I'll preface this by saying I don't believe Scott Gomez is a bad person. He's not a terrible hockey player either. On the contrary, he's an exceptionally good passer and has some nice speed through the neutral zone that allows him to carry the puck into the other team's end with great success. He's also pleasant to the media and patient with the fans, by most accounts. The biggest problem with Gomez is his price tag. His contract is killing the Habs.
If the Canadiens are going to improve as a team, they can't have Scott Gomez, making what he does, as the number-one centre. Many of us recognized that fact when Gainey traded for him last June. The guy had one career season in New Jersey and that morphed into the present ridiculous contract Glen Sather lavished upon him. Now that he's returned to his usual fifteen-goal seasons, the 7.357-million dollar cap hit he brings is too high for his on-ice contributions. With his eleven points in twenty games this year, he's being roundly out-performed by Tomas Plekanec, and even Glen Metropolit, at his own position. And that's with the best wingers on the team, a spot on the top PP unit and nearly 21 minutes of icetime a game. Gomez is a 4-million dollar a year player, at the most. If he were making that kind of money, Habs fans could have patience to wait for him to produce his usual 40+ assists. But since he's making the money he's worth, as well as that of another strong top-six forward, he's going to have to go.
The CBA ensures no contract can be renegotiated, so Gainey has four choices. He can try to trade Gomez, he can buy him out or he can waive him and hope someone claims him on re-entry waivers, or he can deep-six him and his contract down to Hamilton.
Option one: trade. If the rumours of last season had any credence, Gomez was on the block in New York for the better part of a year before Gainey bit on him. And the only reason Gainey did so was because he'd struck out on every other option he'd tried in his quest to attain a top centre. Unless another team with tons of cap space and in need of a .55 point-per-game smallish centre suddenly starts sniffing around Gomez' doghouse, I'd think a trade involving him (unless sweetened with a player with a small hit and of greater value to a team, like Gorges or Halak, or by the addition of draft picks which the team can't afford to give up) is extremely unlikely to happen.
Option two: buyout. This is economically not feasible for the Habs. There are four years remaining on Gomez' deal right now. The buyout rules say two-thirds of that salary counts against the Habs' cap, spread over double the remaining years on the contract. That means the Habs would be on the hook for 2.43 million bucks in each of the next eight years. With the cap projected to drop next year and no real clear picture of what will happen with it after that, that's way too much to pay for a player to NOT play for you.
Option three: waivers. Once again, finances come into play. If the Habs waive Gomez, it's unlikely any team would claim the salary without waiting for re-entry waivers. And if the Canadiens place Gomez on re-entry, he'd likely be claimed, but it would leave the Habs paying him 3.68-million dollars in each of the next four years while he's playing elsewhere. They can't afford to do that.
Option four: dumping Gomez to Hamilton for good. Since options two and three are completely financially impossible for the Canadiens, and if some kind of trade can't be arranged, this might be the only thing the Habs can do to rid themselves of Gomez. It's not something I can imagine Gainey doing, as it would be both an admission of a fairly massive mistake on his part, as well as a devastating blow to a proud, not unskilled player. Unfortunately, Gainey or whoever his successor will be, might have no choice. It would require the cooperation of the Molsons, who'd essentially be dumping nearly thirty million dollars on a minor-league player. That is, of course, unless Gomez refused to go to Hamilton and instead went to play in Europe, which is not an impossible hope.
But, looking at the other contracts to which the team is bound, and the players that will have to either be retained or replaced, there just isn't room for a luxury like Gomez. One of the Habs' biggest weaknesses with the current roster is a complete lack of secondary scoring. In order to address that, the team will have to retain Tomas Plekanec, who's playing himself into a raise. It will also have to acquire a couple of wingers to play with him, unless Andrei Kostitsyn finds his game. Gomez' removal from the roster would allow the GM to sign a decent centre to replace him as well as a supporting winger for Plekanec. If Kostitsyn doesn't wake up, he could be traded for another second-line winger. The only way any of this happens, however, is if Gomez' hit is removed from the team's cap. Keeping that salary while the cap goes down means Plekanec and possibly Metropolit and Mara, who've both been steady acquisitions, will be lost. That would make the team poorer in talent than it is now, and Gomez would continue to put up his fifteen goals while raking in the biggest payday in Habs history. Considering how craptacular the Habs look right now, it's hard to imagine what they'd be like with even less talent in the lineup.
There might be another way to bring in the pieces the Canadiens need to improve that I haven't thought about. But honestly, I don't see it. If Gainey's lucky enough to get rid of Laraque, the savings would only go towards raises for the goalies or Plekanec. The other big contracts: Cammalleri, Hamrlik and Gionta, are earning their money this year. Markov is worth more than he makes, AND will have to be extended during the Gomez contract period. Gomez makes the most and contributes the least of the highest-paid guys on the team, so it seems to me he's the logical choice to go if a salary dump is requried. It only remains to be seen whether management has the courage to do it for the good of the team.