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It can be said, for sure, that many old-timey hockey guys don’t have a firm grasp on the ways in which statistical analysis of the sport is revolutionizing it, and our understanding thereof. It can also be said that they likely don’t want to have a firm grasp of that kind of thing. I saw the trailers for “Trouble with the Curve.” I know how the game be.
But that kind of lack of understanding was perhaps never more evident than a recent interview Preds coach Barry Trotz gave ESPN’s Craig Custance, in defense of the largely indefensible contract his team recently extended to Paul freakin’ Gaustad. You remember that one, right? It was for four years and $13 million. For a grind-line guy who, yes, is very good at faceoffs. Isn’t that right, Barry?
“Paul Gaustad fits perfectly to the needs of the Nashville Predators,” he told Custance.
That may very well be true. The Preds were tied for 21st in the league last season with a faceoff percentage of just 49, and Gaustad was seventh in the league at 57.3. That’s a huge jump and if you can use him situationally — then get him the hell off the ice — to win a draw on a crucial power play or late in the game. That’s totally fair. Trotz also notes that he’s a great leader and sets a sterling example for the Preds’ terribly young roster. Less important, but okay, whatever.
Then came the money quote:
“If the game is on the line, Paul Gaustad will be taking that draw. You’re up a goal with a minute left in the game, Paul Gaustad is out there. Is he worth 10 points a year? Probably.”
Well, uhh, how to put this nicely? Paul Gaustad’s ability to win close-and-late draws is worth 10 points a year in the way that Trotz’s neck is reminiscent of a giraffe’s. In that it is not in any way.
Let’s look at the basic facts. Paul Gaustad’s corsi relative last year was an astonishingly bad -11.5, though it must be said he didn’t exactly play slouches giving that he is a checking line center. That number means when he’s on the ice, his team gives up a lot more shots than it produces, regardless of how many draws he wins in vital situations (still less than three out of every five).
Let’s remember that this contract came after the Predators traded a first-round pick to acquire him, and a 14-game regular season in which Gaustad compiled a staggering 0-4-4, and 1-1-2 in 10 playoff games. So it’s not as though even basic counting stats are in any way helpful in vindicating this contract.
But okay, maybe all that isn’t fair. Let’s look at the point shares Gaustad earned last season for both Buffalo and Nashville, according to Hockey-Reference. If you guessed 1.2, you are correct. That’s KIND of close to 10, right? Hell, by this metric, Gaustad has only racked up 14.1 points for his teams in nine NHL seasons, so it’s not like last season was even an aberration.
For comparison, here is a list of skaters who WERE worth 10 or more points last season: Evgeni Malkin (15.7), Steven Stamkos (14.7), Erik Karlsson (13.1), Shea Weber (11.4), Marian Gaborik (11.2), Alex Pietrangelo (11.2), James Neal (11), Zdeno Chara (10.9), Claude Giroux (10.6), Ilya Kovalchuk (10.5), Jason Spezza (10.5), and Jordan Eberle (10.3). In short, the elitest of elite players. And only those players.
Granted, all those guys make a hell of a lot more than Gaustad’s $3.25 million, but 1.2 point shares is more in line with what Jim Slater and Nate Guenin provided to their teams last season. If you think you should be paying a player of Nate Guenin’s caliber that much more than league minimum, please get out of the NHL.
Although, now that I think about it, it occurs to me that Trotz might have meant “points” as in “goals and assists,” and Gaustad is certainly worth that.
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