The Oilers finally have competition for roster spots and that’s a good thing

8 months ago
Yesterday, the Oilers made the Sam Gagner and Brandon Sutter PTOs official via posts on their social media accounts, and it had me wondering how likely it is that one or both of these guys can crack the roster. Given the tightness of the Oilers’ salary cap situation, is it even possible to add to the roster without someone else getting punted? I’m eager to find out.
Before I get started, I’m going to go ahead and say that I’m personally cheering for Sam Gagner to turn this PTO into a contract so that he can finally play some meaningful hockey with the franchise that drafted him. Not only was I lucky enough to interview Sam shortly after this news broke, but I’ve also been a fan of his from the moment he was selected 6th overall at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. From the shootout moves to the willingness to drop the mitts with guys bigger than him, Gagner checked off all the boxes for what I care about as a fan. No matter where he was playing, I also cheered for Sam Gagner.
I think this is a guy who knows what it means to be an Oiler, loves the city, and could add a layer of intensity to the bottom half of our lineup. Hell, I would even be happy if he signed up to do the Devin Shore role and cruise around as the team’s 13th forward. No matter what the role, I want Sam Gagner on this hockey team. The question, however, is whether or not Sam’s hips will allow him to play at the level required to earn a spot on the 2023 version of the Edmonton Oilers. What about Brandon Sutter? Our man hasn’t played in the NHL for a couple of years now because of his battle with long COVID, but the opportunity for an amazing comeback story exists if he comes into camp and battles his bag off. Remember, earned not given.
With only $382,000 in cap space available and plenty of competition for the bottom three (six?) spots in the lineup, I do wonder how likely it is that either Gagner or Sutter will be able to beat out the likes of Lavoie (who has to clear waivers), Janmark, Derek Ryan, and Lane Pederson. Yeah, both of those guys are going to be fired up to go and compete for a spot, but they’ve also got plenty of competition that will be trying to keep both of them off the roster. Outside of Pederson who is brand new to the organization, these are guys that the team either signed or drafted to compete for these positions and I think it’s going to take a lot to bump them out of a spot.
While my heart keeps telling me that Sam Gagner needs to be on the roster no matter what, my brain is doing what it can to make sense of how this going to work, and the only thing I can come up with is how good it is that people will need to fight for their jobs. It may hurt if a guy like Sam doesn’t take this third tour any further than a PTO, but that’s ultimately good for the team if it happens because someone simply beat him for a job. Gone are the days when players were gifted roster spots at the NHL level — I’m looking at you, Decade of Darkness — and while it’s taken quite some time to get here, I’m looking forward to the results of having players fight for every minute of ice time. It’s almost new and exciting that this is a “thing” around here now.
Even though we’re talking about depth players and I can already hear some of you talking about how this doesn’t really matter, I feel like having two players in Gagner and Sutter that are fighting for their careers will bring out the best in everyone. No matter what happens with those two players in camp — we’ll see how things shake out when the neverending pre-season wraps up — you know that everyone around them will be forced to level their games up or risk missing out on a roster spot at the NHL level with a very good hockey team. And sure, you could suggest that I’m putting too much stock into the battle for depth positions, but I don’t think I am. If anything, it would be damned nice to have a roster packed with competitive players that will do anything possible to help the team win, and after many years of waiting for this to develop, I believe that we’re as close as we’ve ever been to making that happen.


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