It’s hard to fathom that one of the most maligned players in the history of the Montreal Canadiens, one that was ridiculed for his lack of goal scoring prowess for years after those same Habs bought him out, and one who couldn’t get a contract in the NHL this past offseason has become the player that the New Jersey Devils have had to turn to.
Maybe it speaks more to the state of the Devils than it does the play of Scott Gomez, but it begs the question: where, exactly, would the Devils be this season without Gomez?
Before you begin to laugh or think I’ve gone crazy, first remember where the Devils were at when they signed Gomez. Center Travis Zajac was injured. Another pivot, Adam Henrique, had also gone down with injury. The Devils were already two games below .500, on a 3-5-2 run, and with two centermen out of the lineup, they needed someone to fill the hole. Gomez signing on was a no-brainer. After all, he was already skating with the team.
Second, take a minute to look at Gomez’s statistics. Who would’ve thought the 35-year-old forward, a veteran of 14 NHL seasons, could come out and post 16 points in 23 games? That’s a near 60-point pace for a player who was signed simply out of desperation. When writing about the signing in December, I wrote that he could be effective. Not for a second did I, and likely many others, think he would put up 16 points in 23 outings.
Has Gomez’s possession game been good? Not particularly. Has he played sheltered minutes on a team that needs improvement on the defensive side of the puck? Absolutely. But has he provided offense to one of the league’s worst offensive units? He sure has.
More than anything, though, Gomez has played an important role in helping along one of the league’s best power plays. And for a team that has been less than satisfactory at even strength – the Devils have a minus-7 goal differential at 5-on-5 – having a power play that is clicking is of utmost importance if the team has any chance at securing the odd victory.
Seven of Gomez’s 16 points have come on the power play, all of them assists, three of which were the primary assists. He’s the third highest point-getter on the league’s eighth best power play, and he’s been alternating between the team’s first and second units on a fairly consistent basis. He’s making things work for the Devils, and that’s pretty impressive for a player that not a single team wanted during the offseason or into the first two months of the campaign.
Gomez is actually coming off a stretch of games in which he’s scored two goals and nine points in eight games. That’s first line production from a guy who many wouldn't expect to be much better than a fourth line replacement. Factor in that he’s got a PDO of 101, and it’s not like he’s playing that far over his head. Maybe his totals dip a bit in the next few weeks, but he should still keep a similar pace and, barring injury, will likely finish the season with somewhere between 30 to 40 points.
That's not to mention that he's been playing nearly 18 minutes per game. That's his highest total since 2010-11, when he was that player the Canadiens desperately wanted to turn it around but who never quite got there.
He'll never again be the 30-goal, 80-point player he was for the Devils in the 2005-06 season, but he's scoring at the highest rate (.70 points per game) he has since 2009-10 -- exactly half a decade ago. It makes you wonder if Gomez's play isn't so much the consistent problem as it is how much his career was marred by the expectations of a seven-year, $51.5 million contract he inked with the New York Rangers as a free agent in 2007.
Regardless, at $550,000 on a two-way deal this season, Gomez has been a steal for the Devils, and they've more than gotten their money's worth. Whether he's only a fit for the ever-aging Devils or not, he's making the most of his opportunity to prove he's still got something left in the tank.
And when the Masterton Trophy nominations come around, don’t be surprised to see Gomez as the Devils' nominee. If you want to talk about dedication, it takes some serious commitment to stick it out when almost nobody sees a use for you. In that way, the 35-year-old pivot is proving a lot of people wrong.