Sabres’ Depth Getting It Done Through Gaustad
In their last three games, the Buffalo Sabres are 2-0-1 following Saturday night’s shootout win on Long Island. A big part of this recent point streak has been embattled goalie Ryan Miller (last four GP: .959 SV% – thank you @MatthewWGR) but not to be outdone is fourth line center Paul Gaustad. Since the end of the all star break, the Goose has been providing sorely-needed depth support for the ailing Sabres and it’s showing both on and off of the scoresheet.
One criticism of the Sabres all season long has been that when the top line of Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and whoever is playing between them doesn’t score, the Sabres don’t win. Starting on January 31st, Gaustad – who is a pending UFA this July – took those words to heart with a 3 point (1G+2A) performance against Montreal. He also tossed down some epic smack with Max Pacioretty well covered elsewhere. The next game, versus the Rangers, he didn’t record any points but his penalty killing singlehandedly kept them in the game late. To follow that up, the Goose scored the Sabres’ game-tying goal versus the Islanders and was a rock on the kill again, this time in overtime. For the last week, he’s been the heart and soul of this team as they try to engineer some sort of comeback.
Much like his team, Gaustad has had a sub-par season to say the least. Having scored 12 goals each of the last three seasons and averaging just over 10 goals a campaign throughout his career, the center came out of the all star break with just four goals and not much to show for his contract year. Now he’s halfway to his recent average with a head full of steam. As Corey Perry proved with his Hart-winning season, the NHL is very much a “What have you done for me lately?” and if Gaustad can carry this kind of momentum with him for the rest of the year, he should be able to engender at least a modest payday for himself this summer.
Gaustad’s role on the Sabres is well known – solid fourth line center, top 5 faceoff man, 10 goals, handful of fights each season, great penalty killer – but he’ll likely not receive another contract with a $2.3M cap hit from Darcy Regier. The team has $57M already committed to 18 players and are likely looking forward to Gaustad, Brad Boyes, and Jochen Hecht no longer counting against the cap so as to spend on some key areas of need. As Maxime Talbot proved with his deal in Philadelphia this last summer, fourth line centers can make some bank by filling that niche role in free agency. Whether its with the Sabres or elsewhere, the 30-year-old Gaustad will likely have a pleasant new contract to look at this upcoming offseason.
That’s in the future, though. What’s in the now is that he and other players look like they are finally trying their damnedest to right a sinking ship. Will it be worth it to battle back into the top 8 only to (likelY) lose in the first round again, pick in the middle of the first round, and maintain the status quo in Buffalo? Or has the hole this team has already dug too deep to get out of, which becomes more and more likely as wins fail to climb the Sabres up the standings? It’s going to take a lot more of what Gaustad has brought to the ice the last few games from everyone on the roster if they’re going to change their stars this spring.