Friday, May 18, 2012

A Day as Habs GM: Getting Rid of Gomez

As the real Marc Bergevin spends today in Shawinigan getting ready to take in some of the action with four Montreal Canadiens prospects taking part in this week's Memorial Cup, and with a planned update on the coaching situation for the media this afternoon, I thought I'd take a different docket off his hands.  So today, we'll enter his shoes to address the up-in-the-air Scott Gomez situation.

If you'll remember back to the day Bergevin was hired, there was a non-sensical rumour circulated by Dave Morissette of TVASports that a decision had already been taken to buy the remaining 2 seasons of Gomez's contract out.  Considering that the NHL's buyout period doesn't open until June 15 or 48 hours after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup finals should they run longer, there would be no point in making that kind of a decision in early May.  Besides, a buyout is only one of a few possible options the Canadiens have, so today we look at the scenarios and assess the best case.

Buy Him Out
While the first rumour is almost certainly a garbage source trying to pre-empt actual news just to claim they were first (aka Anonymous Hockey Blogging 101), it isn't impossible that the organization decides on this route come mid-June.  A buyout for a player in Gomez's category is set at 2/3 of the remaining dollars on his deal, split over double the remaining contract length.  Thanks to the calculator from, we'd get this as the math for a buyout this summer:
So Geoff Molson would save a few bucks not having to pay Scottie, but the problem with this option is the last column, "Buyout Cap Hit."  Buy buying out his contract, the Canadiens would be handicapping themselves by this amount for each of the next four years, reducing the amount they'd be allowed to spend on their team, and putting the team at a disadvantage compared to other cap-spending clubs.  For a team with the financial resources to spend to the cap and beyond, this sort of management would be an injustice to fans, limiting the club's ability to ice the best roster possible.  Besides, Georges Laraque's buyout just finally came off the team's cap at the conclusion of this season, though it was a penalty of only $500,000 this year.

Fortunately, Geoff Molson alluded to the fact that he was open to alternatives other than the buyout, indicated that his team's budget wouldn't be limited (within reason of course) when it came to building a winning team.  So it seems unlikely he will force Bergevin's hand to go this route.  So aside from saving a few bucks, why would the team do it?  Well it's the most beneficial option for Gomez himself, collecting a payout and allowing him to shop his services to other clubs where he may be more welcome.  But Montreal owes Gomez nothing; the team isn't even the one who signed him to the deal in the first place.  They've paid him considerable money only to underperform, so why do him a favour?

That said, the fact that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement must be negotiated before we can play another season of NHL hockey complicates the situation a bit.  We don't know how a new CBA would change the options available to the team.  Will there be a clause that prevents clubs from hiding veteran salaries in the AHL?  Will the structure of buyouts change?  If so, this option might become more attractive.  Alternatively, will the new CBA provide a cap hit-free "amnesty" buyout mechanism for one short period of time?  If so, a buyout of that variety likely becomes the top possibility.

Let Him Play
Since buying him out under current rules makes little sense, imposing a four-year penalty on the team, another line of thinking is to simply let him play, at least for one more season.  There is the slim chance that he finds chemistry with someone else on the roster and shows a semblance of productivity, and either way, his deal becomes that much more manageable with another season ticked off, whether it's by finding a trade partner ("reasonable" salary due for a non-cap team) or buying it out at a smaller penalty.  For reference, the buyout one year from now would look just like the following, again thanks to CapGeek:
The problems with this option are many as well, however.  First, there is the likely scenario that Gomez doesn't perform much better than either of the past two seasons, in which case the team is simply better off without him.  The club is far better off with David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, and Lars Eller down the middle, and Gomez isn't the kind of player you would want on a fourth line.  Even moving him to the wing would not be ideal, as developing Louis Leblanc or re-signing Travis Moen fill greater needs in both the short- and long-term.  Essentially, this team wouldn't want Gomez on the roster for ANY dollar amount.  Then there is the off-ice distraction and constant media scrutiny/questioning that will accompany an unproductive Gomez on the squad.  Plus the immediate heat/pressure on Bergevin for not addressing $7.357 M in wasted cap space.  Thus, for all of these reasons, it seems very safe to conclude that we've seen Scott Gomez play his final game in a Canadiens jersey, and that "letting him play" isn't a good option.

Trade Him
This option, also known as the "easier said than done," has been a hope of Canadiens' fans for most of the past two years.  Find a team willing to take on Gomez's contract for some reason or another.  Any possible trade would fall under one of two possible circumstances, if not both.  First is the Canadiens sacrificing a significant future asset, such as a top prospect or high draft pick.  The second would be the team taking back a similar bad contract (or multiple smaller bad contracts), with both teams hoping that a change of scenery is all their disappointing players needed to kick it up a notch.  For example, it's pretty clear the Carolina Hurricanes are fed up with Tomas Kaberle and don't want to pay him $4.25M for each of the next two seasons, so maybe something could be done there.  Wait, what's that?  The Habs already took Kaberle off the 'Canes hands?  Without making them take anything long-term back?  My bad, I thought that was a delusional nightmare.

But seriously, who are some players teams out there might want to get rid of for Gomez?  There's Shawn Horcoff in Edmonton, whose cap hit is about $1.8M less than Gomez's annually and who scored just 13 goals and 34 points in 81 games this season.  Reason for Montreal to do it? Horcoff brings size at 6'1", 202 lbs.  Reason for Edmonton to do it?  Horcoff has three seasons remaining versus Gomez's two.  Jay Bouwmeester hasn't panned out since joining the Calgary Flames from the Florida Panthers, with 29 points and a -21 rating in 81 games this season.  Joining a new team might help his career, and Montreal could use a top pairing defender, so even though his cap hit is only $700,000 less than Gomez's, it might kill two birds with one stone.  Like with Horcoff, the reasoning for Calgary would be that Bouwmeester has three years left vs. two for Gomez.

Waive Him
Saving likely the best for last, the Canadiens could waive Scott Gomez in the Fall.  There are two possible paths in this case; one would be to take a decision immediately, and then exceed the cap by up to Gomez's cap hit this summer, in which case it's likely he would not even attend the team's training camp.  The other is to bring him to camp and see how he performs.  Keep him around if the math works out (i.e. the Habs weren't able to add any other contributing big dollar players) and he earns his spot; waive him by camp's end if there is no fit.

Placing Gomez on waivers means offering him and his contract to any team "for free."  No team will take him (though if one would, it would mean the Canadiens be off the hook for the remainder of his deal in entirety), and then the Habs would be free to assign him to another league, ridding them of his cap hit.  The most common route would be to send him to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, where he might help young players adapt to the pro ranks and fill a scoring need the 'Dogs are likely to have.  It is likely the team first gives him an option to explore possibilities of playing in Europe, where they could (at least under current CBA terms) loan him to a club that would take him and again be off the hook (cap hit wise) for all of his remaining dollars.  The Canadiens are a highly profitable organization, and can afford to pay Gomez $10M over the next two seasons to play for other clubs, saving the $14.7M in cap space.  That makes waiving him the best possible plan, which Habs fan should hope Bergevin opts for.


Anonymous said...

Another option is to put him through re-entry waivers, I think some team would take him at half his salary (romour was the Isles wanted him), the Habs would then only have to eat the other half and have 2 years of $3.7M less cap space.

Dan K. said...

Fair pooint, but:

To put him on re-entry waivers, he'd first have to be waived. Once he's waived, makes more sense for the team to leave him in Hamilton if Molson means it when he says the budget won't be a limitation.

Anonymous said...

I would plat him al least 10 more games, just to see, then waive him. My reason is according to "Behind the Net" of all the habs players who played more than 10 min/game, Gomez had the best "Corsi" meaning puck possession,, also another fact is the when Gomez was in the line-up the Habs playe over 500 and less than 500 when he's not. We all agree Gomez under-perform for the last 2 years, but I would wait and play him on the wing.

Anonymous said...

Why not ship him IF ALLOWED down to ECHL and really set a precident to all players that play hard and work hard or ride the bus to nowhere. Make him humble for taking the financial rewards and doing nothing in return but laughing on the bench. A little remorse of humility from him would have gone a long ways but that won't happen now so send him to Siberia.

Dan K. said...

Anonymous 2:12 PM:

Indeed, Gomez's Corsi wasn't bad last season, and we all know that puck possession is one of his few strengths at this point. The problem with waiting is it handicaps you this off-season. The Canadiens won't be in the market for any acquisitions, already going to have to squeeze to fit in raises for Price and Subban if Gomez stays on the cap. If you have room for him in the budget when all is said and done (e.g. let's say the team tries but fails to land UFAs like Suter and/or Parise), then it *could* be an option to see how he does, though I think the off-ice distraction might outweigh possible gains.

Anonymous 3:07 PM:

I don't think there's a need to "punish" here. That also loud and clear sends a message to any UFAs considering Montreal which could scare them away. It's not Gomez's fault the Rangers gave him the deal. Nor is it his fault that Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier paid through the nose to acquire him and his contract. No one wants Gomez to succeed more than Gomez himself. The only issue is the cap, and the AHL is the worse-case for him.

DKerr said...

Could you envision Tampa being unhappy witt Vinny's contract and cutting him loose? If the CBA gives tams an out, I could see Gomez and Vinny swapping teams.