Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Debate: Where's Paul Gaustad going?
By Pierre LeBrun
As the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks proved last year in getting valuable mileage from trade deadline pickups, it’s not always the big moves or big names that have an impact in the playoffs.
Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley paid dividends for the Bruins as deadline additions en route to a Stanley Cup ring, while Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins were solid contributors for the Canucks last spring after coming over before the deadline.
The preamble above was presented to you to explain why I would devote this edition of the Deadline Debate blog to Paul Gaustad, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He’s not the sexiest name out there, but he’s a player who could have an important impact for a contender. He’s a strapping third-line center who can kill penalties, provide lots of grit and physicality -- which becomes a paramount element come playoff time -- and is terrific in the faceoff dot. You’d want him on the ice with a minute left in a playoff game your team was leading.
"He had a slow start this year, I thought, but has picked it up in the second half,’’ an NHL scout, requesting anonymity, told ESPN.com this week. "He’s a big guy who can grind it out -- you need those guys in the playoffs -- but I’d be careful to make sure to pair him with better skaters. He doesn’t get up and down the ice too well. But he’s a good penalty killer, a good pickup for a good team that just needs to upgrade their size on their third or fourth line.’’
Now, it’s no sure thing that the Buffalo Sabres will move Gaustad, especially after another win last night, but if he is indeed made available before the Monday 3 p.m. ET deadline, here’s a list of teams -- in no particular order -- that I believe would be a good fit for him.
Detroit Red Wings: Gaustad would be just what the Wings need, adding a physical presence to their skilled forward set. Remember what the scout above said about putting him with speedier linemates? How about Darren Helm? That would be a good fit in my mind. The Wings are 20th on the PK and could use him there. I also think the Wings got pushed around a tad in back-to-back playoff exits to San Jose. Gaustad’s size would be welcome.
Vancouver Canucks: Like the Wings, the powerhouse Canucks could use a little more size and strength in their bottom-six group. The Canucks have few holes, if any, but a bigger forward for their third or fourth line would be a good addition. It’s why the Canucks also have interest in Travis Moen, although the Canadiens are telling teams they might not move him.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Gaustad’s $2.3 million cap hit might be a tad rich for the Pens but after failing to acquire Dominic Moore, the Penguins, I think, are on the lookout for help at center for their bottom-six group. Given the uncertainty of Sidney Crosby’s future, the Pens need to cover themselves, either way. If Crosby isn’t in the picture, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Gaustad wouldn’t be a bad 1-2-3 punch at center. And if Crosby does come back, Gaustad could either be a tremendous fourth-line center or a third-line winger to Staal. Or they load up Crosby and Malkin. Well, you get the picture. Gaustad would give the Pens some options.
New York Rangers: So many focus on the Rangers’ search for a goal-scoring winger that one forgets they could also use some size on their third or fourth line. The Rangers are middle-of-the-pack in the league in faceoff win percentage and could use Gaustad there as well. He’s a better fit on this team than most people realize.
San Jose Sharks: It’s not as likely to be a fit after the Sharks picked up Moore, but I think there’s still a level of interest in Gaustad. The priority in San Jose -- which is suddenly struggling -- would be to add a top-six forward, but if they strike out on that front I think Gaustad could be a player who could fit in well in their bottom-six group.
In the final analysis, I like Detroit as the best fit for Gaustad -- if he does indeed move -- but all five of these teams could use him.