EDMONTON, AB - As we inch towards the 48-hour countdown to Wednesday's home opener for the Oilers against the Vancouver Canucks, the hard decisions for Head Coach Dave Tippett and his coaching staff have to be made.
On Monday, forward Sam Gagner and defenceman Brandon Manning were placed on waivers, along with William Lagesson being assigned to the AHL's Bakersfield Condors, as the first moves by the club before rosters around the NHL are finalized Tuesday afternoon.
The bench boss commented on the fluidity of the Oilers roster at this late point of Training Camp from the Hall of Fame Room at Rogers Place, and how his expectations for its evolution in the past two-and-a-half weeks have changed from the summer.
"Ever-evolving, and it's going to continue to evolve," described Tippett. "I talked about it before - you put names on a whiteboard and you have this fantasy of what you think they can all do, who's going to play with who, and then you get to Training Camp to start putting those things in place and you understand that some of those pieces on the whiteboard weren't quite what you imagined or some of them were better than you imagined.
"As you go through Training Camp, you evaluate every guy, you get a sense of what they can and can't do, where they might fit, and the next part of it is where they can go. It's been an evolution of our group that's not done yet."
Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 09.30.19
A big decision factor for Tippett fell on the penalty kill, and how players like Josh Archibald, Markus Granlund, Colby Cave, and Patrick Russell have excelled in those roles since the start of pre-season.
"I think our penalty-killing was very good, and some of that is the personnel we brought in," Tippett said. "I like the scheme, but I think the personnel we brought in to kill penalties has the mindset that they're penalty-killers. They're not just guys doing it because there's nobody else here to do it - they're penalty killers."
Despite Gagner's proven pedigree and a team-first approach, the decision by Tippett to construct the Oilers bottom six with role players was one that worked against the 30-year-old with newly-arrived forwards in Joakim Nygard and Tomas Jurco playing their way into potential opening-night spots in the top six.
"He's first and foremost a good person. He's a smart hockey guy," Tippett said. "These players we're talking about here in Nygard and Jurco have just kind of pushed the pace for us, and Sam's caught in a situation where we want to have elite penalty-killers at the bottom end of our line-up and have people that have the job to kill penalties to be sound down there. Sam doesn't fit into that. Sam is more of a top-six or a complementary role, and we put some of those younger, quicker legs in those spots.
Tippett continued: "Sam was in that bubble of players here, and I still think Sam will probably play games for us this year if he gets through waivers. But right now, we just think that there's a couple of these guys that bring extra pace to our game. That, coupled with Granlund, Archibald and Cave being penalty-killers, there just wasn't a spot for him here. Patrick Russell has played very well in Camp, needs waivers to go down, and I don't want to risk that chance of losing him right now."
Oilers forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all lined up at centre on separate line during Monday's practice - a decision motivated by the news that Riley Sheahan is expected to miss time due to a concussion.
"Sheahan is going to miss 7-to-10 days," Tippett said. "He's in concussion protocol and we found that out yesterday afternoon. That sparked a little bit of where we went today. I wanted to look at a couple of guys and see how they fit today, and tomorrow we'll see where we are."