Back at the beginning of the month, Lou Lamoriello signed Scott Gomez to his second stint with the New Jersey Devils. Not much was expected of the 34 year old center, especially after his not so productive time with the Rangers, Canadiens, Sharks and Panthers. When he was signed, he was brought in to replace other Devils who were either injured or ill. Specifically, he jumped into Travis Zajac's position and centered Jaromir Jagr on the top line. Potentially because of his old connection with Jagr, or possibly because he was playing with talented line mates, Gomez has done fairly admirably. He has certainly exceeded most people's expectations, myself included.
The question, however, is where to continue playing him. He has done well on the top line, and may continue to succeed if given top 6 minutes. However, with the return of Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias already, plus the anticipated return of other top 6 skaters such as Mike Cammalleri and Dainius Zubrus, there becomes a lot less space in the lineup for Gomez. I decided that I would look at both sides of the argument, debating both for and against his inclusion in the top 6. That way, everyone can get in on the debate and formulate their own opinions.
Note: Stats do not include last night's game against Tampa Bay. To have those included, check out the links below. The updated stats do not change the overall arguments.
There are several pros to having Scott Gomez remain in the top 6. The first reason is the chemistry that he has with the players he is playing with. Gomez has spent the overwhelming majority of his time on the ice so far with Jaromir Jagr. In fact, in all situations he has spent just over 128 minutes with Jagr. This is a staggering number, considering that Gomez has played only 171 minutes so far this season for New Jersey. The next forward that Gomez has spent the most time with is Martin Havlat; however, he has only been on the ice with him for just under 48 minutes. Clearly, Peter DeBoer is keeping the Gomez-Jagr connection together for chemistry.
What is clear is that there is indeed some legitimate working chemistry between the two. Looking at their With or Without You numbers from Natural Stat Trick (linked above), when Gomez is out there with Jagr, he has a sparkling Corsi For percentage of 58.33%. When he is out there without Jagr, however, his Corsi falls to 39.77%. That is a major difference in terms of possession and production. Jagr even falls off without Gomez to center him, as Jagr's Corsi For without Gomez is at 46.81%. So clearly, the two work well together, and it would be a benefit to both to keep them paired up.
Furthermore, Gomez has rarely been out there with the bottom 6 skaters. He has spent under 10 minutes of ice time with the likes of Jacob Josefson, Stephen Gionta, Jordin Tootoo, and Michael Ryder, and has spent just over 10 minutes with Steve Bernier. He has very minimal chemistry with them on the ice. The small amount of time that he has spent with them, while too little of a sample size to be statistically relevant, has nonetheless been poor. While his Corsi has been better with Ryder and has stayed the same with or without Bernier, for all of the others Gomez's Corsi has been miserable with them, and great without them.
The question that needs to be asked when considering the positives of keeping him in the top 6 is, "how do we want to maximize his contributions to this team?" The answer to that question, clearly, is keeping him on a line with Jagr. Let's face it: no one really expected Gomez to play as well as he has. He has been consistently performing, with a 5v5 Fenwick For above fifty percent at 50.5%, which many on the Devils cannot boast. Also, while he has only 6 points so far, he only had 12 points last season in 46 games played, so he is doing much better than he did in Florida. If he keeps playing like he is, and keeps playing in a top 6 role with Jagr, he will easily surpass those 12 points before the all-star break. That would only mean good things for New Jersey.
The major cons against keeping Scott Gomez in a top 6 role have much to do with everyone else, but we can start with Gomez himself. While he has started quite well in his second stint for the Devils, nonetheless he is someone who has not consistently produced at a top 6 level in years. In his first year away from the Devils, Gomez produced 70 points in 81 games for the Rangers. Since then, his production has clearly dropped. After then, his best season was when he scored 59 points in 78 games for Montreal in the 2009-2010 season. Since 2011, he has produced no more than 15 points in a season, having been relegated to minor roles in San Jose and Florida after his unceremonious exit with the Canadiens. His production had fallen off a cliff coming into this season, without any evidence that he is still the type of player that can consistently produce in a top 6 role.
Furthermore, he is soon to be 35 years old. While that could be considered young compared to many on this Devils' team, nonetheless he is not at the point in his career where he is improving. In fact, one has to wonder when his skills will begin to diminish. He may be playing well now, when he has only played a handful of games, but how will he be performing after he has played 40 or 50 games? Will he tire out; will his body begin to betray him? Those are legitimate questions for someone that has not played more than 46 games per year since the 2010-2011 season.
Also, if he does retain a top 6 role, that forces someone else into the bottom 6 who may not particularly deserve being there, or who may not perform all that well in such a role. While DeBoer has changed lines fairly regularly this season in hopes of finding a spark, nonetheless most can agree that Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, Jaromir Jagr, Partik Elias, Adam Henrique, and Martin Havlat all should at least be considered for top 6 roles, with some being surefire locks. Then, there are the likes of Dainius Zubrus and Michael Ryder, who would probably see their play improve if they skated in top 6 roles.
Finally, the question of a lost season also has to come into play. If the Devils are not making the playoffs, when does it become more prudent to play the team's younger talent to give them the experience needed to improve for next season? While I am not saying that this is a good idea on December 20th, this question may become more relevant in a month or so, given how the team does. Scott Gomez does not have much of a future in New Jersey; maybe Lamoriello signs him to a one year deal if he does well, but I do not see much more than that. In the case of a lost season, wouldn't the organization be better served by promoting Reid Boucher and others, and give them time alongside the likes of Zajac and Henrique, who will be with this organization for years to come?
Conclusion and Your Take
Anyway, that about wraps up the arguments for both sides. There are definitely pros to keeping Gomez in the top 6, but there are also cons as well. In my opinion, I think for the present time I would keep him with Jagr, and once I began to see a dip in production over a course of several games I would consider dropping him to a lesser role. For now, however, he is playing well, and I do not see a reason to mess with someone who is doing positive things for this organization on the ice.
Nonetheless, I could easily be swayed either way. What are your thoughts? When this team gets healthier, does it make sense to keep Gomez on a top line with Jagr? Or should he be relegated to third or fourth line duty? How would you handle the situation if you were DeBoer? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.