'It's been a lot of fun': Pending free agent Sam Gagner hopes to return to Red Wings
Detroit — If things can work themselves out and if the Red Wings would want Sam Gagner back, Gagner for sure would like to return.
The veteran forward can be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but Gagner didn't hide his preference to remain a Red Wing — just like last offseason, when Gagner re-signed with the Wings on a one-year contract.
Given how well Gagner has played this season, and the experience and leadership he brings to the young roster, it wouldn't be shocking to see the two sides again come together on a new contract.
"I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” Gagner said. “I’ve liked that the last couple of years I’ve had a chance to kind of settle into my role and play some important minutes; that's been nice. Being a leader is something I take a lot of pride and responsibility in, and trying to help this young group grow. It’s been a lot of fun for me."
The stability, at this point in Gagner's career, also would be nice.
Detroit is Gagner's seventh NHL stop (Edmonton twice). In three of the places, Gagner only played one season. The moving around has been difficult.
"Hockey players are creatures of habit and we get into routines. It's hard moving to different teams and going through that," Gagner said. "My family has been really happy, too, not having to move around. My wife’s kind of a pro mover at this point, but she’d prefer not to do it every year, so that part of it has been good.”
While not in a prime offensive role, Gagner has still has provided 12 goals, the most he has scored since 2016-17 in Columbus when he had 18. All the while, Gagner can be used up and down the lineup. He can play on a scoring line or on a more defensive line, where Gagner has been used primarily, along with the penalty kill. On occasion, he's been on the power play.
Most importantly, coach Jeff Blashill knows he'll get a competent, professional performance wherever Gagner is used. But there's also the leadership factor that is crucial on a younger team such as the Wings.
“He’s generally been used in more defensive-type roles, so he’s added lots of depth of scoring, which is important,” Blashill said. “It’s important for him to lead by example, but I wouldn’t necessarily just equate that to production. He could have four goals right now and I would tell you he is leading by example. He tries to do it right. His everyday approach has been really good, and he’s trying to play the way we want to play.
"His example both on and off the ice has been really good.”
The leadership role is something Gagner takes pride in and embraces.
“The main thing is trying to help this group get better, and that’s kind of been my mindset all year,” Gagner said. “In order to do that you got to put your game on the ice and have to make sure you’re leading by example."
Gagner, 32, was acquired from Edmonton in the 2020 trade deadline deal involving Andreas Athanasiou. Gagner appeared to be an extra in the trade, but the Wings quickly saw his value, and even more so during the shortened NHL pandemic season the following year.
“That first full year he did an excellent job of leading, especially when times were tough," Blashill said. "It says a lot about him, his character, and who he is as a person.
“I didn’t know him at all (when the Wings acquired Gagner) and I didn’t know what to expect. I learned quickly he was a guy who cared a ton, who was smart, who in that short period of time definitely said to me, ‘I’d like to have him back'."
Gagner also wouldn't mind returning because he's enthusiastic about what the Wings are constructing.
“The way we’re building, there’s a chance we’re a playoff team next year,” Gagner said. “I like the fact that I’ve been a part of helping this team grow and I’d like to be around for when it turns and be a part of helping that.
"Playing in this market, where hockey matters, and there’s a rich history, it’s a great team to play for and a great group of guys and hopefully I can be around for a little bit longer.”
Senators at Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Senators (26-40-6) defeated the Wings twice in a weekend series earlier this month. ... Ottawa has lost its last three games. ... C Josh Norris (Oxford/Michigan) had four goals in the two games against his hometown team.