappointing Yotes offense, the door has opened for new faces to ignite the struggling core of forwards.
The Coyotes acquired Gagner, the 25-year-old centerman, via trade during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, along with B.J Crombeen, from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a sixth round pick. The deal occurred only an hour and a half after Gagner was initially dealt from Edmonton.
The Oilers drafted Gagner with the sixth overall pick in 2007, and after immediately making their NHL roster and becoming the youngest player in the league at the time, he proceeded to make a name for himself on the ice by posting a solid 49 points in 79 games over the course of the 2007-08 season. Although his reliable play continued over the subsequent campaigns, Gagner hasn't yet been able to surpass his rookie season point total.
There is reason for Yotes fans to be optimistic, however, regarding Gagner's progress and potential. During the shortened 2012-13 season, he put up 38 points in 48 games, on pace for a season total of 65 points had the campaign been its normal length of 82 games. A nasty jaw injury sidelined Gagner for 12 games last season, disrupting his rhythm and preventing his play from reaching the same level exhibited during the previous year.
The Coyotes need playmaking ability on the ice if they hope to contend in the gruesomely over-talented Western Conference. Gagner, who never quite managed a genuine breakout season during his time in Edmonton, is desperate for a change of pace. Hockey fans in the desert hope the two story lines can coalesce this year and restore the team's offense not just to a state of functionality, but one of excellence.