The Hurricanes continue to make small moves this summer by signing forward Nathan Gerbe to a one-year deal, two-way deal. Gerbe will be paid $550,000 in the NHL and $125,000 in the AHL and have $250,000 in guaranteed money. Gerbe has spent his entire career with the Buffalo Sabres, scoring 29 goals & 72 points over 188 and spending the last three full seasons in the NHL. He will likely be competing for a bottom-six spot during training camp.
The one thing people immediately notice about Gerbe is that he is a very small player, standing at only 5'5" on skates and weighing less than 200 lbs. That hasn't stopped him from making it in the NHL, thought as he has been a regular in the Sabres lineup for the last few years. Gerbe's been a fairly effective offensive player, scoring at least 25 points in two of the last three seasons in a third line role. He also loves to hit and is known as an agitator to some parts, so his height hasn't played that much of a difference in the grand scheme.
Overall, he sounds like a smaller, younger version of Chad LaRose. In that he is an undersized, but effective bottom-six forward who can get under the skin of his opponents and tries to hit almost anything that moves. Sabres fans have also admired his grit and how he gives it all on every shift, which isn't too different from what Carolina fans say about LaRose. Gerbe was also a great scorer at Boston College, being a point-per-game player during his sophomore & junior seasons and can provide secondary scoring if he is used in that role. All in all, this looks like a good low-risk move for the Hurricanes and Gerbe will at least provide cheap forward depth, and nothing else.
That being said, there are some concerns here. The biggest of which being that Gerbe was recently had the final year of his contract bought out by the Sabres. Gerbe was making only $1,450,000, so either Gerbe was really bad the last three years or the Sabres didn't see him as part of their rebuild. After the jump, we'll dive into the numbers to see what may have been the reason and what he can bring to the Hurricanes.
When looking at just his boxcar stats, Gerbe is coming off a down year for his standards. After producing .4 points per game in his first two NHL seasons, he had only 10 in 42 games last year. The Sabres weren't going to pay someone almost $1.5 mil. for someone who was scoring at basically a fourth line rate, so buying him out made sense ging by that. Was this just a bad year, though or has Gerbe struggled in other areas? When taking a closer look at his performance, it appears that it could be a little of both.
Stats taken from Behind the Net & Hockey Analysis
Gerbe had an awful season and there's really no other way to put it. He didn't score that much, and the Sabres were just getting hammered at even strength when he was on the ice. However, in the previous two seasons, Gerbe looked like a much better player in every regard and someone who a lot of teams would love to have on their third or fourth line. His scoring rates and ability to drive possession won't blow anyone away, but he was effective at getting shots on goal, creating chances & helping his team get the puck moving in the right direction. That all changed last season.
When a player's goal rate suddenly declines, bad luck is often pointed to as the reason, but I don't think that was the case for Gerbe. I mean, his on-ice shooting percentage of 6.15% is definitely below his career averages, but he was also shooting the puck less and he wasn't controlling possession n the offensive zone nearly as much. In fact, whenever he was on the ice last year, the Sabres were getting dominated by their opponents and were usually trapped in their own zone. At least during even strength play. How can one player's performance decline so much in one season? Gerbe's usage gives us some answers to that.
In his rookie season, the Sabres used Gerbe on a sheltered third line with grinders like Patrick Kaleta, Cody McCormick and Paul Gaustad. Those linemates are far from ideal, but Gerbe was able to have a solid season and give the Sabres quality production for a guy playing third line minutes. He wasn't an offensive dynamo or anything, but he was a pretty terrific puck-possession player and did just about everything you could ask out of a third liner.
The following season, Gerbe's role changed, as the Sabres decided to use his line in more difficult situations. Where he started most of his draws didn't change too much, but he began to play more minutes against top-six players like Patrice Bergeron, Bryan Little, Brad Marchand and Max Pacioretty. His linemats stayed the same, but he was playing in front of a considerably weaker defense pairing in Robyn Regehr & Jordan Leopold which is a step down from what he had in Andrej Sekera & Tyler Myers the year before. Predictably, Gerbe's ability to control possession declined as he put up worse numbers, but he wasn't completely outmatched against tougher minutes In fact, he was about average compared to the rest of the team.
Last season was a much different case. The Sabres continued to use Gerbe in a tough-minute role only with new linemates in Steve Ott & Jochen Hecht. Ott has been forced to play tough minutes for most of his career, but he has never been an ace at controlling territorial play while Hecht was coming off a serious concussion and hadn't been a tough-minute player in nearly three years. For some reason, this was the trio the Sabres continually sent out against other team's first lines along with a defense pairing that consisted of Christian Ehrhoff and one of Mike Weber or Andrej Sekera. They ended up getting mauled at even strength.
So yes, Gerbe is coming off a bad season but it may not be entirely his fault because his supporting cast was awful and the Sabres were probably misusing him in a checking line role. Seeing how Buffalo was one of the worst possession teams in the league last year, I have a hard time envisioning Gerbe being this bad in Carolina. He has succeeded in a sheltered role before and that's probably how the Canes will use him on their third or fourth line. Plus, if he is forced to play tougher minutes, he'll likely play those with Jordan Staal as his center, who is an upgrade over Steve Ott and Paul Gaustad.
This isn't a signing that will get fans out of their seats, but it's a cheap depth acquisition for the Hurricanes with some decent upside to boot. The only thing I don't like is that I think Zac Dalpe can essentially play the same role as Gerbe, but it's never bad to have a fall-back option.