TENCER: Gazdic is making a name for himself
In his latest blog, Dan Tencer takes a look at the play of Luke Gazdic this season
It was an easy decision for the Oilers management team to claim Luke Gazdic on waivers when the Dallas Stars made him one of the final cuts of their training camp. They had an eye previously on Gazdic but were put over the top when they saw him in person in Oklahoma City when the Oilers and Stars played their final pre-season game. Gazdic was involved physically, scored a goal and had drawn the attention of tough guy Steve MacIntyre, who was injured trying to take a piece from Gazdic.
The book on Gazdic was provided in part by Edmonton Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal, who had coached Gazdic for a handful of games when they crossed paths with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. A big, tough player who had enough skill and ability to play a semi-regular shift without being a liability, Gazdic was also younger than MacIntyre and Mike Brown. Gazdic’s presence eventually led to the trade of Brown and the waiving of MacIntyre.
Compared to Brown, the evaluation was made that he was a bit better player and a bit younger, and probably more capable of winning fights. Compared to MacIntyre, he was a better player and more able to finish his checks. In the end, he earned the spot, and has completely backed it up every step of the way.
In 27 games with the Oilers this year, Gazdic has nine fights. According to the voting on HockeyFights.com, his record in those fights is 6-2-1.
One of those wins was over Avalanche tough guy Patrick Bordeleau, who doesn’t lose many. Gazdic caught him on the button a couple of times, and then did the same when he goaded Milan Lucic into a fight exactly a week later. Against the Avalanche, the fight settled the game down and led to noticeably less running around by the Avalanche players in a lopsided game. Against Boston, the fight injected energy into the crowd and the bench and the momentum was completely on the side of the Oilers for the duration of the game.
Often times, teams have a choice between a player that can win a lot of fights but not likely finish many checks or play a regular shift, or a player that can play a regular shift and be willing to fight, but not win many. The 24-year-old Gazdic seems to be an excellent hybrid.
The debate about fighting in hockey will continue to boil in the coming years, I’m sure, but I was in the building for those Bordeleau and Lucic fights, and I know what I saw and sensed. He’s capable of making a significant impact on a game, and he did on those nights.
Jason LaBarbera is a great teammate, but the fit didn’t work out here. Devan Dubnyk struggled more than was expected and that necessitated the signing of another goalie, which effectively pushed LaBarbera down to third string. Then, Richard Bachman outplayed him in the pre-season and regular season action that both saw, and blue-chip prospect Laurent Brossoit was acquired in the Smid trade. That pushed LaBarbera down further, and the opportunity here evaporated.
The Oilers get down to 48 contracts with the move. 50 contracts is the maximum, and having some flexibility is very important. It’s tough enough to make one move, let alone having to force a companion move if you’re not in a position to do certain deals.
The Oilers have been shut out four times this season. Buffalo, New York (Rangers), New Jersey and Tampa Bay have been blanked five times. Nashville leads the league with six shutouts against.
David Perron leads the team in shots on goal and goals, indicating a fairly obvious method for success
Great to see Boyd Gordon back. He’s a ridiculous 58.1% in the dot this year but, amazingly, there are four regular centremen (340 or more draws taken) with higher percentages. Vladimir Sobotka, Manny Malhotra, Paul Gaustad and Patrice Bergeron are all north of 60%.
Most times in the NHL when serious injury is involved, the offending player reaches out to apologize to the victim. That didn’t happen when Zack Kassian broke Sam Gagner’s jaw with a reckless high stick, and then Kassian taunted him for his shield jaw protector near the end of last night’s game. TSN’s Ryan Rishaug picked the right phrase when he called attention to this “bush league” play on Twitter last night.