Difficult contracts, difficult decisions
After the worst season of his career will Scott Gomez be back with the Canadiens? (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Difficult contracts, difficult decisions
On July 1, 2007 the New York Rangers made the biggest splash in that season’s unrestricted free agent pool, inking forwards Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to expensive, multi-year contracts.
Nearly four years later those contracts have proven burdensome so creativity has been needed to deal with the fallout.
The Rangers dealt Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens on June 30, 2009, in a move that was crucial to the Habs’ subsequent free agent additions of Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Hal Gill.
Unfortunately, Gomez hasn't panned out as hoped. This season, he posted the worst numbers of his NHL career (seven goals, 38 points in 80 games), leading to speculation Canadiens management will consider demoting him to the minors next season to clear his $7.3 million cap hit from the books.
Drury, meanwhile, is still with the Rangers, but it's become clear over the past two years his play is deteriorating. In 2009-10 he netted 32 points in 77 games, the lowest total of his NHL career. This season, a broken finger and knee surgery limited him to only 24 games, but he still only managed five points.
With one year left on his contract at a cap hit of $7.05 million, it appears a buyout is a real possibility. The Blueshirts cannot demote Drury as he has a full no-movement clause and retirement doesn't appear likely.
A buyout wouldn't remove all of Drury's remaining cap hit from the books, but would provide savings of more than $3.33 million for next season, which could be put toward re-signing a key player such as RFAs Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, or towards signing a major free agent such as Brad Richards.
Gomez lacks a no-movement clause of his own so Canadiens management can demote him if his play fails to improve and they desire additional cap space.
A buyout of Gomez is another possibility, but it would be more costly over a longer term than what the Rangers face with Drury, as Gomez is signed through 2013-14.
CRAZY FANS CALL FOR KANE TRADE
A few days after the Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated from this year’s playoffs, Tim Sassone of the Chicago Daily Herald reported a “small faction of Blackhawks Nation” were calling for the club to trade star right winger Patrick Kane after they were “apparently unhappy” with Kane's six-point performance in the series with the Vancouver Canucks.
One has to assume that “small faction” is made up of bandwagon Blackhawks fans who have no concept of Kane's value.
Sassone quite rightly dismissed any suggestion of trading Kane, citing his 303 regular season points and 20 goals in 45 playoff games over his first four NHL seasons - including scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in last year's playoffs - as reasons the 22-year-old won't be leaving Chicago anytime soon.
RETURN OF JAGR?
Calls for Kane to be traded weren’t the only piece of weird news to pop up late last week.
A Czech sports site claimed the Montreal Canadiens had interest in former NHL star Jaromir Jagr, who spent the past three seasons playing for the Kontintenal League's Avangard Omsk, but enters this summer as a free agent.
It's possible the 39-year-old Jagr will consider a return to the NHL and if he were two or three years younger, perhaps the Canadiens would have some interest in him, but that doesn't appear to be a realistic possibility now.
MARKOV MULLING CONTRACT OFFER
Speaking of the Canadiens, Tony Marinaro of Montreal's The Fan 990 repeated via Twitter an earlier report claiming the club had offered defenseman Andrei Markov a one-year extension at the same salary as his current contract ($5.75 million), but the blueliner countered with a request for a three-year deal.
It remains to be seen if Markov and the Habs can agree on a new deal, but if he's willing to accept the same salary on a multi-year deal, perhaps a two-year contract could be agreed upon.
PENGUINS WON’T PART WITH COOKE
Don't expect the Pittsburgh Penguins to use Matt Cooke's season-ending suspension for his late-season head shot on New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh as an excuse to trade the controversial left winger.
Penguins GM Ray Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette there was “every indication” Cooke, who has two years remaining on his contract, will return next season.
Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out the Penguins have to bring in a winger for Evgeni Malkin's line, plus secondary depth at forward.
However, the Penguins currently have more than $55 million invested in 17 players and must consider re-signing pending free agents Pascal Dupuis, Maxime Talbot and Arron Asham.
Barring a trade or two, Shero lacks the money this summer to bring in additional scoring.
IS HITCHCOCK THE MAN FOR NEW JERSEY?
The New York Post reported Sunday that sources say New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is expected to make a safe choice in hiring his team's new bench boss. He’s believed to be preparing to hire Ken Hitchcock, the former coach of the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Lamoriello apparently wants to bring in someone with considerable experience who'll command immediate respect in the dressing room. Last summer he promoted farm team coach John MacLean, but after the Devils lurched to the worst record in the league, MacLean was replaced on an interim basis by Jacques Lemaire in December.
Hitchcock's defense-first, no-nonsense coaching style would certainly make him a good fit with the Devils, though it'll be interesting to see how well he works with expensive superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, who struggled under MacLean, but regained his form playing for Lemaire in the second half.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.