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Scott Gomez’s Career: From Devils Rookie to Redemption

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Scott Gomez went from a Devils rookie standout to their top center to hated for signing with a rival to redemption before hanging up the skates. I look back at Gomez’s career.

New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers
Scott Gomez in his second run with the Devils.
Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

Last week, through this article by Doyle Woody at the Alaska Dispatch News, I learned that Scott Gomez has called it a career. The Galloping Ghost from the Alaskan Coast rode all the way from Airport Heights and ended back up there with a very successful time in the NHL. Woody’s article is a good summary as any of what Gomez has done. He won the Calder in 2000, won two Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and 2003, went to a third Stanley Cup Final in 2001, played in over 1,000 games, earned 756 points, and played for seven different organizations. It was full, perhaps more than one may have expected from someone who was drafted 27th overall in the 1998 NHL Entry draft.

Of course, Gomez was more than just a player who played a lot and was a rather productive player throughout the 2000’s. For that, check out his page at Hockey-Reference. He was a standout player right from his start in professional hockey. He made the New Jersey Devils right from the start of the 1999-2000 season - on a Devils team that did not lack talent, either - and his offensive skillset was apparent. It would only become more refined in the following years. Gomez was excellent on the puck. He was able to carry the puck with such ease, he moved it with such smooth strides, and he had the vision to make a lot of positive plays on offense. Gomez was good enough to lead and conduct breakouts all by himself and did so regularly and successfully. His passing skills were superlative and the assists just kept coming for Gomez. Defense? He was a Devil in the 2000’s, he was very good in his own end. For most teams, the breakout alone would have made him a focal point for the offense (and he was on New Jersey). On those Devils teams before the 2005 Lockout, Gomez wasn’t even the only one on the squad who could do that. The other? Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer. Talk about the rich getting richer talent-wise. Gomez boosted the talent level of those teams. He was good and fans like me liked him immediately from that rookie season. Being a significant part of two Cup-winning teams only grew the admiration the fans had for #23.

He came into further prominence after the 2005 Lockout for better and for worse. The better: That 2005-06 campaign. Amid a season where fans like myself were wondering whether Patrik Elias would live and whether the Devils could keep up in the standings, Gomez and Brian Gionta really put the team on their back. Gomez’s previous seasons saw him score somewhere between ten and nineteen goals. Even during the locked out season where he played with the Alaska Aces, he only scored thirteen goals. But he got hot in 2005-06 with thirty-three goals. Gomez reached a career high what with Gionta also being hot - tying a franchise record with 48 goals - and Elias returning and playing like he was on fire. All that and sweeping the Rangers? It was clear that Gomez was not just the team’s top center, but one of the best in the league. It was as if others then understand how important Gomez was to the Devils. They learned what we knew.

That worse: The money. Check out the contract history at General Fanager. Gomez got a deserved raise for 2006-07 to $5 million per year, but only for the one year. He had a good season. The goal total dropped to a level more expected for Gomez, but he was still the same player. The same guy who led the breakouts and did them himself when he thought it best to do so. The same center who was strong in both ends of the rink. The same man who helped make the Devils offense work and made outsiders wonder how he’d do in “a less-restrictive environment.” Yet, despite so much being the same, I still remember the feeling that it was a long goodbye. And on July 1, 2007, Gomez signed the big contract. A seven-year, $51.5 million contract with Our. Hated. Rivals. Here is what I wrote back when the blog was called In Lou We Trust and it was hosted by Blogspot.

Now, I'd be lying if I said these moves does not hurt the Devils. The team's #1 center and their top playmaker is now the #1 center (well, maybe) for their biggest rivals; and the team's de factor #1 defenseman is now on Detroit's top 4. Those are two big holes that are not easy to fill. All the potential #1 centers in free agency were taken in day 1 and they all went to the Atlantic Division (Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Gomez).

And

Gomez is getting a hell of a lot of money for a guy who has had only one season with more than 80 points (and that year was the only one where he had more than 20 goals). Rangers fans should hope he meshes well with Jagr, otherwise he'll be a large liability to the team if only for the extensively large cap space he takes up.

Lastly, I just want to say the following: [Brian] Rafalski and Gomez were unrestricted free agents. As much as you want to talk about lowballing or Lou not making a deal; ultimately it does not do any good to state what deal Lou should have offered. The unrestricted free agent ultimately makes the call as to where he wants to go. ... Gomez gets far more money - which still shocks me considering how poor he was this last season - and does not have to move. If you need to "blame" someone for these moves, you might as well blame the players themselves - if you really can blame them.

That said, I fully expect and demand a loud chorus of boos for Gomez during the 8 games they will play New Jersey next season. Unless he's playing poorly, then I want laughter.

I turned out to be somewhat prescient. The Devils fans booed Gomez every time he’s touched the puck since until 2014. By the numbers, Gomez was actually good for the Rangers. Not 450-points-in-548-regular-season-games good. Not 65-playoff-points-in-97-playoffs good. But quite good. 128 points in 158 regular season games is nothing to sneeze at. He was an All Star in 2008 and put up 70 points in his first season with the Rangers. But Gomez became an early example of the salary cap changing one’s opinion of a player. A few years earlier, we’d say he was overpaid but that would be whatever because James Dolan has a seemingly limitless amount of money to spend. With the cap, it became quickly important that a player had to earn his cap hit. Otherwise, he’s taking up space that could go to other players. Given his $10 million salary and $7.35 million cap hit, the expectation was that Gomez needed to be a top-tier player. A forward that would score the goals, make the plays, and lead the team to the promised land. Gomez wasn’t exactly that center, so the Rangers fans would eventually turn on him as the Devils fans did. Eventually, the Rangers would turn on him too and trade him in a deal that sent him (and Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto) to Montreal for what would be New York’s #1 defenseman Ryan McDonagh, Chris Higgins, and the rights to Pavel Valentenko.

Montreal ate the cap hit - and the smaller salaries - for three seasons. Again, he wasn’t that bad in his first season. However, age, wear and tear, and the style of play caught up to him. Gomez was about puck possession and had their been Behind the Net or Hockey Analysis or War on Ice or Extra Skater or Corsica before 2007, this would be more easily-proven thought. But his style of play really didn’t go well with a dump-and-chase game. Gomez admitted as such in this 2015 piece by the Players’ Tribune. His production and his usage dropped in Montreal and as Gomez noted, he was being pitied more so than hated. If Devils fans were booing him with the puck, it was out of habit rather than any malice. From what I recall of those years, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Montreal faithful were doing the same as well in those second and third seasons with the organization. He was bought out ahead of the shortened 2012-13 season; his years as a journeyman on smaller deals would begin.

San Jose didn’t work out beyond 2012-13; neither did a stint with Florida in 2013-14. The Devils brought him back in 2014-15 on a professional tryout contract. As I wrote back in August 2014, while I had no issue with Gomez coming in on a PTO, I didn’t see where he would fit into the lineup. He was a player on the decline and the numbers showed that from his second season in Montreal to that point in time. However, as Gomez himself wrote in the Players’ Tribune, he performed that he had a point to prove. While he didn’t get a deal out of camp, he stuck around the organization and would sign with the team when they were short on centers. 58 games, seven goals, and twenty-seven assists later, and Gomez became a pleasant surprise. The booing stopped - putting on the Devils uniform helped - and he was cheered. It part apology from the fanbase and part appreciation for contributing to the team. If nothing else, whether or not he wanted it, but Gomez received redemption in the eyes of this fan and many others. That’s not something a lot of players who’ve had fans turn on them in some way can claim. We named him as the “Best Comeback” of that season; here’s what I wrote in that post:

I was doubtful of what Scott Gomez could bring to the table. He tried out in training camp, didn't get a contract from any team until the Devils signed him almost out of necessity back in the beginning of December. This doesn't suggest that the player can provide any significant contributions. Someone would've signed him before then if they thought he could. Well, Gomez proved me wrong to an extent. He went on to average 16:30 of ice time per game and finish tied for third on the team in scoring with seven goals and twenty seven assists in 58 games played. Twelve of those twenty seven assists were on the power play; proving that he provided value in that half of special teams. While the Gomez known for leading breakouts all by himself from end-to-end was gone; the Gomez that would look for passing options and execute them fairly well was present enough times to help out the Devils. Considering that passing has been the team's issue all season long, you could say he addressed a need to a degree. All that and the larger fanbase finally forgave him for signing with the Rangers. Gomez certainly isn't getting any younger, but I'd say he proved that he has something left in the proverbial tank. Something tells me that will likely not need to take a try out and/or wait several months for his next NHL contract.

From redemption to the fans, Gomez’ performance meant redemption for his career. As the Devils learned to like Gomez all over again, Gomez was able to salvage his NHL career for a little while longer. He managed to join St. Louis and Ottawa for brief stints last season. It was clear that his time would be up and it now is from a professional hockey standpoint. But he wasn’t quite done and that 2014-15 season in New Jersey proved that.

I know I’m somewhat late to the party, but I wanted to add my two cents. Gomez may be known for that massive albatross of a contract he signed with the Rangers, getting dealt for McDonagh, and/or having such a long goal drought that there was a website for it. But I will not choose to do that. I don’t think that’s fair for a player who’s played over 1,000 games, appeared in 149 playoff games, won two championships, earned the league’s award for best rookie, and finished in the top-100 all-time in assists (575, 95th per Hockey-Reference). I’m not going to lie and say I never booed him as a Ranger, but I admit now that was a bit foolish. Especially after he got dealt to Montreal. That 2014-15 run made me realize that Gomez should be remembered best as a Devil. He was a fantastic center for the Devils. He was as much of a part of keeping the Devils a contending team for over half of that decade as anyone. He had an offensive skill-set, with breakout skills that has not really been seen on the Devils since then. I’d like to think that if Corsi could be calculated from the early 2000s that players like him and Elias would show up as dominant as possession players. And so I will remember the good times, the best years of his career while he was still skating in East Ruthersford. While I wouldn’t suggest to hang up his number, I’d say he’d be a “ring of honor” type player.

All the same, congratulations to Scott Gomez for his long and successful NHL career. May he continue to be happy in retirement whether it is in Alaska or elsewhere.