SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 03: Paul Gaustad #28 of the Nashville Predators skates in his first game for the Predators against the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center on March 3, 2012 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Predators certainly worked hard enough to beat the Red Wings in five games. However, did Nashville end up taking away the one piece from Detroit at the deadline that would have made a difference in this series?
It seems strange that it has become popular to dub the Wings the first playoff team playing golf this postseason, and the decisions Detroit made during the season to tweak their roster may have been made with the future in mind rather than this year. With so many question marks surrounding Detroit's structure from here on out, the Wings may have needed to add something else to help them through a playoff run against a team like Nashville.
Six days before the trade deadline, the Red Wings added Kyle Quincey in a three-way deal, giving up a first-round draft pick. Some felt like Quincey would be a good, young blueliner to add depth in case Nicklas Lidstrom really retired at the end of the season. While Quincey made sense at the time as an all-around defenseman who can log minutes, the Wings did not see desired results from Quincey through the regular season and playoffs. This situation leads one to wonder for whom else that first round draft pick could have been used.
Around the same time, the Buffalo Sabres were dangling a few of their players, asking a high asking price for them. Most teams didn't have the personnel or bait to get a deal done with Buffalo. Nashville, hoping to convince their players they were finally serious about a real Stanley Cup run, already made a few deals for veterans, defense and some secondary scoring. Still looking to complete their playoff roster, the Predators had nothing to lose and made one final deal late on deadline day, offering their first-rounder for Paul Gaustad.
It had been rumored that Detroit was hoping to acquire Gaustad at the deadline. But with the high price and having already traded their first-rounder for Quincey, there wasn't much left for the Wings to give up. Instead, the Preds won the Gaustad sweepstakes.
Low and behold, the Wings and Predators would duke it out the next few weeks, eventually setting up to play each other in the postseason and both teams hoping to earn home-ice advantage. After one round, Nashville took the victory, leaving to the imagination how much Gaustad would have been a factor.
Against the Predators, Nashville would have been without a solid center to round out the pack of wingers they recently acquired. Gaustad, who ended up playing mostly a fourth-line role with various wingers in this series, contributed one goal, two points, an even plus/minus rating and several key face-off wins throughout. Also, Nashville's penalty kill was a huge factor in this series, only allowing four power play goals out of 23 opportunities for the Red Wings, and keeping those power play goals from becoming key in the series. Along with Gaustad's two-way sense, especially on the defensive end, his faceoff prowess was unable to be matched by any other center in this series.
For the Wings, it's hard to doubt that Gaustad's size would have been a major benefit against the Predators' talented grinders like Mike Fisher, whose line produced five points through five games. Or against David Legwand's line, which produced both tallies in the decisive fifth game
Meanwhile, Quincey had a tough time in the regular season, not playing a part offensively at all and dealing with a late-season suspension. In the playoffs against Nashville, Quincey finished the series at a minus-2, including a key turnover that led to the Preds' first goal in Game 5. Otherwise, he was a very small factor.
In hindsight, it's easy to criticize the Wings for looking at Quincey instead of Gaustad, despite the bigger impact Gaustad would have provided. It's not easy to say whether either trade would have helped Detroit solve Pekka Rinne and the Nashville defense, or to hold Alex Radulov back. Perhaps it was simply the Predators' time.