By the end of this week, Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez and New York Rangers defenseman Wade Redden could be unrestricted free agents.
The NHL and NHLPA recently reached an agreement on an “accelerated compliance buyout” period, effective immediately and up to the January 19th start of this shortened season. It would allow the Canadiens and Rangers to buy out the pair now, rather than waiting until this summer to do so under the compliance buyout rules of the new CBA.
Other NHL clubs could also utilize this buyout period, but really, it was designed with Gomez and Redden in mind.
Last weekend, the pair were told by their respective clubs not to report to training camp, and to stay home for the season. The reason was the Habs and Blueshirts didn’t want to risk either player suffering a potentially season-ending injury which would have made them ineligible for a compliance buyout in the off-season.
Thanks to the new CBA, the Rangers couldn’t bury Redden in the minors as they had done under the previous CBA, nor could the Canadiens employ that strategy this season with Gomez.
Under the accelerated buyout plan, the Canadiens and Rangers will still pay the full salaries of those players for this season, which count against their respective salary caps. The subsequent years of their contracts, however, would be bought out without counting against the cap.
If Gomez and Redden are bought out this week, they would immediately become unrestricted free agents eligible to sign with any other NHL club.
It’s been suggested the managements of both clubs might be reluctant to employ this tactic, unwilling to pay their full salaries having them play somewhere else. Perhaps, but it’s better optics than paying their full salaries to sit at home this season.
More importantly, it prevents either player from filing grievances over their situations with the NHLPA, which if successful could result in their teams being forced to not only take them back onto their rosters this season, but also pay additional penalties.
When it was reported Gomez and Redden could be forced to miss the season, few fans were sympathetic toward their plight.
Both players had seen a significant decline in their respective performances in recent years, to the point where they weren’t worth their huge salaries. Both are now in the penultimate seasons of their contracts, with Gomez worth an average annual cap hit of over $7.357 million, while Redden is worth $6.5 million per.
It can be argued neither would’ve become compliance buyout candidates had they played up to the level expected of them, but this situation wouldn’t have become so dire, nor attracted nearly as much attention, had they not been paid such lofty salaries.
Gomez and Redden weren’t “greedy players”. They signed expensive, long-term contracts worth far more than their true value, offered up to them by a general manager under no duress to pitch those offers. Their agents did a fine job landing those contracts, but it’s not as though they had to twist the arm of the man who pursued them in the free agent market.
NY Rangers GM Glen Sather was positively giddy when he inked Gomez and center Chris Drury as unrestricted free agents back in the summer of 2007, indicating he was the only serious bidder for the pair.
“Sather approached both players Sunday and felt during the day that he merely had to convince the pair to come to New York. He knew other teams were interested but didn’t get the impression from Drury and Gomez that he was bidding against other clubs.”
Sather wasn’t facing pressure to make those offers to Gomez and Drury. He did it because he honestly believed Drury was worth a cap hit over $7 million per season, and Gomez was worth over $7.357 million per.
Rangers fans could forgive Sather for that mistake because he eventually bought out Drury and shipped Gomez to the Canadiens two years later in a return which netted him blueline stud Ryan McDonagh.
Signing Redden in 2008 to a six-year contract at an average annual salary of $6.5 million proved Sather hadn’t learned from his earlier blunder.
At the time, Slats justified it by calling Redden “the best first-passer in the game”.
“He’s somebody that we had targeted immediately”, said Sather on July 1. He was our No. 1 guy on defence, as well as (Michal) Rozsival.’‘
That move, however, was among the more controversial of the UFA signings in the summer of 2008. Redden’s performance had obviously declined during his final two seasons with the Ottawa Senators, to the point where the Sens opted not to re-sign him.
The fact Redden received the same cap hit ($6.5 million) from the Rangers that he received in his final contract with the Senators earned Sather the scorn of hockey observers.
Sather may have been able to find a sucker for Gomez, but had no luck shopping Redden, ultimately demoting him for the last two seasons to the Rangers AHL farm team to clear his cap hit from their books.
At least Redden remained solely Sather’s embarrassment. Gomez would go on to become the problem of the Montreal Canadiens.
By the summer of 2009, then-Canadiens GM Bob Gainey was taking desperate measures to prevent his grand rebuilding plan from unravelling.
The Habs finished atop the Eastern Conference standings during the 2007-08 regular season atop the Eastern Conference and were seemingly poised to become a Stanley Cup contender. However, they imploded midway through the ’08-’09 campaign, barely made the playoffs and were swept from the first round by the arch-rival Boston Bruins.
With the Canadiens 100th anniversary coming up, Gainey and his brain trust had to move quickly to restore the club’s equilibrium. He opted to add skilled veteran talent, which included acquiring Gomez from the Rangers.
At the time, it seemed like a smart move. The Canadiens had decided to pass on re-signing fading captain Saku Koivu and needed a skilled first-line center. Gomez had only 58 points with the Rangers in 2008-09, but was only a year removed from a 70-point season and three years from his career-best 84-point effort with the New Jersey Devils.
The Habs were very interested in signing free agent scoring wingers Brian Gionta (Gomez’s former Devils linemate) and Mike Cammalleri, and believed acquiring Gomez would work as bait to attract them. It worked, leaving the Habs management and fans hoping Gomez and Gionta might rekindle their old Devils magic.
Unfortunately, Gomez’s numbers steadily declined to the point where he managed only only two goals and eleven points in an injury-shortened 2011-12 season.
Had Sather not signed Gomez and Redden to those inflated contracts, and the Canadiens not traded away a future star defenseman for Gomez, their resultant on-ice struggles wouldn’t have received nearly the same amount of fan and media scorn, especially in today’s salary cap world.
Gomez and Redden – or any other NHL player – cannot be faulted for signing with teams whose general managers were dumb enough to pay them far more than their worth for too long.
There’s not a set timetable for when a player’s skills decline. Some, like Teemu Selanne, can play into their forties at a high level. Most usually see that decline by their early-thirties. Some, like Gomez, even earlier than that.
General managers sometimes forget that when they succumb to auction fever during free agency, or gamble on a struggling, high-salaried player regaining their form with a change of scenery.
Gomez and Redden received far more than their true worth, and in the end, those contracts became an unintended burden for them and their teams.
Players and their agents can seek lucrative contracts, but the ultimate decision rests with the general managers to act responsibly in determining a player’s true worth.