What Are The Canadiens To Do With Scott Gomez?
Seventy games. Seven goals, 27 assists, for a total of a meagre 34 points. A team worst -15 on the season, and 42 penalty minutes, second amongst the forwards, outside of the fighters. 48.8% in the faceoff circle, less hits than he has points and only 21 blocked shots. 18:31 of ice time per game, 3rd among forwards.
If you hadn't figured it out yet, these are the stats of a high profile Canadiens' center. It's not the injured Tomas Plekanec, who is poised to lead the team in points for the second year running, despite a late season injury. They're not the stats of Jeff Halpern, who is also currently on the sidelines with an undisclosed injury, although his 11 goals, 25 points with only 1/3rd of the shots and half the ice time look much better. They aren't those of 24-year-old David Desharnais, who might actually come close to matching those stats by the time the dust settles, despite only playing half a season and 6 less minutes of ice time a game. They're not even the stats of Lars Eller, who came over to the Canadiens as the centerpiece (no pun intended) of the Jaroslav Halak trade last off-season, only to be stuffed on the bottom lines for most of the season, or Tom Pyatt, a defensive forward and favorite of coach Jacques Martin.
No, my friends, those are the stats of the highest paid player on the Montreal Canadiens. Possibly the highest paid Montreal Canadien of all time. Those are the stats of Scott Gomez.
The 31-year-old is having the worst statistical season of his career, which now spans over a decade in the NHL, and three NHL teams including the New Jersey Devils, which got him two Stanley Cup rings. It’s pretty much to the point where it’s actually hurting the team, instead of simply not affecting the team. As mentioned, Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern are out with injuries. Even with both, Halpern isn’t a scoring forward, and there’s only so much Plekanec can do before he gets overworked and tired. Beyond that, Desharnais and Eller are great players, but rookies who may not necessarily be able to handle the load. It’s up to Gomez to pick up the slack, and this team and its coaching staff have given him every opportunity to do so, with extra minutes, prime linemates and carte blanche no matter how bad he plays in any given game.
But despite his multiple chances, his ever-growing ice time, the confidence instilled into him by the coach, Scott Gomez has not been able to get the job done. Not even remotely. And despite being a long time proponent of his, often making excuses for him based on the things that he has accomplished in his past, I’ve had enough, and I’m out of excuses.
With only ten games left in the season, and an arduous road ahead in the playoffs, time is just about out for Gomez to salvage his year. He isn’t going to start producing now, if he hasn’t done so already in 70 games. And while he could rebound next year, with a healthier line-up and hopefully some added depth up front, there is no amount of rebounding that he can do that would make up for the damage that he’s single-handedly managed to do to this team. The assets that the Canadiens have given up to acquire him, the $15 million in cap space that he’s wasted for this team, and the fact that no matter that his actual salary will continue going down until the end of his contract, as an aging forward who’s long passed the prime of his career, he will never have the capability to match the requirements of a seven million dollar forward.
And although we all know this as a fact now, many Habs fans, and frankly hockey fans, didn’t always believe it. In fact, you’ll find no shortage of fans who liked Gomez as a player, or that were even willing to accept the trade that brought him here from the New York Rangers less than two years ago. So, what happened in merely 20 months to turn Gomez into such a bad player? Is it possible that Gomez’s career was always a little overrated? That maybe a good, defensive team in New Jersey always sort of covered his mistakes? Or has Gomez simply just lost a step or two? Or ten?
As a rookie, Gomez put up 70 points with the Devils on his way to his first cup at a very young age, a spot on the league's all-star team, and the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. The center would have seven great seasons with the New Jersey Devils through another cup, a lockout, and the 2006-07 season. His numbers would drop and pick back up all the way to the lockout. He would then proceed to have a career year in 2005-06, following the lockout, putting up whopping 33 goals - an amazing feet when you consider that he never hit 20 in five prior seasons - and 51 assists, five shy of his career high the prior season, for 86 points and a +26 rating. Not-so-coincidentally, his then and now teammate Brian Gionta also had a career year, with 48 goals and 89 points, totals which neither player would ever come close to matching again.
Gomez would play one more year with the Devils, a decent season with 60 points and a +3 rating, but one that many describe as starting off hot and fizzing out a little towards the end. Still, Scott Gomez's accomplishments, which are admittedly impressive in seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils, was enough to earn him what would turn out to be one of the worst contracts in the history of the NHL. Glen Sather of the New York Rangers would sign Gomez whopping 7-year deal worth over $50 million, which would pay Scott Gomez $10 million in 2007-08 on a sliding scale, and average out to a $7,357,143 cap hit. So forgetting about that ridiculous ten million dollar payout in the first, year, we must ask ourselves, has Scott Gomez ever really earned $7.5 million, by NHL standards?
The short answer - no. When Gomez put up 84 points in 2005-06, he only made $2.2 million on a one-year-deal coming out of a lockout, a bargain by today's standards, even for a restricted free agent like Gomez was. GM Lou Lamoriello was not convinced with Gomez's long-term value, offering him only $5 million for one season in 2006-07, despite the fact that he would be hitting unrestricted free agency the next summer. Sather must have missed the memo that Lou got. And what we’ve learned since that faithful summer is that despite all the smokescreen of a couple of great seasons, cup rings and NHL awards, Scott Gomez was not, is not, and never will be an elite player.
Gomez would have a decent first year in New York, reaching his previous plateau of 70 points. His second year would drop to 58 points, his worst totals in six seasons. The Rangers would finally see exactly what Lou Lamoriello was getting at, and on June 30th, 2009, they would manage to find a sucker that would do exactly what Sather did two years earlier, and offer way too much to acquire Scott Gomez.
Unfortunately for you, Habs fans, that sucker was then-General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, Bob Gainey. And the price? Christopher Higgins – a once important player for the Habs – Ryan McDonagh – a 7th overall pick currently playing for the Rangers in the NHL and making an impact, Pavel Valentenko – long believed to potentially stay in Russia for the rest of his career, but currently playing in the AHL and well on his way to an NHL career – and throw-in Doug Janyk.
The return? Tom Pyatt, a.k.a. the choirboy to coach Jacques Martin’s Catholic Priest, no-name forward Mike Busto, and, of course, the centerpiece of the deal, Scott Gomez. But the Canadiens, and their fans, would soon discover that the Scott Gomez they thought they were getting was long gone, or possibly never even existed.
Gomez had a “decent” year in his debut with the Habs in 2009-10. He put up one more point than the prior year, 14 points in the playoffs, and more importantly, he was one of the team’s top forwards as the Canadiens unexpectedly made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, yet another in a long line of smokescreens surrounding Scott Gomez’s career. Those same smokescreens have, the long playoff runs and the team achievements, have applied for his entire career, and they have allowed for fans desperately continue to justify a trade that is slowly beginning to show as a depth killer for the organization.
When the Canadiens made the now infamous trade nearly two years ago, we talked about how McDonagh could turn out to be a bust. Habs fans were beginning to lose faith in another 1st round defensive draft pick, David Fischer, who was finally released by the Canadiens before this season. Similarly, Pavel Valentenko was being compared to Alexei Yemelin, another Russian prospect who might still never come over to the NHL from Russia. And despite high expectations previously set for forward Christopher Higgins, many were long over him and his play. It seems as if they were right, but one would have to wonder if that would still be the case if people weren’t falsely calling him a potential 40 goal scorer his entire career.
The team itself would also do a good job protecting their new asset and setting up their own smokescreens, calling him a top five skater in the league. It was already widely believed that he was one of the best playmakers in the league, and the fact that he played for a defensive-minded team in New Jersey, and to a lesser extent in New York only further cemented delusions that he could be an elite scorer with the revamped Canadiens. Add to that the fact they pretty much claimed Gomez was the main reason Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and other players signed in Montreal, and you have enough excuses to last a lifetime.
Interestingly, it’s almost as if Gomez reacted to all these excuses and smokescreens by doing just enough in his first year to have people – myself included – continue making excuses for him long into 2010-11. He put up one more point than the prior year in New York, he managed to just stay a plus player and he hid behind a vastly superior center in Tomas Plekanec for an entire season, and, more by chance than anything, happened to be part of a team that would make a Cinderella run deep into the playoffs. But now, as the Canadiens lack of depth continues to show, as the injuries somehow managed to get even worse than they were last year, Scott Gomez’s deficiencies have been made crystal clear. He has stopped being a less-than 60-point scoring non-factor, or simply an overpaid second liner, and has actually managed to become a major detriment to this team. He gets way too much ice time, he doesn’t put up any points, and recently, he has been turning over the puck more often than Colin Campbell forgets to suspend people. And that’s ignoring the off-ice problems he has already caused for this organization, both financially, and even some of the controversies – however minor or made up – that we’ve heard about since his arrival in Montreal.
Thankfully, th Canadiens have still managed to stay a winning team despite Gomez, but as the injuries continue to pile on and Plekanec sits on the Canadiens IR, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Habs cannot move forward after this season with him eating up more than 10% of the Canadiens cap, and a roster spot that I would honestly rather see go to a Desharnais or an Eller.
But what are the Canadiens to do? I don’t think that another general manager is going to make the same mistake a third time and take on a bloated contract that still has three years left before expiring. Nor do I think he would get claimed on waivers. The only option left would be to bury him in the minors, allow him not to report to the Hamilton Bulldogs – unlike Wade Redden or even Sheldon Souray, I doubt he would anyway – and suspend him with pay for the remainder of his bloated contract. But as rich as the Canadiens and their owns, the Molsons, are, I doubt any savvy businessman would throw away the $17.5 million left on Gomez’s contract without at least trying to make it work – forgetting the whole idea that the Canadiens are too “classy” an organization to do to Gomez what the Rangers did to Redden or the Oilers did to Souray.
So forgive me for wasting your time, but it seems as if this team is stuck with a completely useless player who can’t even put up forty measly points in a season, despite getting every opportunity to do so. But I would honestly rather do an entire season without Scott Gomez and no other “true” second-line center than do so with basically a fake one. It’s pretty simple. Tomas Plekanec plays twenty minutes a game, and the other forty are split betweek David Desharnais and Lars Eller, who have both proven capable of having more upside that Gomez, an older, experienced center for the special teams a la Jeff Halpern or the guy he replaced, Dominic Moore, and, oh ya. This guy:
Unfortunately, I’ve lost faith that this would be possible. Maybe as much as I’ve lost faith in Gomez’s ability. We can’t, however, keep hoping that he’s going to bounce back. And the coach and general manager have to be able to see this. There comes a time where you have to cut your losses, and that seven million could do a lot of good to a General Manager like Pierre Gauthier, because as much flack as he gets, in the end, he inherited this mess. As did Jacques Martin, who simply has no choice but to give him minutes at this point. Can we simply hope that his minutes will be reduced, that the coach will just try and wake him up, or are we really stuck with Scott Gomez for another three seasons, like a bad nightmare?
It’s not Gomez’s fault he makes too much money. Nor Gauthier’s for the contract that was given to him, or even the trade that was made to acquire him – although I’m certain he had a say in that under Bob Gainey. But it also isn’t the fault of 20 other players on the Habs, or hundreds of thousands of fans that have top put up with his sub-par play, and have to deal with the fact that they are stuck with him for the foreseeable future.
What to do with Scott Gomez? Can you even picture the Canadiens finding a way to get rid of him, or even wanting to? What would you do in the GM’s or coach’s chair? Post your thoughts in the comments below!