Cross Checks: B.J. Crombeen

During a conversation with Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner in Nashville in March 2013, he spoke about the steep learning curve the youthful Oilers faced in returning from the hockey wilderness.

He was thoughtful and well-spoken in talking about how time can’t be rushed, that you can’t just fast-forward three years and get through the painful process of learning to win.

He was likewise emphatic that no NHL player gets used to never being in the playoffs.

Then a few hours later, the Oilers were waxed 6-0 by the Nashville Predators.

Gagner, one of the talented young players who was supposed to usher in a new dawn of success for the Oilers when they drafted him sixth overall in 2007, was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Teddy Purcell on Sunday night. Gagner was immediately sent to the Arizona Coyotes along with winger B.J. Crombeen for a sixth-round draft pick in 2015 where Gagner will get a chance to play top six minutes following the buyout of Mike Ribeiro on Friday.

The moves come two days after the Oilers made talented young center Leon Draisaitl the third overall pick in the 2014 draft. Does Gagner’s departure open the door for Draisaitl to join the Oilers next fall when the 2014-15 season begins? Perhaps.

The Oilers certainly haven’t been shy about rushing top picks into the NHL life. The results speak for themselves as the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since going to the 2006 finals.

Will next season be any different?

Hard to imagine this team could find itself among the top eight in the rough and tumble Western Conference whether Draisaitl is in the lineup or not, although the 6-foot-3 Purcell gives them added size and he has 20-goal potential. And Purcell was a dynamo during the 2011 playoffs, producing 17 points in 18 games as the Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

In terms of salary cap issues, Purcell and Gagner make roughly the same. Purcell makes $4.5 million through 2015-16, while Gagner’s cap hit is $4.8 million through 2015-16.

The Lightning also sent Nate Thompson (with a cap hit of $1.6 million annually through 2016-17) to Anaheim for two draft picks in 2015.

The moving of four players (Crombeen makes $1.15 million and is under contract through the 2014-15 season) frees up close to $5.6 million in cash and $5.65 million in cap space for the Lightning, who added Jason Garrison during the draft weekend and recently signed Ryan Callahan to a new six-year contract worth $5.8 million annually.

It's also believed GM Steve Yzerman may also make use of the extra cap space to go after another defenseman once free agency begins on July 1.

As for Gagner, who has never appeared in a single NHL playoff game, he joins an Arizona Coyotes team that has missed the playoffs in two straight seasons after advancing to the 2012 Western Conference finals.

Last summer they signed Ribeiro to a four-year deal hoping he could replicate the point-a-game pace he was on during the 2013 season in Washington. It didn’t happen and Ribeiro was bought out Friday with GM Don Maloney saying there were off-ice behavioral issues that the team couldn’t put up with.

Gagner, who has never scored 20 goals, should thrive playing for Dave Tippett. The Coyotes face the same issues as every other non-playoff team in the Western Conference -- especially playing in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division -- in that there are no easy paths to the postseason. Still it’s hard not to imagine that Gagner’s move to Phoenix means he’s closer to finally getting that first shot at the postseason than had he stayed an Oiler.

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