At the beginning of December, Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils finally signed Scott Gomez after he had been practicing with the team for quite some time. Given the fact that he is making a rather low $550k this season, pretty much anyone and everyone has been impressed with his performance on the ice overall. He has not been all-star worthy or anything like that, but for what was expected of him and what he has been paid, he has certainly exceeded expectations. In 50 games so far, he has produced 7 goals and 24 assists. That is 0.62 points per game, which is a good number overall, never mind for someone making under a million dollars. His points per 60 is at 1.50, which is better than the likes of Chris Kunitz, Ryan Kesler, Frans Nielsen, Eric Staal, Henrik Zetterberg, Wayne Simmonds, Patrik Berglund, Patrick Marleau, and others. Considering his salary, that is some definite praise.
Of course, because of the way he is playing, if he is re-signed, he will command a larger salary than the $550 thousand he is making this season. The question then becomes whether or not he should be re-signed going into next year. Let's look at some numbers and consider the arguments.
Why He Should Be Re-signed
I think that there are some legitimate reasons to re-sign him. First would obviously be his production on the ice. As I mentioned earlier, he has 1.50 points per 60. In terms of the rest of the team, that places him 5th in terms of productivity. While that is not wildly productive by any stretch of the imagination, he is producing more points than other forwards such as Tuomo Ruutu, Martin Havlat, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac, who all make definitively more money than Gomez. While I am not advocating that the Devils do or do not re-sign Ruutu or Havlat here, what I am saying is that these forwards were expected to be higher producers of points going into the year, and have not delivered on that expectation, whereas Gomez has done better than expected.
Next, we can look at his possession stats. This season, the Devils have been a bad possession team, so most people's numbers will be suppressed to a degree, and Gomez is one of those people. In previous years when he was on teams who had better possession, his percentages were much higher. In fact, Gomez had a positive Corsi each year between 2007-2013. This year, his Corsi For during 5v5 close situations is at 47.1%. That is not exceptional at all, but when the Devils as a team have a 5v5 close Fenwick of only 46.9%, it seems about average. While he is clearly not a driving force of possession, he is also not necessarily hurting the team either, as his relative Corsi in close situations is around team average. It would be nice to see him become a driver of possession forward, but it is more understandable that he is not given the team that he is currently playing for.
Also, we can look at his WOWY numbers to see who he is playing well with, and if anyone else is benefitting from playing with him. Going back to that same puckalytics link above, it is clear that he has spent a significant amount of time out there with Adam Henrique. Left Wing Lock can confirm this, as over the last 10 games the line of Gomez, Henrique and Steve Bernier have been out there for 18.55% of New Jersey's ice time. When together, Henrique and Gomez do fairly positive things. What is best to see is that when they are together, their Goals For is up to 57.1%. They score an average of 2.66 goals per 60 minutes when on the ice together, which is a good number for this Devils' team. Their possession stats are not sparkling, with a Corsi For of only 46.6% when on the ice together, but when they do have possession, they are clearly making good things happen.
To me, this is an important stat. Adam Henrique is considered by many to be one of the mainstays of this Devils organization, one who will be with this team for years to come. His contract certainly says that he will be here a while. He may not have developed into a dynamite star forward like Devils' fans have hoped, but he has become a solid player and contributor on this team, one that does good things most nights. If he has developed positive chemistry with Gomez, then there is a reason to keep them together. Both work well to produce points for this Devils team, and points are what they desperately need. If you bring Gomez back, you can keep them together, and give them another year together to put more points on the scoreboard.
And it is clear from watching the game the other night in Washington that Gomez can work well with Bernier too, although their WOWY numbers are far from impressive. That game tying goal in the last minute of play was created by Gomez having excellent vision and setting up Bernier right in front of the net. Scott is a great distributor; yes this team really needs goal scorers and not distributors, but with the loss of Zidlicky who was one of the team's best at creating opportunities, having Gomez around is a good idea.
Why He Should Not Be Re-signed
Despite what I did mention above, you can look at a lot of the same numbers and come to the determination that Gomez should not be re-signed. One of the main areas to knock him is indeed with possession. Gomez is around the team average in possession. In fact, his standard 5v5 Corsi is a whole percentage point lower than the team average (45.9 vs. 46.9). That is not a good sign. Whereas in the past he may have been a better driver of play, this year he has been much less of a factor in that regard.
This is a definite cause for concern. The Devils had been a dominant possession team for many years, and I would believe that most of us agree that to become a real contender again, getting a strong possession team back in here is vital. Re-signing Gomez does not help to achieve that goal. At his age, he will not all of a sudden become a better driver of play. In fact, he may become more of a possession nightmare as he ages. If this is the case, then signing him is not necessarily a great idea.
The other major reason to not re-sign him is that he is not a goal scorer. The one major area of weakness for this Devils' squad is their supreme lack of an ability to score goals. The Devils are 28th in Goals For during 5 on 5 play this year, ahead of only Buffalo and Arizona. If they really want to improve for next year, they need to sign at least a couple top six forwards who can put the puck in the net, while also potentially being positive possession players. As we just looked, Gomez is not a positive possession player this year, and he is not scoring goals. He has 31 points, but only 7 of those points are goals. It is great to have someone who can dish the puck off to others for great chances, but if there is no one on this team who is exceptionally capable at scoring those goals, then having the distributor is useless.
Finally, a third reason not to re-sign him is his age. Gomez is 35 years old, and will turn 36 in December. This puts him in the same age bracket as Dainius Zubrus and Michael Ryder, and a little younger than Patrik Elias. While Elias still has 30 points on the year, the other two have been disappointing to say the least. Zubrus has only 3 goals on the year, and Ryder has been benched for long stretches of the season. Even Elias, with those 30 points, has not had quite the season that anyone was hoping for. While Gomez is certainly none of those people, what I am trying to showcase is that he is not getting any better. If Lou signs him to a deal, we may not see the same production from him again. His production has a better chance of tailing off with each passing year.
In the end, I think that both sides of the argument are fairly valid. If someone argued to re-sign Scott based on his surprising production and fairly cheap price tag, that would make sense. If another person argued not to re-sign him because of his lack of possession and age, that would also make sense. If it were up to me, however, I think that I would give him a one year deal for next year, if I could retain his services for low money. I would not give him more than one year, as I am unsure that he can continue to produce points at a similar clip given his age and recent history before coming back to New Jersey. I would also not pay him a large sum of money, as even with the production he has given the Devils this season, I doubt that there would be much demand for him elsewhere. He would undoubtedly deserve more than $550k, but to give him a Zubrus-type contract ($3.1 million per year for 3 years) would be overpaying.
So, if say I could get him back for another year at $1.5 million, I would be happy with that deal. It keeps him in NJ, where he has been productive this year and most likely will be again next year. It also lets him develop more chemistry with the likes of Henrique, and given that they already play well together, it could be even better next year. The Devils need offense any way that they can get it, and while Gomez is not a goal scorer, he is a distributor, and that can be helpful nonetheless.
That is my opinion about bringing back Scott Gomez, given both sides of the argument. What are your thoughts? Do you have anything else to add to the argument on either side? Would you bring back the Alaskan native next year and perhaps beyond, or would you want nothing to do with re-signing him? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.