With the Devils about to visit the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, I thought it would be a good time to examine some of their players as potential trade deadline acquisitions. The Sabres, despite high expectations coming into the season, sit 14th in the conference as of this date and will likely be sellers two weeks from now. Yes, they're only 8 pts out of 8th place, but they have an awful lot of teams to leapfrog and as Devils fans we remember how hard it was to make up those last 8 points last year, especially with the extra-time charity point.
From the Devils' perspective, I expect Lou Lamoriello to have a pretty quiet deadline. This is a young team that doesn't really give you that Stanley Cup contender feeling nor does it give you the "last kick at the can" feeling despite the impending expiration of Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise's contracts. Yet, the Devils do have cap space and could really use a playoff round win to boost revenue and give Parise another reason to stay.
Ideally, I'd love for the Devils to acquire a bona-fide top-pairing defenseman or a top-6 scoring right winger. But that's wishful thinking and the price for such players would be too high to pay in a year where our young players aren't quite ready to contend. On the other hand, we've seen what a difference 3rd and 4th line depth can make as the trade for Alexei Ponikarovsky and signing of Steve Bernier have made an immediate impact. And defensive depth is ALWAYS in demand at the deadline.
So here's the Sabres' CapGeek chart - let's look at who might be available. Among forwards, Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, and Nathan Gerbe are young core forwards on this team and probably unavailable. For better or for worse, the Sabres are stuck with Ville Leino for now. Jason Pominville and Derek Roy are productive prime-age veterans whose price would be high - probably a high-end prospect and a 1st round pick. They'd only be available if the Sabres really wanted to tear it all down and rebuild, but I doubt that very much.
On defense, the Sabres are undoubtedly going forward with Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff for many years to come, and aren't likely to part with promising point-producer Marc-Andre Gragnani. They're committed to a solid but forgettable Andrej Sekera for a few years.
That leaves us with Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht, and Paul Gaustad among fowards (all veterans with expiring contracts, making them natural deadline day rentals), and Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold (both with another year left on their contracts after this one - not naturals to be traded this season but candidates for a salary dump in preparation for the offseason).
I'm going to nix this one right off the bat. Hecht was never a big scorer to begin with, topping out at 56 points even in the Sabres' post-lockout heyday, but at age 34 has been in decline. More importantly, he's played just 22 games this year, missing over 20 games with concussions.
Verdict on Hecht: A bottom-six forward with big-time injury problems this year. Don't bother.
The Sabres acquired Brad Boyes from St Louis to be a top-6 RW and perhaps regain the form that saw him notch 43 goals in 07-08 and 72 points in 08-09 and earned him a $4M/yr contract in 2008. And if the Devils were to acquire him that's what they would be hoping as well as in theory he would be filling a need for the team. Unfortunately for the Sabres, his slip in production in his final two years as a Blue was a harbinger of things to come - he has struggled mightily this year, notching just 3g and 10a in 42 games. Granted, he is shooting just 4% (his career mark is 12%) and he missed most of December with injury, but even when dressed he has played just 13:48 per game, suggesting he is getting 3rd line minutes.
Examining a bit further, we see that Boyes is a modestly positive Corsi player, and has consistently been so since his breakout 2007-08 season. In St Louis, even when he struggled, he wasn't playing weak competition nor was he starting in the offensive zone much more than the defensive zone. In Buffalo this season, however, he has benefited from playing weaker competition and starting more often in the offensive zone.
We can make a fair comparison between Boyes and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Ponikarovsky, also once touted as a solid second-line winger, struggled to score with the Penguins, Kings, and Hurricanes after several modestly successful years with the Maple Leafs. The big difference, however, is in Corsi - Ponikarovsky has been a big-time positive Corsi player for much of the past 5 years where Boyes has not. Boyes may have the better goal-scoring touch but he doesn't possess and control the puck as well and probably isn't as likely to benefit from a change in scenery as Ponikarovsky has.
Verdict on Boyes: Boyes has the hands to score and at age 29 he isn't over the hill just yet, but his confidence has to be at an all-time low. The underlying stats suggest he's more likely to continue being a 20g-20a guy with average defensive ability than a 35-35 top-6 scorer. But putting him on a third-line with strong two-way players like Ponikarovsky and Henrique could make that line a real offensive threat. He'd be an interesting, risky pickup for any team and the Sabres will likely find someone willing to give up a 2nd round pick for him.
Where Boyes would be a risky pickup, you know what you're going to get with Paul Gaustad - an big (6'5") unspectacular checking forward who is a faceoff ace (55.6, 59.8, and 57.4% in the past 3 seasons). The Devils have a great history with checking centers who are good in the faceoff circle (John Madden, Bobby Holik) but the last time they acquired such a player (David Steckel) he wasn't very good for them. Yet Gaustad was a key component of the Sabres' post-lockout success and was on the American squad at last year's World Championships, along with Travis Zajac.
There's nothing spectacular about Gaustad's basic stats. He's a pretty consistent 9-12 goal guy that chips in another 15 or so assists. That's better than Steckel, who's more of a 5-8 goals and 9 assists kind of guy, but only marginally so. More impressive, though, is that Gaustad leads Sabres' forwards in PK time per game with 2:48 per game - something Steckel was clearly not capable of during his stay in NJ.
Gaustad's advanced statistics are something of a mixed picture. Until this year, he's generally been an even Corsi player but hasn't definitely been playing against the opposition's top line. His Corsi this season is ugly at -9.96 despite the rest of his team being positive on average. But Gaustad's been utilized in an ultra-defensive role this season - he starts his shift in the offensive zone just 40% of the time. Moreover, he's playing far tougher competition than he ever has before. The faceoff numbers included with the advanced stats show you just how good he's been over the past few years, and how often he wins defensive zone draws.
Comparing those statistics to Steckel's advanced stats at once highlights both the similarities and the diffferences between the two players. Steckel starts in the defensive zone even more than Gaustad does, and with the Leafs has started in the O-zone an astoundingly low 38.8% of the time. The faceoff numbers look even better for Steckel than they do for Gaustad. Yet Steckel has never been used against the opposition's top players and has always had a negative Corsi in relation to his teammates (though his team in Washington was so good for a few years he ended up positive in Corsi - just not looking nearly as good as his teammates). The overall picture suggests that Gaustad is a more complete player than Steckel, though Steckel is the ultimate faceoff specialist.
Verdict on Gaustad: Gaustad would make an expensive ($2.5M salary translates to about $600,000 in real money after the deadline) but useful 4th line center. He doesn't have enough offensive ability to take our 3rd line to the level we want - that is, a consistent scoring threat. But he's a solid defensive center who can win defensive zone draws come playoff time and come out even against all but the top lines. He can also kill penalties and give some of our top players a rest. The Devils have struggled a lot with faceoffs with Elias being notably bad while none of Henrique, Josefson, and Carter are able to crack the 50% mark. We can't send Zajac out for every important draw, so Gaustad would help a lot in this regard while still being an upgrade for the 4th line in general. Steckel was evidently worth a 4th round pick for his full season - I say Gaustad is worth a 3rd rounder as a deadline day rental in spite of being far overpaid to be a 4th liner because he's a significantly more complete player than Steckel is, and Buffalo may even find a suitor to throw in a 5th on top of that 3rd rounder.
Regehr is a big defensive defenseman, and like Gaustad, won't be measured by his goals and assists. He pots about 2g and 15a per year, but has seen his offensive contribution really suffer this season, with just 2 assists and 36 shots to his credit in 50 games of work. Moreover, though he's been a plus player for most of his career, he sports an ugly -12 this season.
His advanced statistics back it up, too, with evidence of his poor play this season. Regehr's Corsi is also -12 and looks even worse in relation to his teammates. Yes, he's still playing against tough competition and leads his team in PK time, as he always has, but his stats last year weren't particularly inspiring either.
In addition, the Devils have a slew of veteran left-shooting defensive defensemen in Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov, and Bryce Salvador, so the big question would be, how does Regehr compare? Tallinder generates a similar number of points and also was a modestly negative Corsi player during his Buffalo days, though he has been employed less frequently against the toughs by the Devils and come out positive. Volchenkov has been about even in Corsi but modestly negative relative to the team, and like Tallinder has not been as consistently matched against top lines as he had with his former employer. Salvador, however, has been more of a negative Corsi player even when not deployed against tough competition.
Verdict on Regehr: Regehr is similar in quality to Tallinder and Volchenkov and is priced accordingly at a $4M cap hit, though he's having a pretty bad year right now. And with another year left on his contract, Regehr would not just be a rental. The Devils are not only stocked with similar veterans, but also have young players like Larsson and Fayne who need big minutes right now and also will have Taormina, Urbom, and potentially Merrill challenging for a roster spot next year. Though the likely departure of Bryce Salvador this summer would leave the Devils thin on gritty defensemen, I doubt Regehr would be the right fit here - at the deadline or even in the offseason. I'd rather see the Devils try to acquire an offensive right-shooting defenseman that's better than Kurtis Foster.
Leopold is a guy with less grit and size but more offensive skill. He's generally been notching better than 10 goals and 15 assists a season, gets some PP time (though Ehrhoff takes the bulk of it) but also plays the PK, tied for second on the Sabres in PK time per game with Tyler Myers, behind Regehr though that might be borne of necessity given their other highly-paid veteran, Christian Ehrhoff, isn't exactly great in his own zone.
His advanced statistics show a defenseman generally even in Corsi but not employed against the opposition's top line. He's not so protected as to play weak competition, but he does start more often in the offensive zone than in the defensive zone. In this regard, he's much like Andy Greene, though Greene sports a better Corsi. He scores twice as many goals as Greene, but doesn't pick up as many assists.
Verdict on Leopold: At $3M, Leopold is fairly priced for an average defenseman who is average at both ends of the rink. He wouldn't particularly hurt or help the Devils' blueline. Again, with the stable of defensively sound veteran Dmen that the Devils already possess and the offensively talented youngsters they are grooming for bigger roles, I don't see a fit here for Leopold. His strong shot would be a useful asset, but if anything he'd be a depth pickup at next year's deadline rather than now.
I'm looking forward to the Devils' game on Tuesday, not only with the expectation that we bounce back after the disappointing loss to Florida, but also to see some of these players, particularly Boyes and Gaustad, in action. Leave your thoughts on these players and other potential trade deadline targets below!