Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Scott Gomez Trade - Acquiring a True Anchorage

Montreal Acquires:

C Scott Gomez
LW Tom Pyatt
D Michael Busto

The New York Rangers Acquire:

LW/C Chris Higgins
D Pavel Valentenko
D Ryan McDonagh
D Doug Janik

Montreal's Take

C Scott Gomez

Age: 29 (30 in December)
Contract Status: Signed through 2013/14
Cap Hit: $7.357 M
Expected Goals: 18
Discipline: Low (T-9th among C with 30 Minors)
Physicality: Medium-Low

Scott Gomez's Corsi number is insanely high, likely one of the highest in the league at 323. The reason for this is simple - Gomez is not a traditional 'passer'. Looking around the league at players like Doug Weight and Adam Oates, they tended to average around 2 to 2.5 shots per game. Gomez is averaging 3+ post-lockout - last season Gomez was 16th in the league in shots on goal, 4th among centers. The downside is that many of Gomez's shots are very low-percentage shots or are attempts for his wingers to score on rebounds off his shots. Gomez therefore needs a very specific sort of player to play with him - he is far removed from his days of setting up Alexander Mogilny off one-timers at the top of the slot. With Montreal acquiring Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta for his wings, these players are well-suited to helping Gomez - Gionta was on Gomez's wing for 3 of his best seasons. Gomez may return to being a 20 goal 50 point type of player.

LW Tom Pyatt/D Michael Busto

Both are minor league depth - Busto played in the ECHL this season, and Pyatt had 37 points in the AHL as a 21/22 year old. Pyatt may have an NHL future, but it's unlikely that it's any more than as a depth winger.

The Rangers' Take

LW/C Chris Higgins

Age: 26 (27 next June)
Contract Status: Unsigned RFA, UFA in July 2010
Cap Hit: N/A
Expected Goals: 27
Discipline: High
Physicality: Medium-High

Higgins had by far the lowest shooting percentage of his career - his shooting percentage has dropped each year since the lockout. It's therefore a tad presumptuous to have his expected goals at 27; an adjustment may have to be made to Expected Goals for it to have any explanatory power. Higgins had little worth to the Habs if he was going to take them to arbitration - he's UFA in a year, and an arbitration price offers a small discount on what a free agent might cost.

D Ryan McDonagh

Age: 20
Contract Status: None; Still in NCAA

McDonagh was considered one of the Habs' top prospects, but he was 4th on his college team in scoring by defensemen - his strength must therefore be defense. Besides defensemen of the Paul Martin ilk who excel quietly at defense, we are prone to presuming that players cannot excel substantially at defense without also being at least competent at offense, especially at the amateur level.

D Pavel Valentenko

Age: 21 (22 in October)
Contract Status: Questionable

'Questionable' is written above because Valentenko defected from his AHL team and joined up with a KHL squad. It's unclear whether Valentenko intends to return to North America.

D Doug Janik

Age: 29 (30 next March)
Contract Status: UFA

We have no idea why Doug Janik was included in this deal - he was traded a day before the Rangers would lose his rights. Janik is a 7th/8th defensemen who could prove adequate for a team looking to save money.

Salary Cap Motivations

Scott Gomez's contract was one of the worst in the NHL when it was signed and that continues today - he has a 7.327 million dollar cap hit and has only scored more than 20 goals once. However, this free agent market is a terrible one for centers, and the Habs' top two centers for much of the season were UFA. The Habs therefore had several Faustian bargains at their disposal - either re-sign Saku Koivu, who is aged and cannot really carry a line at this point, or try to acquire a center, the owner of said center being likely not disposed to get rid of him. It's possible that the Habs knocked on Tampa's door and asked for Vincent Lecavalier - it's possible they knocked on Philly's door and asked for Daniel Briere. The Habs' one asset was salary cap room - they had almost 28 million dollars worth of it coming into this UFA period.

Scott Gomez also has one of the most salary cap favorable contracts in terms of payment. Gomez is owed $33.5 million in cash over the next 5 seasons - that's an average of 6.7 million, on a 7.327 cap hit. Even better for the Habs is the fact that Gomez is only owed 9 million cash spread over the final two seasons of the deal - it would not surprise us at all if Gomez were included in a trade for Vincent Lecavalier in the next 2 or 3 years, or even in the near future.

From the Rangers' perspective, they dispose of a dirty contract, pick up an asset in Higgins, and scrounge up two other assets in McDonagh and Valentenko. The Rangers cleared off salary cap room which they immediately gave to Marian Gaborik - Gaborik lacks the durability of Gomez, but he is the elite-level scorer that the Rangers have lacked since Jaromir Jagr departed. Unfortunately, they are now lacking at center and do not possess the money to remedy that.

Final Thought

Montreal made a very creative deal to get a valuable contract and an asset that simply was not on the market. They likely overpaid for the privilege, however - it is hard to imagine that Glen Sather insisted on McDonagh being in the deal. Scott Gomez tends to be a player who looks better than his results - a few times a season his end-to-end rushes will result in thrilling goals, but they also result in blueline turnovers leading to goals the other way.

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