Paul Gaustad is an assumed part of the Buffalo Sabres “core”. He is a homegrown player who has come up through the minors with a number of players on the current roster. Lately it seems as if he is a prime target to be traded away from Buffalo.
Gaustad was a late-round draft pick (7th round, 220 overall, 2000) who has blossomed into a leader and a strong defensive forward. He has become one of the league’s best faceoff men, is a mainstay on penalty kills and plays with grit (sometimes). He is also due to become an UFA at the end of the season. All of these factors have made him a prime candidate to be moved by the trade deadline later this month.
The rumors have begun to swirl around a number of Sabres players who are expected to be on the chopping block. While some are expected to bring minimal returns (Brad Boyes), Gaustad has a number of traits that will make him an attractive piece for a Stanley Cup contender to chase.
His salary ($2.3m cap hit) is somewhat prohibitive, particularly for a player with his skillset. However, his free agent status makes his impact on the cap and real dollars far less significant.
The biggest rumor surrounding the center ties him to Detroit. Apparently Kirk Maltby has been sniffing around for a few games as of late. Detroit would be a team expected to chase Gaustad. He kills penalties and wins faceoffs, two traits playoff teams covet. Certainly there are other teams out there who will likely inquire about Gaustad as well. San Jose and Vancouver could probably be roped in as potential suitors as well.
The question that needs to be asked is what type of return will Gaustad bring? The Sabres are still in a position where they want to build a winner, so picks and prospects aren’t the ideal pieces to receive. However Gaustad isn’t the type of player to bring roster players back in a trade, unless he was part of a larger package.
One factor that plays to Buffalo’s advantage is the fact that Gaustad’s game has enjoyed a serious uptick in recent weeks. Last week alone he had four points and was a bear on penalty kills and faceoffs. He has also bumped to play wing, showing some versatility that could interest potential suitors. Still, I would say his value is no higher than a second or third round pick – and a second rounder would be pushing it. I would be surprised if a prospect of any type were to be dangled. If so, I don’t even know what level prospect would please Regier in a swap.
Some Sabres fans are likely still high on what Gaustad brings to the table. If he could play with the fire and edge he had as a youngster, I would have a lot harder time wanting to see him go. However, there are nights where his physical game is absent.
Based on the amount of money he is being paid for the services he provides, I would expect his number to drop significantly this summer, especially since players of a similar caliber make far less (Jeff Halpern). If Gaustad were to take a significant pay cut in the summer I could see him coming back for a few more years. However, if he is asking for any more than $1.3 or $1.5m per season, he isn’t worth the trouble. Even if he were to be traded, the possibility of resigning him would be on the table.
As February 27 draws near, the trade talk surrounding Gaustad will only heat up. Of the players fans and media expect to see traded, Gaustad is one of the most valuable to a playoff-bound team. That alone makes him one of the most likely players to be moved by the end of February.