Edmonton Oilers waive Luke Gazdic

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On Wednesday, the Edmonton Oilers placed left wing Luke Gazdic on waivers, clearing a roster spot for defenceman Brandon Davidson to come off injured reserve. It couldn’t have been an easy decision for the team, but it was the right one.

A Nearly Perfect Enforcer

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Rewind ten years and there’s very little doubt that Edmonton would have found a way to hang on to Gazdic, who has been close to a perfect fit for the enforcer role.

As a fighter, Gazdic is in the league’s top tier. Of his four fights this season, hockeyfights.com has him down as winning three and drawing the other. In 22 previous regular season bouts, he has an impressive 13-5-4 record.

I’ve seen criticism that Gazdic doesn’t fight enough, but I don’t buy it; only 17 players in the league have more fights this season. Anyone who watched the Oilers during the Georges Laraque years knows that it can be hard for a heavyweight to find willing opponents, and that’s become increasingly true as enforcers have disappeared from the game. Most of the players ahead of Gazdic on the fighting list are more in the Matt Hendricks mould—hardnosed regulars who have a longer list of potential opponents.

Gazdic’s game has also improved over his time in Edmonton. He’s a limited player but it’s not like the quality of the fourth line falls off a cliff when Gazdic subs in for a Rob Klinkhammer or Lauri Korpikoski. He and Anton Lander have lousy on-ice goal numbers together (due in part to the lack of offensive output the two bring) but are actually above 50 percent by shot differential—they may not be able to finish but the line hasn’t been hemmed in its own end of the rink.

The trouble is that the role Gazdic has worked toward over his entire NHL career is disappearing from the game. No matter how good he is in that slot, as other fighters disappear from the majors it becomes harder and harder for the Oilers to justify keeping him around. So when a roster crunch occurs, as is happening now, he’s vulnerable.

Edmonton had to choose between Gazdic and Lander, and in the battle of specialists these days, faceoffs/penalty kill trump pugilism.

The Future

Todd McLellan5

Unfortunately the business of the game only allows you a 23-man roster. We’ve made some decisions right now on the players that we’d like to have on the roster. I still consider Luke part of our team. We’ve had a number of players that have gone down there—either started the year or appeared down there—and come back better players. Luke needs to play; it’s been a while since he’s been in the lineup, he needs to play a little bit. I think you’ll see Luke back in our lineup and on our roster as the year goes on.

Near the end of his post-practice press availability, Todd McLellan was asked about the decision to waive Gazdic. He set it up more as a ‘see you later’ than ‘so long’ scenario, and it’s entirely plausible that if Gazdic goes unclaimed he may well find his way back to Edmonton. In a scenario where the Oilers move out a number of rental players, it would be easy enough to bring Gazdic back.

It’s not impossible that Gazdic is picked up from the waiver wire, though most of the NHL’s other teams are likely to see things the way the Oilers do. More likely, he’s passed over and finds his way to the farm, as Arizona’s John Scott did earlier this season.

The question is what happens this summer. Gazdic is a restricted free agent, with his two-year, $800,000 contract coming to an end. It’s unlikely the Oilers would qualify him at that rate, though one wonders if they’d be amenable to a two-way deal which would keep him in the system. Then again, Bakersfield already has its share of rugged left wings (Mitch Moroz, Kale Kessy and Braden Christoffer may not be true enforcers but all have some aptitude in the area) and there are only so many spots in the lineup.

One wonders a little about that trio, too, in particular Moroz. It’s not hard to draw comparisons between Gazdic and the player most like him in the Oilers’ system; the two have practically identical production at the same age:

  • Moroz, age 21 season: 30 games, six points, 0.20 points/game
  • Gazdic, age 21 season: 72 games, 17 points, 0.24 points/game

Moroz had better junior numbers, so there may be some untapped potential in that regard. He’d do well to find it soon.

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  • O.C.

    A tough player who can legally hit instead of hoping someone will dance has become the role of choice now.

    Dropping your gloves and getting a penalty for doing just that was the slow road to (almost) eliminating fighting. It pretty much guaranteed the elimination of the “fighter”.

    Fighting will still occur; you need bring more than just that to the table.

    Kassian fills that role.

  • Ayush

    NO NO NO! HE FED MCDAVID! HE TOOK CARE OF HIM WHEN HE WAS INJURED! WITHOUT GAZDICS MAGICAL FOOD POWERS, MCDAVID WILL LOSE HIS GOLDEN TOUCH! Really though, guy was having a rough season, love his character though

  • LibrarianMike

    As a general rule I’m not sad to see enforcers being phased out. That being said, Gazdic certainly has always come across as a pretty cool dude and I wish him all the best.

  • O.C.

    He has done a great job in the roll he has played. He seems like a fantastic guy that the guys seem to truly respect. I hope he finds work within the organization in some capacity when his career is complete. He’s fought hard for Edmonton.

  • O.C.

    This demotion is a result of Luke’s poor bodychecking skills. He never hit to hurt.. Watch Khaira and Kassian finish checks…luke cannot replicate this….Luke might be the best fighter in the league, but he sucks at bodychecking.

  • Anton CP

    This is the human side of the pro life. Who is the flavor of the month and where are the team’s needs trending? As good a guys as Gazdic, Lander, Moroz, Pitlick or Klinkhammer are they know the rules of the game. You either play the way the team asks or you are vulnerable to being replaced by someone who is prepared to do what it takes and can be acquired more cheaply.

    As talented as the top six are the bottom six are lacking point production. Hendricks is one player who seems to know how his bread gets buttered. He doesn’t produce an abundance of scoring but he knows what he needs to do to stay in the line-up. You know what he is going to bring. I love that guys character and honest work ethic. He plays like a Marine.

    Pakarinen seems to have grasped this all important concept. He is Hendricks-like IMO. I also think Kassian has come in with a clear idea of his role and is establishing himself.

    I wish these waived players all the best but recent acquisitions have earned their positions and the Oil are getting much harder to play against. That is the bottom line.

  • Anton CP

    Gazdic’s biggest problem is the completely lack of production, in 135 games that he only managed to score 5 goals and 8 points total. Korpikoski has 6 goals and 12 points for 40 games he played so far with the Oilers and Pakarinen has 5 goals and 10 points in 57 games he played for the Oilers. Heck, even Kassian has 3 points already in 7 games he played so far.

  • Anton CP

    I kind of hope he is picked up, plays against the oilers one game and beats the crap out of Kassian. I’m an Oilers fan but Kassian still deserves an as whopping from Gazdic for the Gagner incidents.

    • Keepyourstickontheice

      I kinda hope you get hit by a bus for saying someone on your team deserves a whooping for something that happened to a player that isn’t even on the team anymore.. Get over it already..

      • Jay (not J)

        I’m still not a Kassian fan. He took zero responsibility for his actions.Mocked his victim.

        Became a substance abuser. Yeah a real gem. I’d be more cautious about who I hitched my wagon to. Kassian is a POS. He never did apologize. I want him to have his face smashed to hamburger. I want him to get the beating he deserves. I hope he steps in front of a big truck and learns a valuable lesson. “No brakes never stopped nobody”

        He is a disgusting human being. I hope the Oilers pump and dump him. Preferable down a deep dark hole.

        Spitz* I hate him more than Pronger.

  • Rob...

    Gazdic didn’t take anyone to task for either the Gagner or the McDavid injuries. He made himself replaceable by any other player of greater hockey talent. I wish him the best, but his own on-ice decisions have led to this off ice one.

  • Tikkanese

    I for one am sad to see the end of this era. Prust, Scott, Gazdic all clearing waivers and/or in the minors. Not many heavyweights left. All basically in the name of hoping to get 2G more per season out of the next Linus Omark.

    I grew up on the real Battle of Alberta. End to end high scoring games with Semenko, Mcsorely, Mclelland, Smith, Beukeboom vs Hunter, Peplinski, Fotiu etc. Not to mention the dirty stickwork guys like Sheehy and Lowe or yappy Tikkanen and Fleury driving up the animosity. Was fantastic hockey to watch on every front. Call me a Neanderthal if you like, I really don’t care. My Dad was a boxer so I’ve always liked the fighting sports in addition to the odd scrap in hockey.

    Hopefully this is a wake up call for Luke. I think it was Gregor saying that Luke plays by a code that doesn’t exist anymore. Luke is too nice on the ice. He needs to be an energy guy regardless of nobody accepting his dance card invitations. He doesn’t do that. You never see him face washing guys in scrums, starting scrums, or even hitting all that much. He can skate very well for a big man. I’ve seen him lay big hits on fleet of foot guys like Bouwmeester in the past, so he can do it, he just doesn’t often at all. When he challenges other heavyweights and they don’t accept (ex John Scott), he never goes and challenges the light heavyweights (ex Mike Brown) just to get that heavyweights attention. It’s basically identical to how Georges career ended too soon. Way too nice.

    I just hope if it truly is the end of this era that it doesn’t open up the door for the idiots of the world like Cooke/Max Lapierre/etc from taking even more liberties.