The Montreal Canadiens had a fair season in 2009/10. While they only finished five points ahead of the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes, for once they weren't backing into the playoffs on the last day of the season. They didn't have the dream run they managed last year, but they did hand the Boston Bruins all they could use in the first round.
Despite handing the starting goaltending job off to 23-year-old Carey Price and a string of key, devastating injuries on defense; le bleu, blanc et rouge had a good season defensively and in nets. They were eighth in the league in goals against average and gave up 31 shots against per game putting them 18th overall in that category.
The big struggle last year seemed to come on offense. They tied with the Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs at 21st with a mere 2.6 goals scored per game. This was despite being ninth in shots taken on net per game (31.7). Montreal had a huge problem finishing last year.
Montreal had only three players who managed to score 20 or more goals last year. Tomas Plekanec lead the team with 57 points. That was good enough to tie him for 54th in the league. Brian Gionta led all Habs' goal scorers with a reasonable 29 goals. Unfortunately he only scored 46 points in his 82 games.
The worst among the veterans was of course Scott Gomez owner of the huge $7.357 million a year for three more years contract courtesy of Glen Sather, the New York Rangers and of course Bob Gainey, the only GM in the league crazy enough to trade for that contract.
What should be done with Scott Gomez?
Despite all that quality ice time, Scott Gomez scored just seven goals last year, three of them on the power play. Just for contrast, 24-year-old center David Desharnais got in 43 games and played an average of 12:52 minutes a game. He got just over a third of the total power-play time that Scott Gomez commanded. He scored four power-play goals and eight total goals.
No one is suggesting David Desharnais should be the Canadiens' first or second line center but I have to ask; why is it assumed Scott Gomez should be?
Somehow it seems Gomez and his contract needs to be gotten rid of. His no trade contract gives him the right to veto three potential trade destinations. The trade option doesn't probably exist anyway. Unless Bob Gainey becomes General Manager of another NHL team.
That leaves a buyout that with three years and $22 million left on the contract seems a little punitive. The Canadiens could grasp the nettle and stick Gomez in Hamilton where he might get to play against fellow Ranger contract holder Wade Redden.
Scott Gomez is 31 years old. He's still quick on his skates and a good playmaker. He has just about the worst shot I've ever seen from an NHL player. In 11 NHL seasons he has averaged just over 15 goals and 61 points a year. However he seems to be on the downward limb of the bell curve.
It is hard to imagine he could duplicate his offensive performance of last year, which was the worst in his 11-year career. Still there is little evidence that Montreal is getting the biggest offensive bang for the ice-time they spend on Gomez, let alone the money they spend.
Montreal enters the 2011/12 season with a large number of holes to fill. CapGeek.com has Montreal sitting with 13 players signed and $41 million counting against the cap. That leaves them with $18 million-plus to sign roughly another nine players. They will get a little bonus if the cap goes up again this year.
There are few unrestricted free agents out there who could fill the No. 1 center slot in Montreal. The only top quality offensive center available is 30-year-old Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars. The competition for him will be fierce. The fear has to be that after overpaying for him now in two or three years we could be complaining about Richards and his cap hit the same way I'm complaining about Gomez and his cap hit right now.
It seems crazy to sequester Scott Gomez in Hamilton if there is no legitimate replacement on the horizon for him. It also seems crazy to spend $7 million-plus in cap space on a center who gives you less than a half point a game.
Again David Desharnais' numbers with limited ice time project to 15 goals and 42 points over an 82-game season. Nothing to get excited about, but with more ice time, especially power-play time, a 20-goal, 50-point season doesn't seem out of line.
Desharnais was no wizard in the faceoff circle winning 221 of 445 faceoffs (49.7 percent) but that was still better than Scott Gomez's 575 of 1197 (48 percent).
The $7 million the Canadiens would save on the cap would certainly help them sign their choice of UFA defenseman Andrei Markov and or RFA defensemen James Wisniewski, Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle.
The Canadiens will be desperate to sign a center who can win a faceoff, especially if they let Jeff Halpern go, but that is still true if Scott Gomez is with the big club or in the minors.
Philosophically I'm reluctant to give up on a player when there is no one better to fulfil his role on the team. In this case, though, I think ice time dedicated to Gomez might be more wisely spent giving a young player like Desharnais or Leblanc a chance to prove whether or not they are capable of performing in a top six capacity in the NHL.
Almost anyone is likely to have a better offensive year next season than the one Gomez managed last year. Perhaps to be fair, I have to say Gomez himself is almost sure to have a better season this year than last.
The extra cap space can always be used, this year or even next, to try to address the need in Montreal for a real first line center. I'd like to see young talent get a chance rather than watch Scott Gomez not score for another full NHL season.