The first and only time Scott Gomez was traded, the results were a disaster. That trade started a series of falling dominos that led to Gomez’s career spiraling downhill and to him becoming one of the NHL’s biggest pariahs.
So how cool is it that almost six years later, Gomez could become a wanted man at the trade deadline? All right, wanted might be gilding the lily a little. But the fact that Gomez has played his way into the conversation of players who could be moved by March 2 is nothing short of remarkable.
The NHL trade deadline seems becoming less about blockbusters – those big trades for players with term left on their deals are usually done at the draft now – and more about bolstering and tinkering. Some of the deals that turn out to be the best ones are the relatively minor ones that don’t cost the team acquiring the player much. And all the uncertainty surrounding the salary cap next season might impact this year’s trade deadline even more in that respect. (The Los Angeles Kings, though, are outliers in this one. Both of their Cup wins were preceded by big pre-deadline deals with the Columbus Blue Jackets that paid off in a big way in the playoffs – getting Jeff Carter in 2012 and Marian Gaborik last season.)
There are some GMs who think this year’s deadline will be dominated only by rentals because teams are wary of taking on too much money and term without know what the cap will be next season. And the uncertainty over whether the NHL Players’ Association will trigger the five percent inflator, because that will mean more in escrow payments, is adding to the worry.
So if the market is going to be flooded with rentals, teams looking for some inexpensive help might do worse than pick up Gomez, who rededicated himself to fitness and seems intent on proving he’s still got game. His 20 points in 33 games puts him pace for full season total of 50 points.
Yes, Gomez is getting top-six minutes on a bad team where somebody has to do the scoring. And his possession numbers aren’t very good, but his Corsi Relative to the Devils is second only on the team to Jaromir Jagr. But those who have watched the Devils a lot this season say he has been one of the team’s best forwards.
The question is, would another team get as much out of Gomez as the Devils have this season? Devils GM Lou Lamoriello gave Gomez a chance this season when nobody else in the league wanted him. His best days were as a Devil and there is a strong emotional pull for him there. He has always been a good-to-excellent player while playing for the Devils and has only been a bad one when he has gone elsewhere. Perhaps that structure and environment is the one that best suits him.
On the flip side, Gomez has been part of a winning culture and while his skills are in decline, he can still be a decent playmaking center surrounded by the right people. And he still has the ability to make a play that might lead to an overtime goal that could be the difference between winning and losing a series. And despite what anyone has ever thought of his performance on the ice, Gomez’s character is not in question. He was a good guy even when he was a bad player.
So if you’re a contender and you’d like to have some depth at center and a guy you can move up and down your lineup, Gomez might be a good fit. Look at a team like the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that went out and got Michal Handzus at the deadline two years ago in an under-the-radar move that ended up being the best of the deadline trades. They have Jonathan Toews, Brad Richards, Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger down the middle, which is fine. But they might like to have a guy of Gomez’s experience down the stretch and through the playoffs to play on their bottom six. And with Gomez making the league minimum of $550,000 this season, even a team up against the cap might make it fit.
There are bigger moves a team could make to shore up the middle of the ice – Antoine Vermette, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak come to mind – but for a marginal prospect or middle-round pick, the investment in Gomez might be worth it. And wouldn’t that be ironic considering nobody has wanted anything to do with this guy over the past couple of years?