Monday, December 6, 2010

The Gomez Conundrum

You have to be impressed with Pierre Gauthier's ability to sniff out a deal. He's like a mom of six who can always find the cheapest place to buy Pampers and milk. Of this year's Gauthier acquisitions, there's Mathieu Darche at the league minimum $500-thousand. Jeff Halpern rakes in a whopping $600-thousand and so does Alexandre Picard. That's a total of $1.7-million for a reliable young defenceman, a hardworking, effective forechecker and an experienced shut-down centre who rocks on the faceoff. That, good reader, is some seriously astute bargain shopping. Add to that the long-term signing of Tomas Plekanec for $5-million per, and we can conclude Gauthier doles out his cap dollars with the generosity of the Conservative government and the forsight of Nostradamus. In other words, he's the anti-Glen Sather.

Sather, notorious for the ridiculously expensive, long-term deals he throws at seemingly every available free agent, saw an opportunity to secure a number-one centre when he bought Scott Gomez from the Devils in the summer of 2007. Gomez had played for seven seasons in New Jersey, and had averaged 14 goals a year in six of them. Sather, however, didn't look at those six seasons. He looked at the one outstanding year in which Gomez scored 33 goals and put up 84 points. In no other year had he accumulated more than 70 points, but that didn't deter Sather. As soon as Gomez hit the market, the Rangers threw a 7-year contract with a $7.357-million cap hit at him. Gomez, naturally, jumped at the offer. Sather realized after just two seasons that it was probably a mistake to have spent superstar money on a guy who's really more of an energy-efficient lightbulb. Enter Bob Gainey.

With Tomas Plekanec coming off a dreadful 39-point campaign in 2008-09, Gainey was desperate for some talent to kickstart his off-season rebuild. Perhaps more importantly, he wanted a player who was respected around the leauge, who had never had off-ice issues, who knew how to win and who conducted himself with dignity and class. He made the deal for Gomez based more on image than pure numbers. Gomez offered a fresh look for the Canadiens. After a couple of seasons of off-ice controversy, team slumps and questionable attitudes, the team needed an overhaul. Gomez offered the level of professionalism Gainey wanted. The contract that came with him was the price the Habs had to pay to change a team culture the GM found unpleasant.

Since Gomez' arrival, the Canadiens have evolved into a completely different entity than the one that got pitifully swept by the Bruins in a wretched playoff defeat two years ago. Now they're a hardworking team with skill and determination. They're able to maintain consistency in the face of injury because they buy into the coach's system. Ironically, the weakest link on the ice right now is Scott Gomez.

The question is, what can Jacques Martin do about it? Gomez is usually a slow starter, but 27 games into the season he's on pace for just 27 points; by far the worst total of his NHL career. While one might overlook a $7-million cap hit for a guy who puts up 50 assists to go with his 14 goals on a winning team, it's a lot tougher to ignore it when the guy is making $259-thousand dollars a point. In terms of value by production, Plekanec is four times as good. Darche, making an actual salary of $7.5-million LESS than Gomez this year, is on pace for six more points. More worrisome is that on a team with a combined team plus/minus of 12, sixth in the league, and a goal differential of 18, which is tied with the conference-leading Capitals, Gomez is a -2. He's one of only three forwards on the team who's in the minus category. The other two are fourth-liners.

The problem is, the combination of Gomez' lousy start and giant salary makes him completely untradeable. So, barring a demotion to Hamilton, the Canadiens are stuck with him. That means they have to find a way to get him going. Martin has already tried giving Gomez Andrei Kostitsyn and Michael Cammalleri as linemates. Those guys had great chemistry with Plekanec, and went stone cold with Gomez. Ditto for Brian Gionta. So, it's not the quality of linemate Gomez has been given.

It's not ice time either. Despite his low production, he's averaging 18 minutes a game, including two-and-a-half minutes per night on the PP. The numbers don't justify the lack of points.

In the last few games, Martin has been gradually reducing Gomez' even-strength time while he increases that of Lars Eller. Eller has been more and more visible and effective as the season has progressed. At the end of the San Jose game, Gomez had also been sent to the fourth line with Pyatt and Lapierre. It seemed to have the desired effect, as Gomez seemed more involved in the third period.

Ideally, however, the Canadiens don't really want to carry the world's most expensive fourth liner. To that end, Kirk Muller has tried to show Gomez what he's doing wrong. Gomez has admitted he's probably not doing some things as well as he can, and says it helped to get Muller's point of view on his game. He doesn't really seem to be putting that point of view into practice, though. Muller told him he's cheating for position and getting away from the puck. Gomez knows this. Yet, HNIC was able to show him on the lone Sharks goal on Saturday, leaving the zone early while San Jose pressured the Habs D.

Right now, Gomez is the only forward who's cherry-picking and, as PJ Stock put it, on the offensive side of the puck more than the defensive. Martin's patience is running out. In Gomez' case, it's not a question of ability. We know he's able to go harder to the net and make better, faster passes than he's been doing. Whatever's going on with him is in his head. It's hard to believe it's a lack of confidence because he does a good job of portraying himself as the cockiest SOB in the room. So, one has to start thinking it's his will to compete that's not up to snuff.

A coach has a few options here. He can cut the player's ice time. He can demote him in the lineup. Martin's already done those things. Next is a trip to the press box, which I think Martin is reluctant to do. He's got a lot of respect for his veterans and is willing to give them time to work out their own problems. Gomez, however, must surely be running out of goodwill from his coach. Getting scratched will prick his pride and he'll either come back on fire, or he'll shrug and let it roll off him. It could go either way, and if it doesn't work, Martin's out of tricks. That's why pushing Gomez right now is a bit risky. And that's why the answer isn't with the coach. It's within Gomez himself.

The likelihood of Gomez getting demoted to Hamilton is slim to none. Gauthier isn't Sather or Lamoriello and probably won't bow to cap pressure at the expense of a respected player. Still, the thought of what the bargain-shopping champ of general managers could buy with that money is tantalizing. We'll never find out because Gomez will probably get himself out of this funk. The key to this situation is his own pride. If one believes his show of insoucience is a bit of an act, he will eventually get angry to see his ice time and linemates going to a rookie like Eller, and he'll start actually doing the things Muller is telling he needs to do.

He's got to do it soon, though. With Markov gone for the year, the team needs all the offence it can generate, and it needs it's highest-paid player to earn at least some of his salary. Right now, he's not, and when you look at the guys performing over their pay grade by a mile, you have to wonder how long that imbalance can continue.


Anonymous said...

I think someone in the dressing room needs to give him a talking to. Or kick his expensive ass. A bitch slap will do which I hope wold wake him up. Maybe Hal will step up and perform the honours.

MC said...

Until recently, Martin had few options with the Gomez situation. No one was ready in Hamilton , and Eller still needed some NHL experience and seasoning. Now that Eller has elevated his play and has been one of the best centres on a few nights, the situation has completely changed. Martin now has the option to demote Gomez to the fourth line and promote Eller. As long as Eller continues to produce, Gomez will have trouble getting back on the second line, just like O'Bryne was in the pressbox despite earning more than Picard. It all comes down to what is best for the team.

Demoting him to Hamilton makes no sense right now because there are no free agents to sign to replace him, and he is arguably better than any centre in Hamilton. I actually like the idea of Gomez on the fourth line and rolling four lines each night. The worst that could happen is that Gomez gets a wakeup call and realizes he has to earn his second line minutes instead of having a sense of entitlement about it. Carey Price responded well to his demotion last year; maybe it will also work on Gomez.

pfhabs said...


let's not forget that Gauthier as Chief of pro scouting when Gomez was acquired (as he still is today) was the guy that recommended Gomez to Gainey and as such made the value for dollar evaluation as acceptable which is wasn't, isn't and never will be. a star salary for an average second line centre plus the loss of assets is a move reminencent of some of the bigger gaffs made by sather or milbury. no one except those 2 and now Gainey on Gauthier's recommendation pays that kind of cap hit for a clean rap sheet and some measure of respect around the league.

the team seems to be more cohesive than previous editions and although Gomez may have added to that effect credit must also go to Gill, Gionta, Cammalleri, Halper, Darche and others

as for being a slow starter this is nothing more than an excuse for an athlete who is not mentally nor physically perpared to compete in the first week of october. in other words an athlete who is not a consummate professional. both you and I knew when the season started so I would assume Gomez also got the memo. 100s of players are ready for the season and may need only a few games to get timing issues sorted out but beyond that there's no such excuse as being 'a slow starter''s laziness pure and simple unless coming off major surgery. now maybe Gomez sprained his hip carrying around all that cash but I think it goes more to his non-compete attitude which you mentioned

he was such a bad acquisition on so many levels it boggles the mind that fans, pundits and others make continue to make endless excuses for Gomez.

the Ch will not demote him to hamilton. his pay cheques will continue to pad his wallet so as you state demotion to the 4th line or the press box is the only weapons the team has to wake him up.

in the end let's not forget that this is a self-inflicted wound by the Ch brain trust so if Gomez continues on this production slide that started almost 4 years ago in New York they have no one to blame but themselves

btw; Gomez needs 39 points in the next 55 games to reach his alltime career low of 48 points. so finding 3rd and 4th liners at bargain prices is fine but blowing $7.357 of cap on average 2nd liners is a franchise stalling move much like trading Chelios for a finished star centre or trading Roy for 3 spare parts

Anonymous said...

Instead of demoting him to the fourth line, why not use him as the shutdown center on the checking line and free up Plekanec to score more. If Gomez could be a shutdown type of guy. He would be an important player making the team better and his ice time would remain the same playing against the opposition's top line night in and night out. Every goal he can prevent the other team scoring is the same as scoring one himself. That of course would depend on a maximum effort every shift which appears to be his shortcoming.

Anvilcloud said...

Gomez has much to answer for, but I must be the only person in the world who thinks that "early leaving incident" wasn't so heinous. He thought the play was going to go a certain way, and he reacted. He was wrong, and it worked out badly, but I'm not always impressed by the way we criticize snap decisions with the benefit of slomo replay. Maybe we'd all be singing his and PK's praises and both of their poor decisions (yes, they were poor) if they had worked.

DB said...

The Gomez Conundrum has two parts; what to do with him this year and what to do with after this year.

As far as this year, you've said it better than I could so I want to concentrate on what happens after the season is over.

At the end of this season Gomez will have three years left on his contract that will pay him a total of $17.5 M ($7.5M, $5.5 M and $4.5 M) or an average of $5.8 M per season. His cap hit is $7.3 a year or $22 M in total.

Gauthier's options are keep Gomez, demote him to the minors/Europe, buy him out at little under $2 M a year for six years, or trade him.

Gauthier's decision is going to be driven by how well Gomez performs for the rest of the season and the playoffs. If Gomez performs well then Gauthier could justify bringing Gomez back or he might decide it would be a good time to trade him.

What team would want to take on a $7.3 M cap hit for a player who performs closer to a $5 M a year player? Try the Islanders, Phoenix, Dallas or any other "Floor" team. Gomez's contract would help them reach the floor while actually spending $1.5 M a year less than the floor.

It gets messy if Gomez's performance doesn't improve. A trade would require the Habs to take back an equally bad contract (like Blake for Giguere) or to give up a good prospect or draft picks. Not a very nice option.

A buy out is possible, but having a $2M a year cap hit for six years also isn't very palatable.

That leaves the Wade Redden approach - Gomez is given a shot to "earn" a top six spot in training camp. If he doesn't he spends the year in the minors or Europe. At the end of the season the Habs would attempt to trade him to a non-cap team. If that fails they would buy him out at a more palatable $1.7 M a year for four years.

V said...

Hi JT, loved your article for two reasons... it's a reasoned and fair look at a guy who is often treated unreasonably and unfairly by Habs fans because of his salary. I don't think there is nearly as much pressure on Gomez to come out of his funk as you say there is... and I believe if the team suddenly started to lose the majority of its games, he would step up. He was a horse in the play-offs last year when it mattered.

I have no idea what is really going on with him, but the criticism of him reminds me a bit of the criticism Ovechkin is receiving for playing below his usual standard (different standard I know) but both teams are still winning without these key performers playing up to par. A significant benefit of their under-performance is that other resources are forced to rise to the surface... in the case of both teams, this is happening. In the long-run, could be good for both teams.

Second reason I love this article is that it has lured pfhabs out from under his rock to pontificate on the one subject he still retains a shred of credibility. With the success Gauthier and Martin have had this year, it's been a mean season for guys like pf. Have not seen him anywhere for a long time. Good to see he is still out there and if he gets the downturn in Habs fortunes he is counting on, still has his old arguments at the ready to explain it.

pfhabs said...

DB or JT:

-can you confirm buyout math

-I believe it's 2/3 of remaining cap hit and can be spread over 2x the years remaining in contract. so in this case $7.357 x 3 x 2/3 spread over 6 years. so I get $2,452,333/year

-Burke needs a centre for Kessel but rather buy him out than have to trade Pacioretty, picks or other top prospects to have a team take him

moeman said...

Maybe Pleks can revive him.

Ian said...

Great post, Leigh Anne. I'm trying to focus on what he does on the ice, not his salary at this point. My biggest concern is the team's performance, not the cap issues.

Having said that, I think we're past the 'slow start' excuses. It's 1/3 of the way through the season!

What also concerns me is that if he plays 'up to his potential', are we talking about a 14 goal season based on past performance? That's not going to help the team much.

He seems more like how Grabovski was - skate all over the ice, weaving hither and yon, then losing the puck without even a scoring chance.

Though players wouldn't say it, I can't imagine them being happy finding themselves pencilled in on his line to start a game right now.

I'd be reluctant to make him the checking centre against the other team's top centres, as I just don't trust him defensively. He's already a minus player in his current role. How bad would it be if he was up against the top centres every night!

I sure hope he wakes up and starts contributing soon. My God, Darche has five goals!

We've got a few players that need to get on a scoring streak, despite the success we've had so far. I see a lot more scoring potential on paper than in fact.

And my vent - why are we playing back-to-back Friday and Saturday when we have Wednesday and Thursday available. Yes, it would be b2b if they played Wednesday, but I'd rather do that than have the Laffs hosting the boys in the second game. I'll be at that game at the ACC in my red vintage Koivu # 11, and I want to leave happy. :))))))

On a final note, I love PK and would like to see him back in the lineup, but I wouldn't change it while they are winning. Nobody on the D deserves to be pulled out to make room for him after the last two games. I'm glad I'm not JM right now! :))

Love your posts. Keep up the great work. Your journalism skills really shine through.

DB said...


The buyout is based on the remaining amount owed to the player (the value). The cap hit can be for a different amount as it is based on a complex formula. I have not calculated the actual cap hit for a Gomez buyout; I just used what he would be paid.

Here's a link that provides more details.

pfhabs said...

DB: thxs for the link

JT: on another subject have not seen it elsewhere in your posts but was wondering what were the rules of engagement so to speak. I suppose I could respond in kind to the junvenile meanderings of V but why give credence to such nonsense and lack of knowledge which is only surpassed by it's owner's hubris.

given it's your blog it's therefore your rules. so just looking for some guidance. thxs in advance

J.T. said...

@pfhabs: There are no "rules of engagement." If your comment isn't ridiculous, it will be posted. And, yeah, I get to decide what's ridiculous. :)