Friday, May 17, 2013
The new Scott Gomez, same as the old
By Pierre LeBrun
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Lost in the drama which ended Game 2 in the Sharks-Kings series -- with Los Angeles scoring twice in the final two minutes to steal a 4-3 win -- was a neat little story about a player trying to pick himself off the scrap heap.
San Jose's Scott Gomez was promoted to third-line center and did not disappoint with his effort, tallying two assists and delivering a strong overall performance in an expanded role.
But it's a funny thing when you're no longer a $7 million player, but rather a $700,000 bargain. The expectations are drastically different. Suddenly, your experience and skating in a bottom-six role is greatly appreciated.
The Sharks took a chance on Gomez early in the season after Montreal showed him the door via a buyout, and they haven't regretted it.
"He loves the game," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told ESPN.com Friday. "He worked hard. He came here looking for an opportunity and he got one because he's earned it. He's earned the ice time. And that says an awful lot about him, because he's accomplished an awful lot in this league. His love for the game and his desire to be part of a team and contribute in any way that he can speaks volumes about Scott."
Gomez is all smiles these days. Being away from the Montreal spotlight, where his offensive shortcomings were a daily media dish, has served him well.
"I think we all get to different stages in our lives," Hall of Famer and Sharks associate coach Larry Robinson told ESPN.com Friday. "He went through a tough time in New York. And then things went not too bad at the start in Montreal, and then all of a sudden he was their whipping boy. I think you hear it for so long, after a while maybe you start to believe it yourself and you start to question just how good you really are.
"He's not going to change," Robinson said. "His strengths have always been, I think, he sees the ice as good as anybody. He's a true passer. He's never been and never will be a shooter. But he's a guy that makes things happen.
"I think now, he's starting to believe in himself a bit more."
Robinson was a key figure in both the Sharks taking a gamble on Gomez and the player wanting to make San Jose his next stop. Gomez has huge respect for Robinson, whom he played for in New Jersey, and that made his decision easier.
"Larry is one of the guys that showed me how to be a professional when I came into this league," said Gomez.
Free of the expectations that came with playing in Montreal, Scott Gomez is at peace with his role in San Jose.
Being a pro means accepting what the new reality is. Gomez has been a bottom-six forward on the Sharks this season after spending most of his career as a top-line guy. But if you’re looking for the grumpy veteran, you’re not going to find one here. Gomez has been only upbeat in San Jose.
"He's often the life of the locker room, he's a guy you can laugh and joke with," said Sharks teammate Adam Burish. "He's got a good sense of when it's a good time to have fun and laugh and when it's a good time to hold guys accountable. He's done a good job of that."
And Gomez isn't scared to pipe up when something needs to be said.
"On the bench, he's saying things that probably a lot of guys aren't comfortable saying," said Burish. "Like calling a guy out, calling an older guy out, he can do it because of where he's been and what he's done. I think he's brought that."
Gomez's contributions here are clearly just as important off the ice.
"Gomer has been a very good player for us in a number of different ways," said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. "I don't want to say it's surprising, but he's almost like a third or fourth coach. He's trying to do things the right way, he's trying to get guys to keep their shifts short, he's trying to make sure we have a high guy, he's trying to make sure we don't turn pucks over.
"I didn't know we were getting that in Scott Gomez, but we got it. And he's been a big influence that way."
Just don't call this the reinvention of Gomez.
The 33-year-old Anchorage, Alaska, native scoffed at that notion. He's not trying to redo his game. He's just accepting whatever role he's being given.
"That's part of winning, everyone sacrifices," said Gomez. "I was taught by some of the best. In New Jersey, people forget I started on the wing and on the fourth line. It's about winning. Every team I've ever won on it's about sacrificing. As you get older, you realize it more. That's never been an issue. It started with my parents. I was fortunate to start with an organization that only cares about winning."
So, pout because he’s no longer in a top-line role? That’s not going to happen. What kind of example would that be setting, he asked.
"It would be a slap in the face to everybody that's helped me along the way if I didn't help the young guys out and sit here and mope around," said Gomez. "I came here for a reason. It was my best chance to win, and it’s been great. When your number is called, you better be ready."
Let’s not exaggerate things here. I don't think you’re ever going to see Gomez put up big numbers again. But he still has the skating ability and the vision.
At the right price, he can help a lot of teams next season. His performance Thursday night showed that.
"I thought it was the best game he has played since coming to San Jose," said a veteran NHL scout. "But he still plays a perimeter game. That’s who he is."
Hey, as Gomez said himself, he's not going to go out there and start hitting guys like he's some sort of energy guy. It's not his thing. But he can still help in his own way. And for a prorated $700,000 salary, the Sharks will take it.
Gomez, 33, had one year -- which carried a $7.35 million cap hit -- remaining on his $51.5 million deal when the Habs bought him out on the eve of the season. Montreal still paid him his prorated $5.5 million salary this season, and will owe him $1.5 million next season and $1.5 million the season after that as part of his buyout.
Never again will his salary be the story. But Gomez insisted Friday that his big salary in Montreal was never a pressure point that dragged him down. He doesn't feel liberated now because he's on a bargain-basement deal in San Jose.
"Money's never been anything," said Gomez. "I wasn't born with it, I wasn't raised with it. I've gotten to play in the National Hockey League, my dreams have come true, I've done everything because of this game."
So no, he insists his salary in Montreal was not a burden.
"Never, never," he said. "I've been in the league a long time, I've paid my dues. I've never thought about it once like that. It's never been an issue. You go out there and have fun. Obviously it's set my life up and my family forever [financially] and I'll always be grateful for the guys before me that paved the way for that. There's no question."
This clearly isn't the story of the new Scott Gomez. It's about the old Scott Gomez feeling at peace with a new team.