Gazdic will turn 25 this Summer. He's of an age with the young Oiler core, who seem to enjoy palling around with the self-described "cave man."
The coaching staff clearly values him. He's played in 58 of a possible 66 Oiler games this year. He is consistently dressed over clearly better hockey options as head coach, Dallas Eakins, continues to affirm his interest in icing a black hole of a 4th line. Whereas a few well-balanced, smartly run hockey teams have recognized the value of having effective hockey players on the 4th line, Eakins persists in the stale thinking of yesteryear that has face-punchers, cyclers and other euphemisms reserved for the bottom 3 rostered forwards.
Here's how Chicago Blackhawks coach, Joel Quenneville, has used his 4th line this year:
Here, Quenneville is clearly employing a similar strategy to Alain Vigneault's use of the Malholtra line in Vancouver. The extreme zone starts for the Kruger line allows Quenneville to play his top 9 forwards in favorable offensive ice. This only works if your 4th line can actually play significant minutes of defensive hockey and not get their heads bashed in.
Eakins doesn't have the roster to do what Quenneville is doing here. He is literally using a single player, 3rd line center Boyd Gordon, to accomplish the same task.
(both usage charts taken from extraskater.com)
Roster strengths of the respective teams aside, Oiler GM Craig MacTavish has given Eakins options for icing a much more effective 4th line. For instance, a line of Lander-Smyth-Jones, though not ideal by NHL standards would be a huge improvement over the line as variously constructed throughout the year.
So, what we are clearly seeing is a commitment to what Eakins calls "that heaviness" which he likes to see on 4th lines. I see no reason to expect either MacTavish or Eakins to experience a revelation about bottom of the roster construction and usage anytime soon. It ought to be clear by now that jackhole Zach Kassian killed the dream MacTavish outlined so eloquently in the Summer. Let's review and shed a tear together:
In today’s NHL, you really have to have a threat to score at some point, even marginally. We had a lot of guys that the best they were going to be in any given game, was be a non-factor. There wasn’t a lot of upside for our guys, our role players, to significantly help us.
The few times that they did, we ended up winning those games. So we certainly have to get more impact out of our bottom six forwards.
This dream was crushed along with Sam Gagner's jaw. Going forward the 4th line is going to feature pluggers, scrubs, scraps, turnip tops and a river of beet juice.
There's no need here to review Gazdic's ability to play hockey. He can't is the correct answer. In a comparison of recent Oiler 4th line enforcers and hopefuls, Jonathan Willis found that Gazdic compared unfavourably to both Laraque and Stortini. Still, I am not alone in thinking the Oilers value Gazdic and that he may well stick with the team. Scott Reynolds recently suggested that of the bottom of barrel Oiler prospects, Gazdic was the most likely to hit 200 NHL games "by a mile." And, Lowetide has his own unique way of valuing Gazdic: having him on the roster keeps MacTavish from sending away 4th round picks for Mike Brown, or using top 100 picks on Cam Abney.
So, Let's presume he's sticking around...
Since the expiry of his entry level contract, Gazdic has been re-upped twice by the Dallas Stars. Both contracts were 2-way, single year deals. His current deal, owned by the Oilers ever since the Stars waived him, sees him making $635K ($85K if he is demoted). He will be a restricted free agent when his current deal expires.
In order for the Oilers to retain negotiating rights with Gazdic, the Oilers must offer him a qualifying offer. In Gazdic's case, because he is making less than $660K and surely to play 60 or more games this season, the Oilers offer must be at least $698,5K on a one-way deal.
I've been curious as to whether MacTavish and Gazdic see his value as being higher than that offer. This curiosity led to draft a list of comparables for Gazdic's future contract. Cap Geek generates it's own list of comparables based solely on cap hit. While useful to look at, I find it both too broad and restricting to offer much insight. So, I've created my own list revolving around Gazdic's history and player type.
Gazdic is going to be 25 this summer. This year is his establishing year in the NHL. He scores less than 10 points and has more than 90 PIMs. Using this criteria, I created a list of players from the past 4 years (since the 09-10 season). I then restricted that list further by only looking at those players who signed a contract after establishing themselves in the NHL in order to rule out players with longer track records and more established reputations, i.e., players with several pro hockey contracts.
List of comparables:
This list breaks down into two rough camps: players on 1-way and 2-way deals. The former are exclusively (as far as I can tell) players who've hit the criteria to force a 1-way qualifying offer, or are UFAs, whereas the latter remain under the thumb of their team to a certain extent.
(ELC exceptions are players who made the jump to the NHL early enough to establish themselves as NHL players during the tenure of their ELC. I've listed their subsequent contracts for reference).
Because of Gazdic's situation, I think we can hone in on the 1-way deals. What seems to happen is that teams and players reach a mutually beneficial agreement in these contracts. Players agree to hover around the league minimum in salary in exchange for an extra year of term.
I wouldn't be surprised if Gazdic and the Oilers also opt for a 2 year deal. He'll be guaranteed $698,5K. Can he reach as high as Rinaldo and Sestito and get up around $750K? I don't know. But, it sure looks like we should expect a two year, 1-way deal c. $700K… maybe more.