Tonight, center Paul Gaustad was re-signed by the Predators to a four-year, $13 million deal to stay in Nashville. It’s a deal that will raise some eyebrows, but was necessary if the team wanted to insure they prevented Gaustad from hitting the open market on Sunday.
– While $3.25 million per season may seem like a hefty price tag for a third-line center, Gaustad’s skill set makes him a unique player in this year’s free agent class. In all likelihood, Poile would have paid more if he’d waited until tomorrow afternoon to sign the 30-year-old. His face-off prowess makes him a valuable commodity and he was one of the best centers set to hit the free agent market tomorrow.
– With Gaustad signed, GM David Poile has one less hole he has to fill in free agency and can put even more focus on Ryan Suter and any other free agents he may have his eye on. The team only has a couple of needs – a great spot to be in on the eve of one of the most important days in franchise history.
– When the Predators traded for Paul Gaustad in February, they acquired a player with a skill set the team hadn’t had in some time. Gaustad’s face-off ability is elite. He won 57.3% of his draws last season. Jerred Smithson, Scott Nichol and Yanic Perreault are the only centermen since the lockout that the team has had that consistently won over 50% of their draws, but each of those players was limited. Gaustad is a more rounded player that can be used in more situations while providing greater results.
– The signing gives Poile some roster flexibility that the team hasn’t had the last few seasons. If he wants to sign or trade for another center, the team could move Nick Spaling or David Legwand to wing and actually be stronger down the middle. With Gaustad back, the team is already stronger down the middle than they have been in a few years and there’s still time to add to that depth.
– Spaling and Gaustad are both good enough and responsible enough on both ends of the ice that Coach Trotz can actually roll four lines in all situations and really take advantage of the depth the team has at wing.
– The importance of winning face-offs can’t be overstated. Simply put, winning a face-off is the easiest ways to gain possession of the puck. Gaustad’s face-off knowledge is second to none. Given a full preseason to share some of that knowledge with his teammates, his re-signing is likely to benefit other centers on the roster, especially a young guy like Spaling.
“He’s taught me a lot of things that I’m trying to work on, and I’m trying to learn from him. He helps a lot with giving me tendencies of other players and preparing me,” said Spaling in April. “Before every game we have a discussion about their centermen and their tendencies, watch videos and stuff like that. He’s pretty focused and detailed when it comes to faceoffs.”
– Paul Gaustad won 48-of-87 (55.1%) face-offs in the Predators’ first-round series against Detroit. Without his face-off work in the defensive zone, the outcome may well have been different. Remember, three of the four wins in the series came by one goal.
– One area in particular where Gaustad excels is on the penalty kill. Last season, he ranked in the top five in short-handed face-off win percentage at 56.1%. He won 20 of 35 (57.1%) short-handed draws in the Detroit series.
– With Gaustad and defensemen Hal Gill (re-signed for two years, $4 million on Thursday) in the lineup, the Predators penalty-kill was 33-for-36 (91.7%). In the 24 games either Gill or Gaustad appeared in, the penalty-kill was 52-for-58 (89.7%). Though both of stats represent small samples, the difference Gill and Gaustad made was substantial. The Preds’ penalt-kill was average before they were acquired, ranking 16th in the NHL when Gill was acquired, but finished the season ranked 10th in the NHL.
– This signing, along with the re-signing of Gill, is yet another statement by Poile to Suter and other free agents that the Predators organization is committed to competing for the cup year in and year out.
“I think every year we’re going to have a shot at it,” Gaustad told The Tennessean tonight. “That was my main goal, was winning the Stanley Cup. I think Nashville will have a strong chance of winning it every year.”