Labor Day is the seemingly official unofficial end of the summer. For hockey fans, minor news for training camp acts as this sign. It reminds us that a new season is ever closer. Today, the faithful of the New Jersey Devils got this reminder. Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Scott Gomez will come to camp on a tryout basis. The article itself is worth reading beyond the main point. Two points jumped out at me. First, the Devils did try to sign him after he was bought out of Montreal. Given how he did in San Jose, who he signed with after being bought out, and Florida last season, I'm glad that didn't turn out. Second, Gomez has been working with former Devils trainer, Vladimir Bure, in the offseason. At a minimum, Gomez should be expected to arrive at camp in good shape.
For those of you who don't who Gomez is, here's a summary. The Devils drafted Gomez in the first round of the 1998 draft. He made the NHL roster in 1999-2000 and had an excellent season. He not only became a significant contributor on a Stanley Cup winning team, but also won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. Gomez would go on to thrive as the team's top center for several seasons, playing big and tough minutes while setting up his teammates and leading breakouts himself. 2005-06 was his watershed season as he shot at 13.5%, got a similarly hot Brian Gionta on one wing, and would get an on-fire Patrik Elias on his other wing on his way to 33 goals and 51 assists. Gomez's stick wasn't as hot in the following season and, possibly encouraged by arbitration in 2006, entered free agency. The Rangers offered him a 7-year, $51.5 million contract, which he signed and fans absolutely hated and/or ridiculed him for it. The deal would be one Gomez would not live up to, and so the Rangers traded that ugly contract to Montreal after two seasons. Gomez was a Canadien for three seasons. His production and ice time dramatically dropped in his second and third seasons in Montreal and would be bought out in 2012. Gomez has since played in limited roles with San Jose and Florida until today, where he will come to camp, unsigned on a tryout basis.
Those who have came into New Jersey's camps on a tryout basis in recent memory have done well. Several players come to my mind. Damien Brunner came to camp last season and earned a two-year deal. There's Petr Sykora, who made the team in 2011 and rode well with Patrik Elias until the the postseason. There's also Steve Bernier, who eventually managed to get onto that same 2011-12 team and has been in the NHL since. Anton Stralman (annoyingly) would also count. New Jersey couldn't sign him, but Our Hated Rivals could. They signed him - he was a free agent - and he was arguably New York's top defender last season. While the quality and use of the player may vary, the point is that they still remain in the NHL. Of course, it is no guarantee - just that it's not unheard of for the Devils to sign a tryout.
It will be a challenge. Gomez has really faded since 2011. His career stats at Hockey Reference clearly shows his production and, a little later, his ice time drop significantly. Among Panthers last season, Gomez was on the wrong side of possession despite not facing tough competition at all according to Behind the Net. In fact, it was his first season where he posted a negative on-ice and relative Corsi values at Behind the Net (which has him going back to 2008). This all points to a player in decline and he's not yet 35 (that will happen in December). That's why he's coming into a camp on an unsigned tryout. I still question what value he can bring, especially for a team that is light on production in terms of shots, goals, and points.
But suppose Gomez looks good in camp and preseason, showing he can thrive in a bottom six role. Even then, I don't really see the room for Scott Gomez. As of right now at CapGeek, the Devils have 14 forwards signed. Ryan Carter remains unsigned and the fact that he is still unsigned in late August tells me that he's going to be signed at some point by New Jersey. I think there's a move that has to happen first but unless that involves a forward, I doubt the forward picture will be cleaned up to make space for Gomez. Also, there's only six defensemen on the roster and three are relatively inexperienced. I could see New Jersey adding a veteran or at least having a seventh defender around in case of injury or poor play. That defenseman could be another tryout: Tomas Kaberle - as reported tonight by Tom Gulitti. Though it's not yet confirmed by the team, I doubt there's some other team clamoring for Kaberle coming in on a tryout basis. In any case, another defender making it would make it harder to add any forward trying out for the team. It's even harder if you believe that Reid Boucher or Stefan Matteau will have better than slim chances at making the NHL roster. (I do not - for now.) So I think there are too many bodies at the moment to add Gomez immediately even if he does well in camp.
Perhaps that's the plan. Like Bernier, the intent for Gomez to come into camp is to show whether he could still contribute in someway. He's not going to play like he did when he was 26, but no one reasonable should expect that. To show that he's still got something left in the tank. And if (or when) injuries strike the team at forward or a roster spot opens up, the team can add Gomez. I don't know if he'll go to Albany like Bernier did, but the team won't lose his number if he does well enough at camp. That may even be better than watching Rod Pelley or Tim Sestito struggle to play at the NHL level yet again. If Gomez does not keep up in camp and/or looks out of place in preseason games, then that will be that and no harm is done. A tryout doesn't keep anyone out of camp.
I put the question to you in advance of training camp, which will begin in a few weeks. Will Scott Gomez make a real case for making the team? Or do you think Gomez is far enough past it that he won't really make it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Gomez's eventual tryout in the comments. Thank you for reading.