Thursday, May 05, 2011

Getting off Scott-Free

With a long and painful off-season ahead of us and a lot of action before the Cup gets taken anywhere (go... um... 'Nucks, I guess?), many pundits are already weighing in with their well-considered opinions of what Pierre Gauthier needs to do with the team over the summer. And of course, Scott Gomez is the name on everyone's lips.

Unquestionably the goat of the team this season, and for good reason: Gomez gets more than he gives. By that, I mean that his contract is worth more than he's been contributing on the ice. And even if Gainey didn't make the contract originally, he did trade for it in a gamble. A gamble that lost, if you compare his scoring with other players earning that kind of coin. And we fans see a little red, because there's few things we hate like feeling ripped off.

We can talk about everything he does apart from scoring, and it's a lot. Younger players often cite him as a role model and mentor. He carries the puck through neutral ice very well (even if he goes straight to the corner from there). He can be shifty and unpredictable in the offensive zone (even if he often isn't). He understands the concept of back-checking and kills penalties fairly well (when he feels like it).

But we don't want the team paying $7.5M for a depth and character player. That's what Jeff Halpern gets $600k for. For $7.5M, we want the Rick Nashes and Jarome Iginlas of the league, not the... well, not the Scott Gomezes or Chris Druries (thanks, Sather).

So what are the options? Well, frankly some of the proposals are ridiculous, so ridiculous they could only come from the mouths of Habs fanatics. Ted Bird of radio fame suggests that if Gomez was seriously contrite about his worst season ever, he would renegotiate his contract for a lower wage. Mr. Bird laughs this off himself, and I think we can all agree that this will never happen.

The second option would be to trade Gomez. This is just as ridiculous as the above proposal, and must have been made by someone used to negotiating trade deals with their 8-year-old nephew. Gomez is coming off his worst season of all-time, and is therefore at his lowest value of all-time. A good salesman might have been able to trade Gomez for a bag of pucks if he'd scored 65 points this season, but he didn't crack 40. The thought that Gauthier can "just find a way" to trade him implies that NHL GMs are either a) absolute morons, or b) not watching the numbers very closely. And remember Glen Sather already had this guy once. Suffice to say that since neither your Playstation 3's AI nor your 8-year-old nephew are negotiating the deal, we're not going to see him traded any time soon (no matter how hard we wish).

Third on the list: ship him to the Bulldogs, pay the salary, and lose the cap hit. One the one hand, it's been done before. The Rangers shipped Wade Redden to the minors at $6.5M per year (Sather again), and the Oilers did it with Souray at $4.5M. It does have the tremendous advantage of freeing up the cap space to get Brad Richards or... um... well, there's not a whole lot of great UFA first-line, elite centres out there, and that's what the Habs (still) need. As Topham is fond of pointing out: once the cap space is free - assuming Geoff Molson doesn't mind paying $7.5M for a Bulldog - who does Gauthier gun for? If he can't land Brad Richards, then what?

Fourth is to buy out the contract like was done with Georges Laracque, who still costs the Habs a half-million in cap hit next season. The reason this isn't a great option (besides the $17M up-front payout) is that, as pointed out by Elliote Friedman, under the current CBA he'd still be a $4-5M cap hit for the next couple years, declining to $2M in 2016-17. Do we really want to take a $4M cap hit for absolutely nothing? Once we're paying $4M for nothing, the question suddenly becomes "Is Gomez worth $3.5M?" I suspect he is.

Fifth, and most likely: status quo. For all the reasons above, and a new CBA to negotiate next summer, I think the smart money says Gomez will be suiting up in the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge come fall. I'm not thrilled about this past season's performance, but we can hope it might spur him to come back hungry and in top shape. He's not a bad hockey player. Mind you, he's not $7.5M good either.

If Gomez were to be put on waivers and shipped to Hamilton tomorrow, who would you hope to sign this summer? Is Gomez worth $3.5M? How many points next season would Gomez have to score in order for you to be only slightly disappointed with his salary? Let us know in the comments.

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