Buffalo's Paul Gaustad would be a perfect fit for San Jose
It's that time of year again.
The topsy-turvy twitter trade game is welcoming plenty of new participants to the table each day as Plank tries his best to keep the front page discussion around here grounded and rational. Every now and then Matt can't help himself of course, but that's part of the reason why we love him so much.
There are plenty of unrealistic trade rumors out there. What do players like Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Correy Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Suter, Tim Thomas, and Zack Parise have in common?
All have been mentioned as possibilities to be moved in deadline deals over the last few weeks and none of them are realistic opportunities for San Jose. While Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson does have more cap space to work with than he has had in years-- according to Cap Geek the Sharks could add $3.5 MM in cap hits as of right now and $5.9 MM once the deadline arrives with both Niittymaki and Sheppard on the roster-- the prospects in the pipeline and committed payroll heading into next year make any long term commitments unrealistic.
What those Stanley Cup aspirations and cap space this season mean however is that the Sharks will once again be a buyer at the deadline, a position the organization has been comfortable with as of late. San Jose hasn't subtracted a significant piece from the roster at the deadline for years now unless you count Steve Bernier as a significant piece (and if you count Steve Bernier as a significant piece definitely let us know-- our fantasy teams need some help).
With Martin Havlat serving as a deadline acquisition of his own when it comes to adding a piece to the Sharks top six it's likely that San Jose will focus the majority of their efforts at acquiring a lower line player that helps to round out their depth and be able to carry his own in a second line role if the situation calls for it.
Which is what makes this piece from Elliote Friedman so intriguing:
A couple of teams think Buffalo's Paul Gaustad would be a very nice fit in San Jose. That kind of big, depth centre is exactly the kind of player the Sharks eye. Another GM said he could see Wild defender Marek Zidlicky being a possibility there, too. He's out of favour in Minnesota and those two teams like dealing with one another.
As far as the rumor game goes, Elliotte Friedman is one of the guys you can trust. Unlike many others he's never blindly throwing darts at a wall in a quest for page hits, and as one of the of the preeminent hockey personalities in North America, a comment like this carries some legitimate weight.
Having said that, we think it's safe to rule out the Zidlicky angle-- with the Sharks blueline already packed with eight defenseman, and Zidlicky carrying a $4.0 MM cap hit into next season at the age of 35, that's a play that doesn't make sense for the Sharks.
The Gaustad angle? That one has us chomping at the bit.
With Buffalo quickly spiraling out of contention and spending an exorbitant amount of money this year and next, pending UFA's and RFA's on the team are expected to be ripe for the picking this month. According to Friedman the Sharks are after a big center who can provide depth, something that the 6'5 225 pound Gaustad provides in spades. Furthermore, this jives with Kevin Kurz's assertion that the Sharks aren't getting everything they expected from Michal Handzus. The scoring chances compiled by FTF staff writer The Neutral this season throw some more fuel on that fire, although from a qualitative standpoint we feel like Handzus has helped more than he has hurt.
Gaustad would definitely bring depth to the forward group of course, a unit that has had trouble with inconsistency and injury this season. And consistency is the name of the game for Gaustad, who over the last three full years has posted 12 goals every season. A rough year this season marred by injury has depressed his counting stats, but poor play from Buffalo as a whole softens those numbers-- Gaustad seems like a guy who would thrive with a new team, something that should be intriguing for the Sharks.
What Gaustad has continued to bring this year is physical play-- at 6'5 225 pounds Gaustad would be the biggest forward on the team aside from Brad Winchester. That size would fit in well with the methodical low cycle game San Jose thrives at grinding opposing teams down with.
Furthermore, Gaustad is no stranger to ice time in shorthanded situations. He finished last season second on the team before former Shark Mike Grier and currently leads the Sabres with 2:49 TOI this season. With that heavy load Gaustad still comes out smelling like roses, allowing 5.01 goals/60 in comparison to 6.97 when he's off the ice.
Speaking of the penalty kill, Gaustad is a face-off maven with his 55.6% success rate good for 16th in the NHL this season. Last year, Gaustad was third in the NHL (with a 59.8%). The year before? Sixth (57.4%). Those numbers show that one year isn't an outlier. He's proficient at his craft, and on a Sharks penalty kill that has struggled this season (while admittedly much better as of late), winning those ever important faceoffs and burning time off the clock is an asset that would be extremely helpful.
That's really the most intriguing part of Gaustad's game-- his ability to make a significant contribution in the defensive zone. His defensive zone draw numbers are to die for (1st on the team over the last three seasons), and what's best about those situations is the context-- Gaustad's relative CORSI has ended up around the 7th spot in all of those seasons, which is nothing short of spectacular considering he's starting the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive end. This is a player who pushes the play in the right direction, a valuable commodity in this League especially when you can surround him with some talented players.
What Gaustad lacks of course is top six scoring ability, something the Sharks struggled with heading into the All-Star Break (although they more than made up for it last night). But he does have a history of consistently scoring 12 goals-- putting him on that third line with Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell/Michal Handzus would give San Jose some scoring depth that would further strengthen the team's ability to get timely goal scoring from their lower lines. Coupled with Gaustad's ability to drive the play in the right direction and his defensive responsibility as a whole? That's something that is real easy to get excited about.
With a $2.3 MM contract and impending free agency this offseason, Gaustad is a low-risk and affordable acquisition for San Jose that still would allow them to make another move to stay under the cap.
As we explored in August of last year, third line acquisitions have historically been cheap to come by at the deadline-- a package that centers around a mid-round pick and a prospect that requires seasoning could be enough to land Gaustad, especially if Buffalo decides to sell off their impending free agents to build for the future.
San Jose will prepare for the future as well this month, even if that future lies only two months away.
With Gaustad on the roster, that future would look brighter than it does already.