With Luke Gazdic back from injury and practicing with the Oilers it's only a matter of time before he actually gets some playing time in a game. I don't think Gazdic does a single thing to make the Oilers a better team, so the prospect of him dressing for even a single game isn't something that excites me, but I realize the reality of the situation and I accept that it is going to happen. And based on Dallas Eakins' post practice comments this afternoon, it might happen sooner than later.
#Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins on when Luke Gazdic and/or Steve Pinizzotto could be in the lineup: "It could be as soon as tomorrow."
— Chris Wescott (@TheChrisWescott) November 18, 2014
I've discussed Gazdic previously and I have no interest in turning this into a post counting the ways that he isn't a good hockey player, as far as I'm concerned spending any time trying to changes people's minds about him is a waste of time for all involved. But even for those who feel that Gazdic has value, the idea of fitting him into the lineup can't be as easy as it sounds. Who comes out? How do you reshuffle the lines to make room?
There isn't a fifth centre in the lineup that would allow the team to give either Leon Draisaitl or Mark Arcobello the night off (for the record I have no issue with Arcobello but he's a name thrown out regularly as one where an upgrade is required) which would in turn open up a spot on the wing. And I think it's safe to assume that none of the wingers in the top nine will be be benched in favour of Gazdic. That leaves just Matt Hendricks and Jesse Joensuu as options to open up a spot for him.
But the fourth line - Boyd Gordon with Hendricks and Joensuu - has been a relative bright spot for the Oilers this season. When compared to the rest of the forwards, the Corsi% that these three have posted through 18 games might not seem all that exciting, but when you factor in offensive zone starts below 12% and suddenly you get a very different picture of how they've been performing. And I think Eakins sees this too because he's been willing to send this line out late in the third period, with the faceoff in the Oilers end, and his team holding onto a lead. You certainly wouldn't have expected that from the fourth line last season; a fourth line which Gazdic regularly played on.
I don't think there is a credible case to be made that he's a better option than either Hendricks or Joensuu on the fourth line, especially not when you consider how the fourth line has been used this season. And although there are a great many things wrong with this version of the Oilers - depth at centre, the defence, and the sub .900 goaltending we've been treated to thus far this season - his playing five minutes a night does nothing to address those deficiencies. The simple reality is that there is not a good reason to alter the lineup in order to get Gazdic any playing time.
About the only argument that could be made in favour of Gazdic is that the team has lost three games in a row. But assuming that changes need to be made when the team loses is just as flawed as assuming you shouldn't make changes following a win. Losing isn't good, but a loss doesn't mean that the team played bad either. Look at the Oilers last two games: in each, the majority of the Corsi attempts were credited to the Oilers, unfortunately the results didn't matchup when all was said and done. That happens sometimes, it doesn't justify putting a player who can't compete in the NHL into the lineup.
Like playing Will Acton for a game because he'd been a good soldier, playing Gazdic does nothing more than reduce the Oilers chances of winning the game. If they lose it won't be his fault, but his being in the lineup won't have helped their cause either. You can't go wrong by putting the best players available to you into your lineup. Gazdic is not one of the team's 12 best forwards, plain and simple.