I guess this is payback for Jozef Balej.
When Bob Gainey hoodwinked Glen Sather into taking Balej in exchange for impending free agent Alex Kovalev back in 2004, Montreal was abuzz with the thought of a marquee name finally landing in the city.
Now, just over four years later, those two men have hooked up on another trade and Montreal is buzzing just as much over a marquee name.
Only this time, it is with rage.
Scott Gomez is a pretty good hockey player, and taken solely on his merits on the ice he would be worth taking a chance on.
But these days you can't look at a player in a vacuum.
Gomez represents a $7.357 million cap hit for the next five years, which should theoretically lessen his trade value. But, sensing Gainey's desperation to make a big move to improve his team down the middle, Sather managed to grab Christopher Higgins AND Ryan McDonagh AND Pavel Valentenko AND Doug Janik.
The deal is bad on so many levels, the worst of which is that the Rangers can now compete with the Habs on the free agent market.
Adding Gomez's salary brings the Habs cap space down to about $27.5 million, while the Rangers are suddenly at a shade over $25 million. The Rangers aren't out of the woods, however, because they only have three NHL forwards and four defencemen under contract for next season, so they can't exactly start spending that money all in one place. But this deal gets them out of a major league jam.
"It gives us a lot more options, more availability to do other things," Sather told reporters in a conference call. "We're not up against the cap now. We have lots of cap room. It just makes the options more inviting to us."
Secondly, this limits how much Gainey can spend on free agents Wednesday. Gainey knows as well as all of us do how poor of a track record he has when it comes to closing deals on UFAs, and this trade couldn't have been a bigger admission of that.
The third negative point is giving up on Ryan McDonagh, who only turned 20 two weeks ago. He may not be lighting things up at Wisconsin the way Trevor Timmins anticipated, but he's widely regarded to be a future top-pair defenceman and he may very well be an all-star by the time Gomez's contract runs out.
Finally (and I'm only stopping here because this is going to start getting redundant) this trade stinks because Gainey is committing all this money to someone who is essentially the same style of player as Saku Koivu. Yes, Gomez is more durable, has more points and has two rings, but he's basically a slightly better and far more expensive version of Koivu.
If Gainey had gone out and acquired a big bruising centre who could go mano-a-mano with Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger at that price, I would be the first to say "bravo." But this? A 5-foot-11, 200-pound Scott Gomez will not change the identity of this team one bit. In fact, he's an almost perfect fit to what has been the identity of the Habs for years.
It was only yesterday that Gainey said, "It’s not a question of spending money, that’s not the problem. It's to spend it properly, to spend the right amount on the right person."
I don't think Gainey chose the right person here.
But really, just as no player can be looked at in a vacuum, no trade can either. They all need to be placed in the context of the moves made around them, and in this case, that part of the story has yet to be told.
If Gainey is able to add Martin Havlat or Marian Hossa to play with Gomez and Alex Kovalev, then suddenly the Habs have a pretty credible looking first line. If he can add Francois Beauchemin or, better yet, somehow re-sign Mike Komisarek, then the team is starting to look pretty good.
Despite Gomez's $7.3 million cap hit Gainey still has a good deal of money to spend Wednesday. But this trade makes the pressure to get something out of free agency even more stifling, simply because adding Gomez does not make the Canadiens a better team than they were with Koivu and Alex Tanguay.
In essence, Gainey will be fighting for his job over the next few days.
Gomez, meanwhile, took some time before heading out on a fishing trip in Kenai, Alaska, just south of his hometown of Anchorage, to speak with the Montreal media.
The first thing he said, while we waited for CKAC to shutup so we could start the conference call, was addressed to Canadiens media relations director Dominick Saillant.
"Who did I get traded for?"
Oh, how I would love to be in the woods and away from all news sources right about now.
Otherwise, Gomez was actually pretty candid about rating his performance last season, which was basically the worst of his career when expectations and salary are taken into account. His 58 points in 77 games was his lowest mark since 2003, though he barely topped that with 60 points in 2007.
"If anyone was disappointed about last year, I would be the first," Gomez said. "That's why we play, there's always something to prove...You bet I was embarrassed about last year, the way I played."
An encouraging thought when trying to figure out if Gomez will be able to bounce back is that his most effective years, if not his most productive ones, came in a system in New Jersey that preached tight, disciplined defensive play. In New York that wasn't always the case, but it most definitely will be here under Jacques Martin, so maybe Gomez will be able to thrive.
He also spoke about Montreal's reputation as a hockey "Mecca" and that he feels like he "grew up in the Montreal organization" because of all the former Habs he came across in New Jersey. One of them, in fact, recently had Gomez's No. 19 raised to the Bell Centre rafters, so the newest member of the Habs will have to find another number.
"I thought about calling Larry and asking him," Gomez joked (I hope).
Finally, Gomez addressed the idea that he was crumbling under the pressure of his enormous contract.
"There's pride," he said. "I've never been about money, never grew up with it."
Unfortunately for him, now that he has it, money will be the number one consideration for Canadiens fans when judging Gomez on the ice. And something tells me whatever he does will never be good enough.