During the dog days of summer, NHL news can be scarce but hockey fans are an insatiable breed so to fill up some of those empty summer spaces, we will be doing individual profiles of the Florida Panthers players. In these profiles, we will dish on the players’ previous season, what we can expect next year and also take a look back at their careers. We hope these little pieces help all you Panther fans retain your sanity while we hold on in anticipation of the new season this fall.
Scott Gomez scored 2 goals and 13 assists in 38 games for the San Jose Sharks during last year’s lockout shortened season. That fact however is merely a footnote in the story of the 33 year old forward’s tumultuous 2012-13.
Gomez began the year with the Montreal Canadiens who were paying the reminder of a 7 year $51.5 million dollar contract that he signed with the Rangers prior to the 2007-08 season. The Canadiens were in line to pay Gomez $10 million over the final two years of a contract that would expire after the 2013-14 season. Gomez had seen his point totals drop in each of his three seasons with Montreal, from 59 in 09-10 to 38 the following season and finally to 11 in an injury plagued 2011-12 season.
Due to his hefty contract and less than hefty production, Gomez became an easy target for the Montreal media and for the Canadiens’ rabid fan base. The Canadiens’ front office were given a way to escape the Gomez contract when the new CBA introduced compliance buyouts that would allow teams to buy out up to two players’ contracts without enduring a cap hit. The only catch was that teams could only use these buyouts during the 2013 and 2014 off seasons and players could not be bought out if they were injured. With this in mind, the Canadiens front office told Gomez to sit out the entire 2012-13 season so he could avoid injury. With Gomez’s health assured, the Habs could then use their compliance buyout during the 2013 offseason. With Gomez and Rangers veteran defenseman Wade Redden both in similar situations the league stepped in and modified the rules to allow teams to use their compliance buyouts prior to the 2012-13 season. This worked out for both sides as Gomez would not be forced to sit out an entire season and the Canadiens could immediately get his cumbersome salary off the books.
Gomez finally became a free agent on January 17, 2013 and was signed to a 1-year $700,000 deal by the San Jose Sharks just six days later. His new contract with San Jose was a much better reflection of his value and he was allowed to operate in relative peace (especially compared to the hell he endured in Montreal) as a fourth line center.
During the offseason the Florida Panthers signed Scott Gomez to a 1 year contract worth $900,000. He joins a potentially crowded center group but he figures to slot in at the position on the fourth line.
Gomez has been in the league since 1999 and he has hit the 70 point mark five times in his career. He has been around so long and been through so much that it is easy to forget that he is only 33 years old. While he is by no means a spry chicken, he is still at an age where, if he finds himself in the right situation, he could experience a modest bounce back from his recent injury marred seasons.
Will the Panthers be the right situation for Gomez? That remains to be seen. The team took a flyer on the Anchorage, Alaska native for two reasons. Yes they think it is possible he improves upon his recent production and becomes a bargain compared to his modest contract, (bargain and Gomez being two words you would never have expected to hear in the same sentence three years ago) but they also brought him in to serve as a veteran mentor to the team’s young group of centers. This group includes Aleksander Barkov (18 years old), Nick Bjugstad (21), Drew Shore (22) and Shawn Matthias (25).
Looking at those four names, you realize something is amiss. Adding Gomez fellow Panther center Marcel Goc to this group gives you six names, the Panthers only have room for four centers on their roster. That means two players will either have to shift positions or not play at all, which brings us to the question regarding Gomez’s role on the team. Was he brought in to play or was he brought in just to be a mentor to the young players?
Gomez seems to be aware of unique position within the team framework. He recently spoke to the Sun-Sentinal about the veteran players who helped him as a youngster and the importance that leadership had on his development, “I had an Ivy League-like education when it comes to hockey. That’s the way I was brought up with the Scott Stevens‘, the Scott Niedermayers, the Holiks and guys like Randy McKay. You’re here to help the younger guys out there.’
While it seems like Gomez is more than willing to accept his role as a leader and mentor, he also made it clear that he came to Florida to play. His number one objective is to revive his sputtering career, not provide leadership from the sidelines.
I think Gomez will definitely get the chance to start the season with the Panthers (I have probably flip-flopped on this at least ten times this summer so take whatever I say with a grain of salt). Even if he produces at last year’s level, Gomez will be a solid fourth line center. Ultimately I think we will see something similar to the 2010-11 version of Gomez when he scored 7 goals and 31 assists in 80 games. I think it is safe to set Gomez’s median expectation at 35 pts/75GP. If things go his way, he could push for 50 points. If things fall apart, he could completely lose his spot on the roster.
Training camp is just about a week a way so we do not have to wait long for our uncertainties to be resolved. Feel free to share your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below or follow us on twitter and Facebook.