When a horrible contract is not that horrible




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There may not be a player in hockey whose positive on-ice performance is painted in such a negative due to his contract than Scott Gomez. Gomez is going to be 32 in December and makes a staggeringly Sather-esque $7.4M a season to be a serviceable two-way forward for the Montreal Canadiens. He scored just seven goals with 38 points this past season and was a minus-15. Yikes.

Gomez’s plus-8.01 Corsi rating and 4.73 on-ice shooting percentage factored into why he made our list of undervalued hockey players heading into next season. I’ve been an advocate of a cap floor team to even trade for Gomez as it’s an effective way to save money since his cap hit will be higher than his actual salary on the remaining years of his deal is just under $4.6M lower than his cap hit, so a team that needs to penny-pinch would pick up a player who can drive possession and give guidance to young players.

Monday, Canadiens blogger Olivier Bouchard argued via James Mirtle’s Globe and Mail Hockey Blog that:

They had crappy shooting luck at even strength last year, with Scott Gomez and Lars Eller being the poster boys. The team out shot and out chanced the opposition whenever one of those two were on the ice and this will continue next season; Gomez will ‘bounce back’ if only because rotten luck doesn’t stick around forever.”

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It’s a fair enough argument. However, Scott Gomez did not just have a poor season percentages-wise, he’s played the last four years with an underwhelming PDO (on-ice save percentage plus on-ice shooting percentage, a reliable measure of puck luck). Gomez is a pretty poor shooter, and a pretty good measure for shot quality which factors the average distance and number of shots for a player introduced over at Pension Plan Puppets shows that. 

I reworked the formula (and will be posting how later this month over at Nucks Misconduct) to give a semi-reliable indicator of the number of “marginal goals” a player scored at even strength over a season. While Gomez had a near historically-low shooting percentage (9th worst in NHL history among forwards who had 150 shots or more) of 4.5 per cent, accounting for shot quality, he “deserved” only 7 goals instead of his actual total of 4 at evens.

The following chart shows a few of Gomez’s “performance” and “luck” numbers over the past four seasons. His marginal goal total, his Fenwick number adjusted for zone starts, his teammates shooting percentage when he’s on the ice and his PDO.

Season M Goals AdjFen/G ISO Sh% PDO
2008 12 1.78 7.9% 992
2009 14 1.70 7.4% 984
2010 9 -0.72 9.6% 1008
2011 7 1.20 5.0% 972

What’s interesting about this chart is that in Scott Gomez’s first year with Montreal, luck swung heavily in his favour, but his performance was pretty bleak and he put up only 59 points compared to his previous season’s total of 58. He was hit by the variance truck this past season and scored with his low point total. About 16 wheels of that truck were due to his teammate’s shooting percentage which was an impressively low 5 per cent, and, while Gomez is on his own a poor shooter, it’s tough to find two average NHL wingers who will only put up that number over the course of 160 games. Keep in mind that total, calculated using information obtained at Behind The Net, does not factor in Gomez’s individual shots.

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Is there a legitimate chance that Gomez puts up 40 points at even strength again? Likely not, and this is where his salary cap hit looks pretty silly. Gomez has not got it done off his own stick in his career (he has one 20+ goal season). As a playmaker, he’s not exactly getting 50 assists a year which would put him in elite company. We can expect a little bit of a bounce-back season among his linemates, but definitely not enough to justify his contract from an offensive standpoint.

As far as you poolies are concerned, 35 points at evens is probably a reasonable expectation, up from 30 this past season. That would just about balance his PDO to his previous four-year average. He isn’t going anywhere on the powerplay, but he’ll max out at about 20 points, so anywhere between the 50-55 point range is my expectation, below his former expectation of around 60 points, but well above this past season’s 38. This is all, of course, assuming Gomez stays healthy as he has been and gets a similar share of ice time as he’s been getting. 50-55 points is about par for a low-tier first line player or high-scoring second liner, and not many of those players are as successful as driving possession or scoring chances as Scott Gomez was.

Basically, don’t expect Gomez to bounce back as much as Bouchard seems to think, but for his team, he’s done pretty well as a two-way player. He has more worth to a team than vocal Bell Centre brats probably give him credit for. That said, he’s never really been able to finish and that is generally the quality that is appreciated the most in a big hockey market. Montreal is a team that still has some salary cap leeway and no other terribly horrible deals (the jury is still out on Erik Cole) so his $7M+ cap hit is probably perceived as more egregious than it actually is, and a shrewd General Manager may find some value in it next offseason.

  • Gomez was forever ruined by that Sather contract. At least, the perception of Gomez.

    In reality, he’s a 50-60 point centerman who can play pretty well against any level of competition. Pretty useful guy. Just not $7M useful.

    We’re having the same discussion at FN re: Jay Bouwmeester.

  • Hmm, come back to read more of the comments on Chemmy’s piece, stay for the article about the player on “my” team.

    It actually wouldn’t surprise me to see Gomez’ powerplay time take a dip this season in favour of David Desharnais, who was used to some effect on the powerplay in the second half of last season.

    Also, Gomez might benefit from more offensive opportunities at evens if Lars Eller continues to get increasing defensive responsibilities, but that’s not something to really bet on.

    I’m praying for “his” on-ice shooting percentage to regress to about 7.0%, an optimistic 40 even-strength points, and any offense from special teams is nice (I’m not too concerned since I’m assuming Desharnais capable of playing on the 2nd-unit and I expect the Habs’ powerplay to churn along fairly well again).

    At least the Habs didn’t deal him this off-season, they need the guy for at least one more season.

  • I believe Gauthier to be a pretty shrewd GM, certainly smarter than the “Bell Centre brats” (I am *so* stealing that phrase.) As pointed out Gomez’s contract is the only genuinely bad one on the Habs, and it’s not currently very limiting: they have a full roster, a competitive club and five million of cap space as it is. I don’t think Gauthier is in any rush to trade him, certainly not like the peanut gallery who would gladly give away assets to some GM to please take Gomez off the Habs’ hands… and free up more cap space with no one to spend it on.

    So I don’t think Gomez is going anywhere until Gauthier has a replacement tough-minutes center ready to take over and some plan for the cap savings. That someone could be Lars Eller after one more year of development.

  • So much of Gomez’s offense is assist based that it makes comparatively little difference if he is a 7 or 12 goal scorer on ES. The main thing is whether or not the team is producing shots when he was on ice, which they were in spades.

    The shot production was essentially the same as the last 4 years with more coming from Gomez’s teammates which in theory should increase the team on-ice shooting percentage in light of Gomez’s poor conversion rate. Instead the overall % cratered, Gionta especially was victimized there as he was one of the league leaders in shots but only ended up scoring 29. With more typical conversion Gionta could have come close to replicating the 37 goals in 80 games he put up the season before.

  • Maggie the Monkey

    Thanks for the well written and thought-out article. Two and a half decades after Sather’s brilliance ran out*, it’s amazing that he’s still able to hold onto a top job in a strong hockey market.

    ps: Wanye, when is “Habs Nation” finally going to emerge? Are you slowly working your way East?

    * I include the 90s era in his legacy due to acquisitions like Weight.