I like Scott Gomez. Really, I do. He’s a funny guy. He has personality. He’s a Cup champ, a former rookie of the year. He suffers no fools. Why wouldn’t I like him? Why would anybody not like him? Be that as it may, I like the Canadiens more. And I presume that the logo on the front means more than the names on the back for the vast majority of Habs fans.
It’s a slow news week with the Canadiens killing time until Friday’s match-up in Ottawa. During a slow news week, the go-to topic for local media has been “what to do with Scott Gomez when he’s healthy again“? It’s an easy topic to flog & blog, since everyone and their goldfish has an opinion. You can fill many pages and hours of air time with the myriad viewpoints out there. But aside from the whole “dead horse” angle of the debate that has raged virtually since the Habs traded for Gomez, it is an interesting topic today because the Canadiens have seemingly turned around their season since his absence from the lineup. The Canadiens are solid 3-1-1 without him, and a putrid 1-4-1 with him. Pretty stark difference, isn’t it? Is it that cut & dried though? Clearly, it’s not solely Gomez’ fault that the team got off to a near-disastrous start, but in calling a spade a spade, he did positively nothing to help. Like most die hard fans with a blog, I also have my thoughts on the situation and as you may very well guess, they are not “give him time and he’ll come through”.
While fixing the player would be the ideal scenario given all of the circumstances surrounding the player, the team, and the contract, that doesn’t seem to be possible anymore. After a thoroughly and deeply embarrassing 2010-11 season, he vowed to redouble his off-season efforts to come back strong for 2011-12. So far, no dice.
It’s one thing for him to look good while carrying the puck up the ice and gaining the offensive zone. Indeed, watching him fly up the ice with the biscuit is a sight to behold. It would be one of the things worth getting out of your seat for, except more often than not, the whole thing ends in disappointment. He’s a terrific skater with excellent speed and an intimidating stride. But that’s all null and void when the result is a predictable fade to the left side. If you’re a playmaker, it’s up to your linemates to finish the chances provided to them, but it’s your role to set them up in prime scoring positions. If the league has figured out the way you roll, adapt or you’re toast. It’s unfortunate that he has suffered an early season injury, since it only serves to further muddy the waters: his few remaining supporters trot out his ailment as yet another excuse for his slow start (and will continue to do so) while his critics point out that he’s simply picking up where he left off last year when he was healthy. He said, she said. Nobody wins.
So what is the solution?
The Canadiens won’t buy him out (or more aptly, they shouldn’t buy him out), so let’s just forget that right now and forever. Who wants millions of dollars of dead weight on the cap for the next several years when you’re the GM of a team that already has to allocate a large percentage of salary cap space solely for overpayments to UFAs because of the various reasons we blame: high taxes, language, schooling, fishbowl environment…
If somebody a lot smarter than me would come up with a figure that zeroed in on what percentage of cap space was dedicated solely to compensatory overpayments to UFAs, I think we’d see that the Habs start each season way behind the 8-ball. How would adding dead weight in the form of a Gomez’ buyout help that situation? It’s the cap world equivalent of blowing your brains out with a bazooka.
They can try to bury him in Hamilton in order to gain cap relief, but not one single person can claim to know whether or not Geoff Molson would approve of that. A 7 million dollar man in Hamilton? Yikes! And then to presume that Molson would follow up the demotion by green lighting the spending of the recovered cap space on his eventual replacement or other upgrade(s)? Again, nobody can claim to know how liberal Molson is with his spending. Yes, he has lots of money. Tons of it. But we cannot assume that he’s a willy-nilly free spender. He still has a budget-conscious board to report to. Everyone has a boss, including Geoff Molson. Regardless of how rich you are, it’s tough to justify an additional expenditure of 7 million dollars. You may reply with “yes, but a deep playoff run would offset that”. Probably, but you can’t guarantee a deep playoff run, and neither can Molson.
If Gomez were demonted to Hamilton, what negative effect would it have on Bulldogs? Not to say that Gomez is a locker room cancer. In fact, all indications are that he’s very popular in the room and a great teammate to have. But if Gomez is in Hamilton, is he their first line center? Probably, and that would flat out suck. He’d then be taking 20+ minutes per night away from what should be an important role for a developing player. Wade Redden has to be gobbling up a prospect’s minutes…ask the Rangers how they feel about that.
The best option, as it always has been, is to try and trade him. To anyone, for anyone. Cut losses. That possibility becomes tantalizingly possible at the end of this season (changes to the new CBA notwithstanding), especially when you consider that the salary cap will probably make another big jump for the 2012-13 season, making it even more difficult for cash-strapped teams to hit the cap floor. How? Gomez will be paid $5.5 million for 2012-13, but his salary cap hit will remain high at $7.36 million. An attractive option for restricted-budget teams that perpetually struggle to reach the cap floor; they get the high cap hit to help reach the floor, but they don’t actually have to pay out the big number.
But that doesn’t help the Habs today, does it?
It’s pretty clear to me that Lars Eller and David Desharnais can replicate Gomez’ offensive numbers. They aren’t as well rounded in other aspects of the game as Gomez has been, but they’re rapidly improving, especially in the case of Eller. The question is whether or not Head Coach Jacques Martin will take a “global view” and do what’s best for the team’s success today…or will he go back to the old “Coach’s prerogative” refrain and put Gomez back in to a situation that clearly is not working? Can Gomez be made a healthy scratch? Would a Coach noted for favouring his veterans do that? Would such a move provoke anger among his teammates and disrupt team chemistry? In this blogger’s opinion, players want to win, period. If you asked any member of the team if they want to have success or have their pals around (both isn’t an option here), they’d choose success every time. As Head Coach, it is up to Jacques Martin to put the best possible team on the ice to help deliver success. Anything less should be a fireable offense. Right now, the Canadiens are very much looking like a team that can not only compete, but thrive without Gomez.
What’s your take on Gomez?