The Engels Angle: Trade for Gomez: Second-worst in franchise history
Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez speaks to reporters at the end of season media availability Thursday, April 28, 2011 in Brossard, Que., after losing their NHL Stanley Cup playoff first round series to the Boston Bruins in seven gamesl.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Published Tuesday, June 28, 2011 11:08AM EDT
MONTREAL - Outside of the trade that sent Patrick Roy and Mike Keane to Colorado for Martin Rucinsky, Andrei Kovalenko and Jocelyn Thibault, the trade that brought Scott Gomez to Montreal might be considered the worst in franchise history. Both moves clearly indicate what kind of return you can expect when you're in a desperate position.
When the Canadiens elected to ship Roy out of town before hearing his apologies, they were abused by Pierre Lacroix (then GM of the Avalanche). Lacroix knew the Canadiens were embarrassed and couldn't wait any longer to pop a deal, and the best goalie in the history of the game (arguable--but at the time, it was a distinction Roy held) was shipped out for a second-rate package of players that could never put the Canadiens in a better position to compete for the Stanley Cup.
On June 30th, 2009, the Canadiens couldn't have been in a more desperate position. They had suffered through the most embarrassing season in the history of their team.
The centennial season was supposed to be the culmination of an extensive plan Bob Gainey, Pierre Gauthier and the Canadiens had formulated years in advance. They were coming off their best season since winning the Stanley Cup in 1993, and after adding components like Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Georges Laraque in the off-season, they were ready to compete once again for hockey's most coveted prize.
We needn't review the disaster that unfolded thereafter, but the plan had gone so awry that Gainey had no choice but to blow it all up. The efforts that immediately followed Montreal's centennial flop were uniquely focused on trading for Vincent Lecavalier and once that pursuit became fruitless in the eleventh hour, the Canadiens traded for Gomez in desperation.
Here was a team that would have virtually no chance of competing on July 1st without an indication that they were remaking themselves, as opposed to rebuilding. The trade for Gomez's albatross of a contract was an indication to other free agents that the Canadiens still had an eye on being competitive and the decision to let go of all their free agents - including long-time Captain Saku Koivu - was a clear indication that they'd have money to spend on the market.
The Canadiens - caught in their desperation - traded Christopher Higgins, Pavel Valentenko, Doug Janik and Ryan McDonagh for Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto. New York would have unloaded Gomez's contract for Higgins alone, but to obtain an A-level prospect like McDonagh was icing on the cake and I doubt Glen Sather blinked before including Pyatt and Busto into the deal.
As rumours swirl about Gomez's uncertain future with the Canadiens, it's imperative to consider that Gauthier's decision to not qualify a 24-year old Pyatt officially makes the deal worse. Not to say Pyatt is a difference maker for the Canadiens, but after 101 games of trust from Jacques Martin, the team didn't even feel it was worth it to bring him back on a contract that wouldn't have cost them much more than the league minimum.
Never mind what's his name...oh yeah...Busto.
Never mind that Higgins never found comfort in his home state of New York and that he travelled through Calgary and Florida before landing in Vancouver where he was an integral part of bringing the Canucks to within a game of the Stanley Cup.
Never mind that Ryan McDonagh is a regular in New York, well ahead of schedule on his developmental curve.
And we won't harp over Doug Janik and Pavel Valentenko, because neither of them had NHL futures.
Timing is Everything
But what do the Canadiens have to show for this deal? The fact that they didn't qualify Pyatt suggests he wasn't worthy of the roster spot he was given over the last two seasons. That Busto never played a game with the Canadiens is just insult to injury. That Gomez's contract directly impedes the team's ability to dramatically improve itself is the kick in the nuts Montreal will have to absorb for the foreseeable future.
When Arpon Basu rightly suggests that Pierre Gauthier can't let go, just two years into a badly failed experiment, he's telling it how it is. Now that it's become evident that a contract like Gomez's is not an immovable object in this rising salary cap/floor structure, Gauthier has to be praying he can get half a great season out of him, let alone a full one. He has to believe that Gomez, as Basu suggests, will never be more motivated to prove to himself that he can be an elite player, let alone proving it to everyone else. Because if Gomez can do that (and there's reason to believe he can) the Canadiens can move him without being desperate to do so.
Regardless of whether or not Gomez has a redemption worthy of an award, Gauthier and the Canadiens can't possibly be under the illusion that he'll be an acceptable solution for their team over the two seasons that follow this one. So, for those pining to see Gomez shipped out immediately, consider the plight of desperation. Hope that when the time comes, Gauthier will be in position to make his team better by making this move. Right now, as Basu points out in great detail, is not that time.