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A surprising announcement by Edmonton Oilers today:

The Edmonton Oilers announced on Tuesday that they’ve placed forward Sam Gagner on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
The 34-year-old has recorded five goals and five assists in 27 games for the Oilers this season, bringing his career totals with the Blue & Orange over three separate stints with the club to 116 goals and 211 assists in 569 games.

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The three-time Oiler made the club after a successful Professional Tryout last fall, and has contributed depth scoring since a memorable return to the line-up against Dallas Stars in early November. He lost his regular spot due to an injury suffered just before Christmas, returned for a few games in late January before being displaced by another UFA signing, right wing Corey Perry.

Since then Gagner has most often found himself as the “13th forward”, slotting into the line-up occasionally when another forward was unavailable, such as Sunday against Pittsburgh when Derek Ryan was banged up. Gagner played well in that outing but didn’t find the scoresheet.

Since the calendar turned he has played 9 of Edmonton’s 25 games, scoring 1 point.

So what did (or didn’t) he do to find himself on the waiver wire today? Jason Gregor of Sports 1440 likely nails it:

Gregor Gagner

In other words, it’s all about the cap space, not the player. Gagner does make the league minimum, but it’s a fact that if the Oilers take on additional salary in an impending trade, they might have to move quickly to fit the newcomer/s under the cap. By waiving Gagner today, they can reassign him to Bakersfield the moment a trade is announced later in the week should they need to. Assuming he clears, that is.

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Not impossible another club puts in a claim, though at this distance it seems unlikely.

No doubt a segment of the fan base will be shouting from the rooftops “Why not Connor Brown? Why not Mattias Janmark?”

Neither vet has exactly been filling the net (he said charitably), but both are solid defensive forwards who play a significant role on Edmonton’s penalty kill unit. Gagner does not. Neither does Perry, whose signing 6 weeks ago likely greased the skids. Currently Perry and Dylan Holloway are the only bottom-six forwards who does not contribute to that unit.

Which begs another question: Why not Holloway? Still on his Entry Level Contract, Holloway could be reassigned without need of waivers, certainly as a “paper transaction” for the 24-48 hours it would take to process a veteran such as Gagner.

Conclusion: Holloway himself may not be invulnerable to a trade. If he is dealt, that instant reassignment option is off the table. The Oilers have no other active players who could be sent out without clearing the waiver hurdle.

All of which is bad news for Sam Gagner, and sad news for Oilers fans who are rooting for him to have a role in the postseason for the first time here. His first 7 years were during the Decade of Darkness. His second stint as an Oiler ended at the trade deadline 4 years ago when he was dealt for salary cap reasons for Andreas Athanasiou. Now this.

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Assuming he does clear waivers on Wednesday, he will surely remain with the big club until a trade is made that necessitates his cap space again be used for another player. A tough situation for a popular veteran, but here we are. Hockey is a cutthroat business, never more so than at the trade deadline.

Tonight’s line-up

Brar BOS

That from this morning before the waiver announcement, with Gagner already isolated as the “extra” forward. Now we know why. Bottom line: Ryan in, Gagner out, rest of the line-up unchanged including Stu Skinner starting in goal.

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