But when he's producing like he did in Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, or for the entire second half of the season, suddenly that gargantuan contract of his is a bit less of a topic of conversation.
Whenever I hear someone complain about Gomez's salary, wondering how he could loaf through games when he's paid that much, I start to wonder things myself. Like does Gomez ever regret signing that ridiculous offer Glen Sather made him? Does he even care what people are saying about him? Is he aware of it?
Frankly, I don't think so. And his production of late has been so strong at the most important time of year, that I'm also starting to think that what Gomez might need is a reason to compete. That's not necessarily a good thing, because the points you lose in November hurt just as much as those lost in March. But having a guy who turns his game up a notch when the importance is heightened has never been viewed as a bad thing in Montreal. How else can you explain Alex Kovalev's wild popularity here?
So maybe we have yet to see the best of what Gomez has to offer. And if that's the case, then what's to come could be scary good.
Try this on for size: over a four-game point streak, Gomez now has two goals and six assists. In his last 11 games, he has five goals and 10 assists. In his last 33 games, it's 32 points. Basically, Gomez began his season on Dec. 1.
Gomez was asked over and over again after his three-point performance against Tampa why it is that he's playing so well now, and he saw right through that question to spin it another way.
“Maybe I just played so bad in the beginning that this looks a little different," he said. "This is a fun time of year, every game means something, but I give the credit to Brian(Gionta) and Benny (Pouliot). I’m just giving them the puck.”
Fact is, he was that bad at the beginning of the season, with 11 points in his first 23 games. So to get this kind of production from someone who was such dead weight through the first quarter of the season is mildly surprising.
But this is where I give Jacques Martin some credit, because he always stuck with Gomez. He kept sending him out in important situations, and he always insisted Gomez was playing well in spite of the zeros he was putting up night after night. Now he's reaping the rewards for his patience, even though that patience was borne out of necessity.
"For a while, when Gionta was hurt and we didn't have Pouliot, we didn't have any finishers for him," Martin said, "and his biggest skill is as a playmaker."
We saw that skill on full display Tuesday night, flying into the offensive zone to put the Tampa defence on its heels before setting up Glen Metropolit for the opening goal of the game. Then setting Pouliot up with a brilliant feed in front that Gomez called "a terrible pass" to re-establish Montreal's two-goal margin.
In between, he snuck in a goal for good measure, his 12th of the year.
Gomez doesn't particularly like talking about his own performance, usually relying on humour to avoid honestly answering questions about it (a prime example: "At the beginning of the year they just weren’t going in. Brian finally pulled his head out of his ass and started putting some in. So I blame him for my first half.") But where Gomez starts to get interesting is when he talks about what the team's mentality should be around this time of year, and you start to understand why Bob Gainey wanted him and Gionta in that dressing room.
When talking about the playoff race and how dependent Montreal is on other teams losing, Gomez quickly disagreed.
“Growing up with Mr. Lamiorello, you learn that it doesn’t matter what anyone else does," he said, talking about Devils GM Lou. "It’s what you do in here. Teams change for you, you don’t change for teams. Everyone’s worried about what this team does or that team does, but all that matters is winning. Winning will take care of itself. Don’t worry about any other team, just worry about what’s here. That’s the mentality we’re starting to have. We don’t want to be in this position, this is the time you want to be fine tuning. But we’re in it. You look up at scores, it’s just human nature. But you can’t be worried about what other teams are doing.”
This run of four wins in five games coming out of the Olympic break has allowed the Habs to think that way, because now one could have predicted this would be where they sit after a treacherous four-game road trip.
"This win really allows us to control our own destiny," Martin said. "Especially when it comes to Atlanta and Tampa (both losers Tuesday). If both of them would have won, we'd still be ahead, but we'd be in a critical situation because of the games in hand."
Now, neither Atlanta nor Tampa could catch the Habs even if they were to win all three games in hand they still have. The Rangers can't catch them even if they win their two games in hand. Basically, for the first time this season, Montreal is legitimately in a playoff spot.
It seems like this team is coming together at the perfect time, and with Mike Cammalleri and Marc-Andre Bergeron both skating, it could get even better.
I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but with Jaroslav Halak winning games and with a healthy lineup on the horizon, could it be that this team will peak just in time for the playoffs? I'm not saying that's what will wind up happening, but if it does, the Canadiens would be a very tough playoff out.
First, though, they have to make it to the dance. And Tuesday's win was a big step in that direction.