Sam Gagner Unsure of Future With Flyers After Solid 2nd Half

VOORHEES, N.J. - In a sense, Sam Gagner's time with the Flyers was like a vacation.

Not in the relaxation way - the enjoyment didn't come without roadblocks.

Once it did, though, the bittersweet end arrived.

In his ninth NHL season - and first with the Flyers - Gagner made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut. He did so by carving out a role in Dave Hakstol's system following the All-Star break.

Everything came together with the postseason topping it off.

"It was fun," Gagner said during his exit interview on Tuesday at Flyers Skate Zone. "That's the time of year you play for. It's fun hockey."

As a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent (July 1), the fun may be over for Gagner in Philadelphia despite a strong second half in which he posted six goals and 11 points for a plus-6 rating.

Gagner expressed uncertainty about being re-signed after having his end-of-the-season meetings with head coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall.

"I don't know," Gagner said. "We just talked briefly, but there's a lot of things for [Hextall] to sort out. I'm not too sure."

Per Spotrac, the 26-year-old made $4.8 million last season in the final year of his three-year, $14.4 million contract signed originally with the Oilers. According to the site, he was the fifth-highest paid Flyer in 2015-16, behind only Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald.

Gagner's return seems unlikely for a few reasons.

The Flyers' cupboard is already full with young centers, such as Scott Laughton (21) and Nick Cousins (22), as well as prospects Travis Konecny (19) and Nicolas Aube-Kubel (19). Cousins will be a restricted free agent this offseason but Hextall expects him back.

So the Flyers have younger, less expensive options to fill Gagner's roster spot.

On top of that, they have more urgent priorities in likely re-signing Brayden Schenn (see story) and Ryan White, as well as adding size and scoring up front.

The former sixth overall pick of the 2007 draft understands the situation.

"I really enjoy the guys here and the market and just playing in Philly," Gagner said. "It's great fans and a great city, but there's obviously a bunch of different factors that go into it. We'll see what happens going into the summer."

Hextall admitted Gagner's second-half performance has made for a tougher decision.

"We've got to think that one through," Hextall said Wednesday.

"Sam played well. He seemed to start doing the little things better than he was at the start of the year ... that's a decision."

Gagner's season consisted of healthy scratches, being waived, going unclaimed, playing in the AHL and finally ending with the Flyers, playing 34 of the final 36 regular-season games and all six postseason contests.

"I felt like the first half of the year was frustrating, but when I got the opportunity towards the second half, I felt like I played well," he said. "I feel like I fit the system well here. Obviously I wanted to produce a little more and I feel like I can."

The Flyers acquired Gagner last summer in a trade that sent Nicklas Grossmann and Chris Pronger's contract to the Arizona Coyotes.

Gagner wasn't a sure bet to be retained by the Flyers. The deal was about salary cap relief.

He still found a way to stick and finish with the Flyers. Once again, though, his future hits a crossroad.

"I felt like I was good enough to be a really good player in this league," Gagner said. "I just wanted to keep pushing forward regardless of what was happening. I felt like the second half and down the stretch when games had a lot of meaning, I feel like I played well.

"I still feel like I can produce at a high level. I feel like my two-way game took a lot of strides forward and I can be counted on in a lot of different situations. That helps going forward."

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