In the end, the Montreal Canadiens did what they had to do with Scott Gomez.
It wasn’t pretty, and it’s not even exciting. Unfortunately, Habs’ general manager Marc Bergevin wanted to get Gomez’ $7.4M cap hit off the books in preparation for next season’s reduced salary cap. Scott Gomez is a walking fracture who had three stints on the injured reserve yesterday. A new term I heard during yesterday’s NFL games was “physically compromised”. It goes without saying that if the Habs have intentions on buying him out this season, letting him play with the abuse he suffered last season would be a mistake—if he gets hurt, he can no longer be bought out, and there’s only a short window where compliance buy-outs won’t count against the cap. Presumably, Bergevin has written off this year but wants the team to compete next season.
Still, it seems like the worst possible thing the Canadiens could do with the second best centreman on their hockey team. Montreal told Gomez to stay home yesterday, meaning they’ll eat all of the salary and cap hit this season while Gomez eats cheetos, thinking about his crimes. His only crime was being offered millions of dollars to play hockey by Glen Sather, and he won’t be able to do that anymore.
If you aren’t on board with what Gomez can bring to a hockey team now, well, it’s not useful to quote numbers at you from the dregs of the Internet stat book that haven’t made their way into mainstream hockey parlance. Gomez is a solid puck-possession centreman who can’t shoot. He makes up for his goal-scoring ineptitude by being a relatively good playmaker. Unfortunately, in the last two seasons, the Habs have shot just 4.7% and 6.6% at even strength with Gomez on the ice, far below NHL expectation. As a result, a player who put up 50 points in each of the three years at the start of his new contract (for a strong defensive centreman, 50 points is pretty good) saw his totals dwindle to 38, and, an awful low, 11, over the last two seasons, the 11 last season coming in a campaign when Gomez could play just 38 games.
The thing is, he’s still useful. He’s not $7.4M useful, but he’s useful to a team at $2M or $3M, or whatever they’re willing to pay him. Given that his salary is nearly $2M less than his salary cap hit this season, he’s useful for a team who wants to spend below the salary floor but still make it up to the $44M lower limit. There just isn’t the time, unfortunately, for teams to make wise player moves between now and season’s beginning.
It’s become part of the reality of the NHL, that players can be forced out of the game due to their contracts, and our perceptions of struggling players who make more become targeted. This happens in other sports as well: Alex Rodriguez’s struggles with the New York Yankees, particularly during the postseason, were well-documented. Hockey players are beginning again to making the ridiculous money for playing puck as other athletes do in their sports. A $7M mistake is worse than a $3M mistake.
Which is what could make the first compliance buy-out period pretty interesting. There’s no sense in the Edmonton Oilers releasing Shawn Horcoff, or the Calgary Flames releasing Jay Bouwmeester, or any team getting rid of a hockey player on the sole basis that he’s expensive. Usually, good hockey players are expensive because it costs a lot of money to get a good hockey player to play for your team. Sometimes, hockey players aren’t good enough that they can survive two coin flips going against them in consecutive years, and their offence takes a hit.
Meanwhile, this season could see Wade Redden playing up in the NHL for another year. Redden’s cap hit is still $6.5M over the next two seasons (yikes, somebody steal Glen Sather’s pen during this CBA period) and he’s been mucking about in the AHL, off the Rangers’ books. There’s no good value in having Redden on your NHL team, but there certainly is use in looking to acquire him if the Rangers were to eat a significant portion of his salary, and they very well might, lest they get stuck with the whole hit now that GMs can’t bury players in the minors anymore.
I’m not too sure just how useful Redden is at the NHL level at age 35. Presumably not an all-star anymore, but he was a plus-possession player in the three years between 2008 and 2010, when he was sent down to the Connecticut Whale to get off the Rangers’ salary cap page. At $6.5M, he’s a poor deal, but the Rangers can retain up to 50% of his salary in a transaction. Is he worth $3.75M? That’s only a little more what 36-year-old Sheldon Souray signed in Anaheim for three years this past summer after a good year in Dallas, coming off a season where he was stashed in the minors as the Edmonton Oilers for the same reason as Redden. It’s not that he couldn’t play anymore.
So you could make the argument that Redden is worth just as much as Souray, and perhaps Bouwmeester worth as much as Souray, if he had also just spent his time in the AHL. Unfortunately, players up with the big club face a lot more scrutiny. When Redden comes back to the NHL this season, presumably, because there’s only a slight chance he isn’t one of the top 180 defencemen in the world, it will be like a new beginning. When Souray came up, Don Cherry gleefully heralded him on national TV each week about the reclamation of the Elk Point, Alberta native who just shows you what you can do if you keep working at it at all levels, kids.
Back to Gomez, though. There’s no question to me that he could be a moderate second-line centre in this league, or a fairly good third-liner, if money was no object. The problem is that money is an object when it comes to Montreal. They had to buy him out at the end of the season, or trade him. Either way, he can’t play another game with the Habs and risk injury, even though, and I agree with Habs Eyes On The Prize, he’s the second best centreman on that team. The mere fact he can’t play because he’s paid too much is pretty funny. Minus the jokes about his goal totals (besides, who looks at only the numbers? Why can’t people just watch the games) and how he got paid x amount of dollars for each goal as a Hab, he’s useful. He’s not $7.4M useful, but there are teams who are short a centreman who could find use for the guy. It’s just sort of a shame they can’t. It’s not his fault he got signed to an awful, expensive contract, and then traded for an awful, expensive return. We could call him the Bobby Holik of the 2012 CBA.