Friday, January 20, 2012

The NHL CBA & Player Contracts: What Should the Canadiens Do With The Scott Gomez Contract

Scott Gomez only scored 7 goals last season, or $1.14 million per goal. He admitted he didn't have a great season, although that’s like saying that Herman Cain had a so-so campaign.

This season it’s a bit worse. Gomez and I are tied with the same number of goals at 0. He’s played 16 games this season and has 5 assists. He’s making $7.5 million. I was paid 28 pesos for this column. Hardly seems fair.

Will Gomez be playing for the Montreal Canadiens next season. That seems unlikely, and it probably won’t be his choice. Or should I say – he shouldn’t be playing for the Canadiens next season. What will actually happen is a different situation.

Let’s look at his contract. He has 2 years left on his deal that will pay him $5.5 million and $4.5 million. The cap hit, which is key, will remain $7.357 million – what it’s been all along. Remember the cap hit is the average yearly value of a contract and not what a player makes that year.

The fact that Gomez will be paid less than his salary cap hit is somewhat good news. A team that needs to get to the salary cap floor and needs to artificially push its payroll up, could find Gomez attractive as they would be paying him less than his cap hit. That means they would have a net gain on his salary. 

The second option (in order of preference) is for the Canadiens to bury Gomez and his contract in the minors. If he is sent to the minors, his salary would not count against the cap (cue Wade Redden and the Rangers). The Canadiens would of course still be paying him. This assumes that the NHL’s new CBA won’t close this loophole. From a legal standpoint, it seems unlikely that they will grandfather in a new restriction like that. Closing the loophole may just apply to future contracts.

The final option is to buy Gomez out, which would be a mistake if the Canadiens are looking to free up very valuable cap space. The reason: when you buy a player out, the buyout, while less than the player’s yearly salary, will still count against the cap. So if the Canadiens buyout Gomez, the team will still have a cap impact. Here’s the cap hit with a buyout:

2012-13: $3,523,810
2013-14: $4,523,810
2014-15: $1,666,667
2015-16: $1,666,667

The Canadiens have money and burying the Gomez contract is the price of doing business. So if the team can’t trade Gomez to a cap hungry team, then the alternative is to send him to the minors. There is no option 3.

A column on Gomez would not be complete with a note on Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh and the trade generally. You might remember that Bob Gainey gave up McDonagh to take on Gomez and his hefty contract. The trade was Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto for McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko and Doug Janik. Habs fans still haven't forgotten this terrible trade, where they lost the very promising 6-1, 220 pound McDonagh, who is already showing why he was drafted 12th overall. This season, he has 19 points and is a plus 14. He’s also second on the Rangers with 105 blocked shots.

What does it say that at the time of the trade Habs fans thought it was unforgivable to include McDonagh as part of the package.

In a salary cap world, Gomez should have never been acquired by the Canadiens. Yes he’s a good player. Still, at the time of the transaction, he had 5 years left on a contract with a yearly cap hit of $7.357. That's a lot for a player that has never scored more than 16 goals over the past 5 seasons, and except for 33 goals in 2005-06, never scored more than 19 goals in a season. And don't forget, by taking on that big salary, the Canadiens lost valuable cap space needed to sign other players. If the Canadiens really wanted Gomez, his cap hit was such that the team should have only given up a draft pick and not a top prospect. This is particularly the case given that the Rangers had all kinds of problems unloading Gomez.

Finally, today my pen ran out of ink. I blame Perry Pearn.

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