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Numbers Game: Gomez Goes To Montreal

Scott Cullen
6/30/2009 9:46:31 PM
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In an effort to secure a first-line centre, the Montreal Canadiens took on a burdensome contract and, for good measure, included a top prospect in the deal.

Numbers Game examines Montreal's acquisition of centre Scott Gomez.

The Canadiens Get: C Scott Gomez, LW Tom Pyatt and D Michael Busto.

Gomez, 29, is considered a playmaking centre, having put up at least 40 assists in eight of his nine NHL seasons.  However, he's coming off a poor season in which he tallied 58 points and was minus-2 and his lack of production was all the more jarring considering he skated more than 21 minutes a night while playing in 77 games.

A perennial concern with Gomez is that, despite increasing his shots on goal since the lockout, his goal production has dropped precipitously from his career-high 33 goals in 2005-2006 to just 45 total over the last three seasons.

The 2008-2009 season was undeniably a down season for Gomez's production, even though the Rangers tended to fare better when he was on the ice in terms of shots on goal, goals for and plus-minus, so it's not unreasonable to have hopes for increased production if he ends up with a better situation in Montreal.

Part of Gomez's appeal is that he's a setup man and with the Canadiens expected to be pursuing a scoring winger in free agency, Gomez's real impact is going to be determined largely by whomever the Canadiens can get to play alongside him.

To his credit, Gomez has been extremely durable throughout his career, never missing more than ten games in a season and he's been a quality playoff performer (including 39 points in 37 playoff games over the last four seasons), winning two Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils, and he's solid in the face-off circle, winning 52.4% of his draws last season.

Aside from Gomez's on-ice attributes, his biggest drawback is a long-term contract that will pay him $33.5-million over the next five seasons (at a salary cap hit of more than $7.35-million per season). 

It's possible that the latter years of the contract, when the actual salary drops, could make Gomez more marketable, but the Canadiens surely aren't acquiring him with the idea of only getting a couple of years of quality production.

Gomez has reached the 70-point plateau four times in his career and the Canadiens have to hope he can do it at least a few more times over the next five seasons.

Pyatt is the younger, and smaller, brother of Taylor Pyatt, who is headed for free agency after three years with the Vancouver Canucks.  The younger Pyatt doesn't project to be an impact player in the NHL, but the 22-year-old finished with 37 points in 73 AHL games last season and may be able to earn a fourth-line or part-time role in the next season or two.

23-year-old Michael Busto is a complete throw-in, not making much of an impact with 11 points and a minus-7 rating in the ECHL.

The Rangers Get: LW Christopher Higgins, D Ryan McDonagh, D Pavel Valentenko and D Doug Janik.

Playing a career-low 57 games last season, Higgins finished with just 12 goals and 23 points, significant drops in production for a reliable two-way winger who had scored more than 20 goals in each of the three previous seasons.

The 26-year-old isn't especially creative offensively, but has good speed and is willing to work the corners to create scoring opportunities.  He plays a sound enough game to be a reliable third-line checker, yet has enough finish around the net to be a capable performer on the second line. 

A restricted free agent, Higgins made $1.7-million last season.  Given his production last year, a big raise seems unlikely, but that's exactly what the Rangers needed from this deal -- salary cap flexibility that will give them more room when trying to sign their own restricted free agents, including Nikolai Zherdev, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.

McDonagh is just 20 years-old and was a first-round pick in 2007.  As a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, McDonagh had 16 points and a minus-2 rating in 36 games and he has decent size at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds. 

Considering the Canadiens practically did the Rangers a favour by taking on Gomez's contract, it's impossible to justify McDonagh's inclusion in the deal unless the Canadiens have decided that he's not likely to make it as an NHL regular and that just doesn't seem to be the general impression of McDonagh's development to this point in his career.

On the other hand, it's a little more understandable that the Canadiens included Pavel Valentenko in the trade, if only because his decision to leave the Hamilton Bulldogs and return to Russia may have left a sour taste with the organization.  Even so, Valentenko has the ability to challenge for an NHL job, should he decide to make that commitment.

Doug Janik is a 29-year-old journeyman who will be an unrestricted free agent.  If the Rangers happen to sign him, he would provide organizational depth.  

The Rangers win this deal, hands down, if only because of the financial implications of the trade. 

Perhaps Montreal has more moves in store that will make this deal more palatable, but it's still not going to justify including a top prospect like McDonagh.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca




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