By Stu Hackel
The new CBA, the result of a bitter struggle between the owners and players, has begun claiming victims. Wade Redden and Scott Gomez, a pair of conspicuously poor free agent signings by Rangers GM Glen Sather, find themselves being paid not to play during this upcoming shortened season.
UPDATE: NHL, NHLPA come to agreement on Gomez and Redden allowing them to potentially play this season.
Both have been told to go home, Redden by Sather, who last week reportedly allowed Redden's agent to try engineering a trade to another club, and Gomez on Sunday by new Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, who inherited the veteran center via the lopsided trade Sather made with Bob Gainey in 2009, one that sent rising star defenseman Ryan McDonagh's rights to New York.
Gomez and Redden will be bought out next summer for two-thirds of the remaining value on their contracts when the CBA permits two buyouts per club that won't count against the salary cap. With the cap going down next year, space is needed and overpaid underachievers are most vulnerable.
So this pair will not dress for an AHL farm team, an ECHL team, a European team, or anywhere because the Rangers and Canadiens fear they will risk injury. If a candidate is injured, it prevents his club from buying out his contract. So essentially, they cannot work and it's possible that other players in the same situation on other teams will also be cut loose in a similar fashion. They won't have the chance this season to be on the ice and show another organization that they might have something to contribute.
UPDATE: The NHLPA is reportedly reviewing this situation, exploring whether it is within the spirit of the new CBA. Legal analyst Eric Macramalla, wrtes on CBSSports.com, "It would not be unreasonable for the NHLPA to grieve the expulsion of Gomez. Contract law obligations flow both ways. Part of that includes providing Gomez the reasonable opportunity to discharge the services he has been contracted to provide. In part, the NHLPA could argue sending home a perfectly healthy player with no off-ice issues simply with a view to preserving an amnesty buyout is not in keeping with the spirit of the contract. The NHLPA could say Gomez is being banished not because he failed to discharge his contractual obligations, but simply because of newly implemented system issues." The same would hold true for Redden. In an email to ESPN-New York's Katie Strang, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league believes the Rangers are within their rights to prohibit Redden from playing in the minors this year; no doubt he'd say the same about the Canadiens and Gomez.
Of course, both already had ample chances to impress and were found wanting. Few fans or media observers will feel badly for Gomez or Redden. You didn't have to be a fan of the team they played for to be enraged by how poorly they performed for all the money they were paid. These two were the poster boys for big market excess (SI.com Gallery: NHL Albatross Players), even under the salary cap. Sather gave Gomez a seven-year $51.5 million contract in 2007 and Redden a six-year, $39 million deal a year later.
The results? Redden, who was usually good for 45 points per season from the Ottawa blueline, had 12 power play goals in 2003-04 and was a league best plus-35 in 2005-06, but he only managed 40 points total in two seasons with the Rangers and his defensive zone coverage grew sloppy. Dispatched to the AHL two years ago so his bloated contract wouldn't count under the Rangers' salary cap, Redden no longer can be hidden like that under the new CBA.
Winner of the Calder Trophy in 2000 as the league's top rookie, Gomez at his best averaged nearly a point per game for the Devils during his seven seasons with them (1999-2007). But he produced just 21 goals and 108 points in 196 games for the Habs, and between Feb. 5, 2011 and Feb. 9, 2012, didn't light the lamp even once.
"Scott just hasn't produced to the level that he was supposed to produce at when the Rangers signed him away from New Jersey as an unrestricted free agent," Pierre McGuire said over Ottawa's Team 1200 Three Guys On The Radio program Monday morning (audio). "It will go down as one of the worst trades the Canadiens have made in the last 20 years. It won't be as high as the Patrick Roy trade with Colorado, but it's going to be pretty darn high up there when you consider how well Ryan McDonagh has played so far and how well he will play going forward. So it's a terrible trade for the Canadiens....He was extremely popular with a lot of his teammates because he kind of a wisecracker and it makes things fun on a day-to-day basis in the NHL. That being said, I think his speed was very overrated. He was very quick in confined areas but he lost a lot of speed races in the neutral zone and I think that really put him in a bad position. If you look at a lot of the goals scored when he was on the ice, it was because he lost his man because he couldn't match pace through the neutral zone or he couldn't match pace coming from the blue line to the icing line. It's a big problem and it has been for him for a long time."
So good riddance, most fans and media types will say, and there's little nuance involved. Out of sight, out of mind. It's rather black and white, and since we all flatter ourselves by believing we could be NHL general managers, we applaud Sather and Bergevin for doing just what we'd do -- and we might even applaud the new CBA as well and the lockout that gave birth to it.
There's only a small problem with that. As perverse as it was that Redden and Gomez received so much for doing so little, it's equally perverse that they now cannot do anything. Some people spent the lockout grousing that NHL players are greedy -- and you can buy into that or not -- but they do love to play, they love to compete above all else. That's what and who pro hockey players are, more than any other characteristic you might ascribe to them. And, unless some club wants to assume Gomez's and Redden's salaries for this season (doubtful, eh?), these two guys now cannot compete anywhere at any level. That seems wrong.
Prohibiting someone from playing is the ultimate punishment, one you'd mete out to someone who had, say, bet on games or taken PEDs. You know -- broken the law or the rules. This punishment does not fit the "crime." In fact, there was no crime. It is a disproportionate consequence for their poor performance.
"He wants to play and to have that taken away is tough, for sure," Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said of Gomez after learning his longtime friend and teammate was gone (quoted by Dave Stubbs in The Montreal Gazette). "It was an unfortunate business decision." (At least that's how Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin explained it, although La Presse's Francois Gagnon believes the Habs' actual motivation was they didn't want him around their young players, which may or may not be true.)
The NHLPA reportedly wanted the compliance buyout mechanism in place immediately in the new CBA, for now -- not next summer. But that was a point on which the owners got their way during the negotiations.
Like so much of what the lockout was fought over, this is just another example of the players being forced to pay for someone else's mistakes. In these two cases, the mistakes began with Glen Sather, making bad judgements on two veteran players and misspending all of that Rangers money.
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