For the purposes of argument, let's ignore the possibility that Saku Koivu wanted to move on from being the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Also ignore the emotional connection to Koivu, because for the purposes here, we should approach this as a business and hockey move. Did the team improve by dropping Koivu and trading for Scott Gomez? Also ignore what was given up to obtain Scott Gomez. We know the trade was bad, but strictly as a player for player swap, who's the better player the last three years?
An important component is also salary. While there's no guarantee that cap space will be meaningful, or that you can find a place to spend it, the opportunity to have said cap space is a potential boon. The potential cap space saved by employing Koivu instead of Gomez would have been $4,107,143 in 2009-10, and $4,857,143 in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
After the jump we'll go through all three years since Gomez replaced Koivu extensively and break it down.
|0.846||0.484||-0.047||Corsi Rel QoC||0.645||0.879||0.527|
|1.858||2.585||-1.165||Corsi Rel QoT||1.426||1.639||4.771|
|8.51||4.73||6.57||On Ice SH%||11.90||9.35||9.18|
|92.3||92.5||90.3||On Ice SV%||92.4||91.4||93.7|
|55.6||54.0||63.8||Off Zone Starts%||47.9||41.3||49.7|
|52.1||54.8||57.8||Off Zone Finish%||50.1||43.9||50.6|
|1.01||0.47||0.97||ES 1st Assists/60||0.55||0.45||0.64|
|0.64||0.26||0.14||ES 2nd Assists/60||0.61||0.50||0.51|
The first year after Koivu was let go and Gomez was brought in, an argument could be made that Gomez was an improvement on Koivu, though a costly one as noted before. At 30 Gomez was 5 years Koivu's junior and durable where Koivu was considered brittle and injury prone. Gomez played tougher minutes than Koivu with inferior linemates and put up more points per 60 minutes than Koivu. He also played more than Koivu did and looked like a tireless workhorse. However Koivu was supposed to be in decline and played a much more defensive role than Gomez did, and despite this the points per 60 minutes weren't that much different and Koivu managed better possession with the score tied, and better possession relative to his own team. Koivu scored more than double the goals per 60 that Gomez put up. Gomez was likely a better player than Koivu in 2009-10, but not nearly to the extent that justified the replacement.
Who made a bigger difference for their team: Tie
The second year of the Gomez experiment was an odd one. Gomez played far superior to the previous year, no doubt partially due to superior linemates and inferior quality of competition, but his play was there. Despite this he put up only 48% of his previous year's scoring per 60 minutes. Gomez was plagued by poor shooting luck for the entire season. Koivu's role however grew harder instead of easier. His quality of competition increased while the quality of his teammates dropped sharply, and he started his shifts in the offensive zone much more rarely. Due to these factors his possession numbers plummeted and he took far more penalties than he drew. Koivu still managed to put up decent numbers though, most importantly outscoring Gomez by nearly triple in goals per 60 minutes. This year Koivu played more minutes at even strength than Gomez did, although not by much.
Who made a bigger difference for their team: Saku Koivu
The incredibly durable Gomez has ended up with a nightmare season. After missing 36 NHL games in 11 seasons Gomez has missed 35 in a single incomplete year. To boot, his play has fallen off of a cliff to the point where he's dropped from 2nd to 4th on the Canadiens depth chart for centers. Against exceedingly weak competition his possession numbers have dropped in spite of heavy sheltering as far as zone starts are concerned. It's also the first year of the three where Gomez fails to draw more penalties than he takes. As if to add to the punchline, he has yet to score an even strength goal. The likelihood of him getting one has become even more slim as he's been sidelined with a concussion. Koivu meanwhile, has rebounded from last year's dip in possession and production to put up the 3rd best relative Corsi among the Anaheim Ducks' forwards when put against slightly weaker competition and getting a bit more offensive opportunity. Koivu's quality of teammates has taken another drop but due to some great shooting luck at even strength he's put up his best goals and points per 60 since he joined Anaheim. He's still taking more penalties than he draws, but at 37 that's going to happen when your legs begin to go, and Koivu has always loved his hooking penalties. Perhaps most startling is that Koivu has been playing over 2.5 more minutes per game than Gomez at even strength. Frankly the 32 year old seems to be in decline whereas the 37 year old keeps on persevering as he always has.
Who made a bigger difference for their team: Saku Koivu.
Mistakes are made in all companies and on all sports teams. This was a bad one.