Where Does Luke Gazdic Fit on This Team?

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A lot has been written about the death of the enforcer. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I do find it pretty interesting that after a pair of games against the Oilers two most hated rivals injured heavyweight Luke Gazdic hasn’t really been missed.

It’s also not at all clear where he slides into the lineup if and when the Oilers decide they do want to insert him.

The Forward Depth Chart

Joensuu, Jesse 2

  • Taylor Hall – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
  • David Perron – Mark Arcobello – Teddy Purcell
  • Matt Hendricks – Boyd Gordon – Jesse Joensuu
  • Benoit Pouliot – Leon Draisaitl – Nail Yakupov

We can quibble about the order of the lines – the Draisaitl unit has had a touch less even-strength ice time than the Gordon line – but what we can’t argue about is that for the first time in forever the Oilers have four lines with designated roles and all four directly help the team win hockey games.

We’ll doubtless see some changes in the units over time, but we’re looking at three scoring lines and what has been an extremely effective defensive zone unit over a short season so far.

Who does Gazdic replace in that lineup? The logical candidate is Joensuu, except that Joensuu is playing like the guy we saw in training camp at evens. More than that, Joensuu is averaging more than 2:00 per game on the penalty kill, and did this the other night:

Who else could come out of the lineup for Gazdic? Not Hendricks, who is one of the team’s top penalty killers and the second faceoff man on the defensive zone line. Yakupov has been very good through two games and is showing solid progress; it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll see him scratched. Everybody else is a bona fide NHL veteran.

No. 13/14 Forward

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It looks to me like Gazdic is going to have to wait for injury or a run of poor play to get an opportunity. And even then, it isn’t clear where he should play.

I argued in the summer that the Oilers could use him with Gordon and Hendricks, the way Chicago used Brandon Bollig on its defensive zone unit. If there’s an injury, that’s probably where he fits, with Joensuu perhaps getting a bump on to one of the scoring lines.

But there’s a real risk that Gazdic will drag down Gordon and Hendricks, who have done fine work at even-strength so far. The alternative is to stick him on the Draisaitl line, but that sort of defeats the point.

The other thing working against Gazdic is that Dallas Eakins likely isn’t going to want to use him on the penalty kill. That means if a guy like Joensuu or Hendricks gets hurt, it’s going to be Will Acton filling in rather than Edmonton’s pugilist.

It’s going to be an interesting situation to watch this season. It could be that we’ll see other teams start dressing enforcers of their own, in which case the Oilers will likely be more tempted to put Gazdic in the lineup. But until that happens, there’s no sense messing with what looks like a pretty sound four-line strategy. On the other hand, if we continue to see the role of the enforcer diminish as the season progresses, Edmonton might just decide that a guy like Steve Pinizzotto – a middleweight who can also score a bit, kill penalties, and slot in on any line – is a better fit for the team.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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  • The Last Big Bear

    In response to the “dress Gazdic against the Flames and Canucks” discussion, I’m curious to see how many teams dress their dedicated goons against Calgary this season.

    Gazdic is easily one of the top handful of fighters in the league, and according our friends at hockeyfights.com he only lost twice last year in 15 scraps.

    But McGrattan handled him like an upstart teenager. Just dominated him. I’m not trashing Gazdic here, he’s one of the best of the best, but McGrattan is on a different level.

    Again according to hockeyfights.com, the last guy to score a clean win over Brian McGrattan was Derek Boogaard , in 2009. McGrattan is undefeated in 28 straight NHL fights since then.

    It might be tempting to just scratch your goon and try to avoid that situation altogether, but the Flames can scratch McGrattan, and still dress two enforcers, in Deryk Engelland and Brandon Bollig. Some teams will consider this a win-win situation (nobody gets eaten alive by McGrattan, and the Flames have two goons taking regular shifts), but other teams won’t consider that acceptable. I’m curious how the Oilers will respond to this.

    If nothing else, Calgary will be an interesting case study in Dancing Bear Theory this season.

    (Note: I think the Oilers will let Gazdic have one more go at McGrattan, and am dismissing Vancouver here because Sestito is a punching bag at the heavyweight level.)

    • Grant

      You are brutal Flamer. Yes Mcgratton did win but that was Gazdic’s first fight in the league against one of the best fighters in the NHL. People learn how to fight better as their career goes along.
      I remember Dave Brown giving Stu Grimson the worst beating of his life,when Grimson played with Calgary , and he totally shattered his face and Grimson went on to be one of the best heavyweights in the league.

      • The Last Big Bear

        It was Gazdic’s 7th fight of the season, his 10th career NHL fight, and his 76th fight since turning pro. It was not his first rodeo by any means.

        And I have no doubt Gazdic will get better as he gets older (barring an injury).

        But McGrattan hasn’t lost a fight in five years. He is in a league of his own right now.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Whether or not those hits were clean does not matter all that much. Taylor Hall was basically turnbuckled by Hamhuis (a great hit btw), and the hit on RNH was clean but unnecessary (more of an opportunity than a hockey play). Same with the hit on Hall behind the net.

    A good enforcer doesn’t care if the hit was clean or not. He doesn’t let the opponent take liberties with his teammates. And if they do, he tells the other teams enforcer to get his team in check or someone will have to answer for it. Its more about accountability than payback.

    I don’t know if Gazdic has a place on this team or not but I do know that the need for on-ice accountability has not left the game. Does the team now have enough overall toughness that the services of Gazdic are no longer needed? Perhaps.