As odd as that title was for me to type, I’m sure it was just as strange for you to read. After deciding to rise above the rubble of my day job, I felt the need to comment about the signing of veteran center Scott Gomez by the Florida Panthers. This could very well be one of the more valuable moves for the upcoming season by the Panthers. After having his ludicrous contract bought out by the Montreal Canadiens, a seven year deal for $51.5 million dollars that Gomez signed as a free agent to play for the New York Rangers in 2007, the reality is that Gomez is a very low risk, high reward signing. His contract was ludicrous simply because he failed to produce at the level that was expected. His best year as a Ranger was his first when he scored 70 points. That year was followed by a 58 point season which then saw him traded to the Montreal Canadiens in a seven player deal with Gomez and Montreal’s Chris Higgins being the biggest names of the group, along with a defenceman by the naem of Ryan McDonough. Gomez had 59 points in his first season in Montreal, 38 the next, and battled injuries as he quickly fell out of favor with the Canadiens. Of course one other reason his numbers fell could have had something to do with the stifling game plan of Jacques Martin, however “dat” is discussion is for another time.
Gomez’s lack of production and fat contract made him an easy target for the Montreal faithful, and after the lockout ended last season, the Canadiens bought him out, and Gomez eventually landed with the San Jose Sharks in a very serviceable role, playing 39 games, scoring twice and collecting 13 assists. The Sharks Todd McLellan had this to say about Gomez during his time in San Jose:
“Gomer has been a very good player for us in a number of different ways. I don’t want to say it’s surprising, but he’s almost like a third or a fourth coach. He’s trying to do things the right way. He’s trying to get guys to keep their shifts short, that we have a high guy, that we don’t turn pucks over. I didn’t know we were getting that in Scott Gomez, but we’re getting it, and he’s been a big influence that way.”
Gomez comes to the Panthers as a 33 year old veteran who has played in 941 regular season NHL games accumulating 701 points, and is a career plus 27. In 149 playoff games he has 101 points. He’s won the Stanley Cup twice as a member of the New Jersey Devils, was named the league’s rookie of the year in 1999-2000, and is known for his playmaking abilities as well as being responsible defensively. He’s still quick, and has always had soft hands, and good hockey sense.
Those accolades in addition to his veteran presence will give the Panthers flexibility in how they treat some of their younger players. Many have complained in the past that the Panthers rush their young players all to often, resulting in a delayed maturity, leaving some of those youngsters with a lack of confidence in their play. The addition of Gomez gives Florida a center who can play on the second line, allowing the Panthers to play Marcel Goc on the third line, and likely Drew Shore on the fourth. This assumes of course that rookie Aleksander Barkov plays on the top unit. Let me be the first to say that on most any other team, Gomez would never see top six minutes, however here in Florida he can be “that” guy, and unless he falls flat on his face, comes to camp out of shape, I seriously doubt that’s going to happen. With a one year contract, and still another four or five years to play, Gomez has something to prove.
For those of you pining about Shawn Matthias, he can play wing for now, until this situation resolves itself later in the up coming season. And by that I mean, the play of Drew Shore will determine more than we think. He had a fantastic February, just as Matthias had an enourmous March. Shore however was placed in a position that he wasn’t necessarily prepared for, then he hurt his wrist. Shore was surprisingly good last year overall, and this year I expect his game to be better. Matthias as we know must show consistency. Many think his best position is at center, and that may be, however with the four players I’ve mentioned, Matthias can play the wing, have less responsibility than a center, and work at his game. At some point, I would expect one or both of Gomez and Goc to be moved toward the end of the season. Then Matthias can move into the center position. All that said, training camp will determine exactly how we start out the season, but by having Gomez, the Panthers have options.
There’s no rush to bring players like Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden and Vincent Trocheck along quicker than is necessary, which the Panthers have historically been guilty of. One more complete season at the AHL level for those three will make them significantly more “NHL” ready come 2014-2015. Gomez will also provide some much needed veteran leadership in the dressing room, and can be a mentor to both Barkov and Shore. General Manager Dale Tallon of the Panthers confirms that with these comments:
“Scott is a veteran center who adds further depth to the middle of our line-up,” said Tallon. “He is a quick and skilled forward, with a wealth of hockey experience including two Stanley Cup titles, who will be a leader for our younger players.”
While initially many Panther fans may not be overly impressed with this signing, it can be viewed as a bridge to the future, with very minimal obligation. As we entered the summer months, the Panthers appeared very thin when it came to having NHL ready players. Many were hoping and wanting Dale Tallon to sign some veterans to add some leadership both on and off the ice. This move is exactly what both you and I were screaming for. (I’m still praying for Mason Raymond however) If Gomez produces he could later be used in a trade to bring another draft pick, or a younger player into the fold. If however, he out plays his contract and meshes well with the youngsters, maybe he’ll be signed for another couple years to continue his mentorship of the Panther youth. A one year deal now works both ways for the organization, and for Gomez. Gomez can still play and be a functional part of any NHL team. By being productive, he gets a chance to sign a longer term contract either here or elsewhere. The Panthers benefit by his leadership, and allow them the time to develop their youth.
Make no mistake about this move and understand this, unless Gomez plays with the top six, he’ll be worthless. That’s a strong word, but you get the idea. Like the failed Alexei Kovalev experiment, Gomez needs to play top minutes, and with skilled players. Gomez isn’t necessarily known for his scoring, but is excellent at dishing out the assists. But only to players that can score. It will provide no value if Gomez is on a line trying to see if Joey Crabb can bury a one timer from the faceoff circle. No offence to Joey, but that would take too much practice , and an open net that’s about as big as the BB & T Center.
This could be another one of those moves that Dale Tallon makes that may not make sense today, but one you’ll understand months from now.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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