Can Scott Gomez be traded next summer?

More than a few people have postulated that Scott Gomez will be tradeable for cap-relief next summer. That this could be achieved is largely due to the structure of Gomez's contract, where despite his 7.35 million dollar cap hit, his actual salary will average at 5 million for the final two years while many teams are more concerned with actually salary than cap hit due to the rising cap.

This would be timely for several reasons. Firstly, Lars Eller projects to be ready to take on the 2nd line center job after another years seasoning. Next, it would provide the cap-space to easily retain potential free agents like Kostitsyn (UFA) , Subban, Price, Yemelin and Eller (RFA). Finally this would also provide the cap space to make a play for potential free agents to strengthen the Habs elsewhere, with possible UFA's like Hemsky, Sharp and Penner as potentially valuable additions to Montreal's lineup.

That Gomez will be tradeable next summer is based off of two assumptions:

1.       Gomez will rebound to 2nd line center worthy production.

2.       There will be a market for a top-6 center with a real salary of 10 million over two seasons.

Gomez's Rebound

The case for Gomez's production rebound is so simple it can be boiled down to 2 concepts; shooting percentage and historical production. For the following I'm going to raise several points that the very insightful EOTP poster MathMan has raised in Gomez's defense.

 Gomez's production woes are not on the powerplay where he produced at his usually rates. It is solely at even strength, where his production has been cut in half from his previous ability to produce 40 points each season like clockwork.

Scott Gomez Even Strength and Power Play Points by Season

2010-11: 20 ESP, 18 PPP

2009-10: 40 ESP, 19 PPP

2008-09: 40 ESP, 18 PPP

2007-08: 40 ESP, 30 PPP

2006-07: 37 ESP, 23 PPP

As you can see, Gomez has had a severe down-year after being a consistent 40 point producer for a number of years. Habs fans have seen this before when another center went through a rough patch.

Tomas Plekanec Even Strength and Power Play Points by Season

2010-11: 37 ESP, 20 PPP

2009-10: 45 ESP, 25 PPP

2008-09: 24 ESP, 15 PPP

2007-08: 41 ESP, 18 PPP

2006-07: 29 ESP, 18 PPP

Plekanec has been either the leading or tied for leading even strength point producer on the Canadiens lineup since his break out season in 2006-07 with the exception to one down season in 08-09.  This is similar to how Gomez has been one of the leading even strength producers on his teams during this time span except for this last season. One down season does not mean the end of a career, after Plekanec's bad season he had his best ever with 70 points, 45 at even strength.

But there is another lens we can look at for a production decline. Is it a result of a bad shooting percentage, which tends to be transient, or bad shot production, which is endemic? Fortunately, we can look at the shooting percentage while a player is on the ice and see if the lack of production was from the player and his teammates not controlling the play sufficiently to create offense or if they are not making their shots.

Gomez Team On-Ice Shooting Percentage and Shots For (per 60 minutes) at Even Strength

2010-11: 4.73%, 34.6 SFp60

2009-10: 8.51%, 32.5 SFp60

2008-09: 6.74%, 37.0 SFp60

2007-08: 7.18%, 33.7 SFp60

The amount of shots that Gomez and his teammates produce at even strength has not much changed and certainly hasn't declined. The shooting percentage is what has changed, with 10-11 being almost half what 09-10 was, which largely accounts for Gomez's missing even strength points. Shooting percentage is largely transient, especially at the extremes that Gomez suffered last season (less than 5 percent is rare for anyone that isn't a talentless goon). We can therefore conclude that Gomez is likely to have much stronger even strength production next season, likely commensurate with what would be expected from a 2nd line center on a competitive team.

 

Gomez's Market

Now that we've established that Gomez is likely to return to a productive season in 2011-12, let's look to see if he would be tradeable the following off-season. For a player worth  something in a trade, there must be multiple interested teams to establish a market for said player. If only one team is interested, a trade is possible but it will be at the disadvantage of the team needing to make the trade. A great example this summer is how the Rangers forced a disadvantageous trade with Calgary by Erixon only being willing to sign for New York, forcing a market of one. If Gomez is to be traded for decent return, then there must be multiple teams that would be interested in a player like Gomez.

To search for teams that would be interested in Gomez, I've looked at the 30 teams with an eye on 3 criteria. 1. They must be a team that cannot spend to the cap ceiling so real pay means more to them than cap hit. This is what turns Gomez from a player with a 7.35 cap hit to Montreal to a player on a 5 million dollar contract elsewhere. 2. They must not be in the middle of a scorched earth rebuild. Teams like that are generally uninterested in veteran over 30 year-old players like Gomez, no matter how well they fit a team need as they are looking solely to the long-term future. 3. They must have need for a top-6 centerman. Top 6 centerman are rare on the free agency market, a team looking to be competitive and are weak there would likely be interested in trading for another to shore up the position.

That said who are the teams that would fill all three criteria to be a strong candidate for a Gomez trading partner?

 

List of likely sub-cap teams:

Florida, Carolina, Phoenix, Colorado, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Columbus, Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville and Anaheim.

List of teams that may be in need of a top six center for 2012-13 in both terms of lineup and not in a teardown rebuild:

Phoenix, Winnipeg,  Anaheim, Toronto, Buffalo, Minnesota, New Jersey, Calgary and Washington.

 

Teams fitting both criteria and thus are candidates for a trade.

Phoenix, Winnipeg and Anaheim.

 

Candidates:

Phoenix:

-          Financial situation makes cap irrelevant except for meeting floor

-          Current cap payroll for 2012-13, 4 players and 7.35 million

-          Current NHL center depth. Turris, Hanzal.  Not many potential NHLers signed or RFA

Phoenix is a great candidate. Weak on center, no money, no players signed long-term, no great prospects to steal a place on the lineup between now and then and trying to remain competitive to keep franchise out of bankruptcy. He'd be a good addition to help shield Turris and play tougher minutes.

Winnipeg:

-          Center depth for 2012; Antropov (C/RW),  Little (C/RW), Burmistrov, Schremp, Cormier, Maxwell. Current centers are also wingers, depth or too young for major responsibilities.

-          Financial situation is 9 players signed for 24.82 million for 2012-13 season.

They are looking to spend some money to improve their team in front of new audience while not likely to be able to afford spending to the cap. Have some good young wingers that could use a tough minutes center to compliment them.

Anaheim:

-          Center depth for 2012; Getzalf, MacMillian, Chipchura, Holland. Koivu may or may not be present or top 6 worthy.

-          Financial situation is 10 players signed for 34.04 cap payroll.

Ironically there is the prospect of Gomez being sent to replace the player he replaced in Montreal, Saku Koivu. The only prospect Anaheim has that may fill the role then is Peter Holland, who is far from NHL ready if he ever is. This team is trying to compete with a very thin lineup after their top line and is beholden to an internal cap. Gomez would make a good fit for such a team and help them continue to make the playoffs in the competitive Western Conference.

Rejected candidates:

Both Buffalo and Toronto could be in the market but my impression is that their management would rather spend cap elsewhere and use a prospect rather than acquire Gomez.

Ottawa is in a tear down rebuild and likely isn't looking for a veteran centerman. 

Minnesota is in my opinion the most likely of the teams outside the top three. They are a team that can spend to the cap, but are under pressure to compete and are not a favoured free-agent destination. They could prefer to just stay with Cullen however.

Calgary, New Jersey and Washington are cap-teams that view salary efficiency through cap terms rather than actual dollars. Thus they are less likely to want Gomez at what is still a 7.35M$ contract to them rather than the 5M$ contract it is to others.

Conclusion:

On the basis that there should be a number of teams interested in a Gomez type player for a real dollar average of 5 million for 2 years, Gomez should be movable for minor assets in return next summer.

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