How is it that there could be a player making so much money that he couldn’t play in the NHL, and needed to be sent to the minors, and at the same time there could be a player making so much money, that he couldn’t be sent to the minors, and needed to play in the NHL? Well, that’s essentially the description of the more than slightly odd circumstances that Wade Redden and Scott Gomez have found themselves in recent years. Just as this new CBA has something commonly referred to as “the Luongo clause”, Redden and Gomez’ names will now forever be linked together by something called the “Redden and Gomez exception.”
The new CBA will allow teams to buy out 2 contracts each, over the next two years, to rid themselves of expensive contracts, and not have them on the books, counting against a salary cap that is going down substantially next season. These buyouts were not supposed to occur until this coming off-season, but a funny thing happened on the way to next summer. Gomez and Redden were sent home. An injured player can’t be bought out, so the risk of either of these players getting hurt was too great to allow them to do anything hockey related between now and then, as the two were the most obvious candidates for a buyout. So, the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to make these two exceptional cases, and allow the Rangers and Canadiens to buy them out prior to the beginning of the season, which is Saturday. Both players have been, to say the least, in situations that proves truth is stranger than fiction.
Wade Redden, signed by the Rangers to a multi-year contract that paid him a salary that wasn’t just “top pairing defenseman” money, it was “in the running for the Norris Trophy” money. Having watched him play in his last two years in Ottawa, I can tell you its no wonder the Senators let him walk as a UFA. There was no way he was getting that kind of an offer in Ottawa, and it’s likely the Rangers were the only team that would pony up that kind of money. New York teams have a well documented history of making huge splashes in the free agent pool, only to have the contracts look pretty silly later. (See the Yankees and A-Rod as a current example.) But, you can’t blame Redden for this. It’s not like he held Glenn Sather in a headlock until he gave him a ridiculous contract. I’ve heard all kinds of people say that Redden should have retired. Every time I hear this, I ask, “Would you walk away from an average salary of $6.5 million, just because they sent you to the AHL?” I’d play on Mars for that kind of money. Hockey is, as the recent lockout has driven the point home, a business, and playing hockey is these guys’ job. The case of Wade Redden simply came to the point where the Rangers could not have a player counting about 10% of their cap space, and not be a Superstar. They could afford to pay him in full to play in the minors, and use the cap space in other ways, as per the rules of the old CBA. He simply made too much money to be able to play in the NHL.
Scott Gomez, made so much money that the Montreal Canadiens couldn’t send him down. Make no mistake, the Habs could have afforded to bury Gomez in Hamilton, but this might be a case of looking at the same situation differently, because Gomez was a forward, instead of a d-man. While no one looked at Redden and saw an overnight turn around, there always was the allure of the thought that Gomez will “snap out of it” and be the 1st or 2nd line center the Habs had hoped he’d be when they traded for him with the Rangers (who signed him to his mega-contract; see above). The much publicized fact that Gomez went more than a calendar year without scoring a goal likely sealed his fate, but it takes a string of otherworldly bad luck to have that occur. Goals get credited to players who have pucks bounce off of their leg, or hit their sticks while they are falling down, or fan on the puck as it goes by. Even a guy who looked like he couldn’t get lucky in a “you know where”, had to score eventually, and it’s not like Gomez didn’t have a track record. No, the Canadiens were paying him way too much to send him to Hamilton, when he might be one shot away from the dam breaking, releasing a flood of goals.
To further add to the strangeness of all of this, it will be Redden that will get far more attention from teams, once he’s officially available. The ironic thing about his situation is that his huge cap number is the only thing that kept him out of the NHL. He is a very serviceable 4, 5, or 6 defenseman, and the Rangers just didn’t have the cap space to let him be that player. Teams will know exactly what they are getting. An experienced contributor, who can play in most situations, and is a solid citizen with leadership skills. Lots of teams can use a depth defenseman, especially when he’ll come at a bargain. Gomez is more of a wild card. There is no doubt that a team will take a flyer on Gomez, who will also come cheap, but it will require a team with either a high tolerance for gambling, or in desperate need of a veteran center. (Hello, Vancouver. If you don’t get a center in the Luongo deal, look north to Alaska.)
There is a feel good element to this story. By all accounts, both Wade Redden and Scott Gomez are good guys in bad situations. Both are popular with their teammates, and well thought of around the league. Redden has been a model of professionalism in the A, and has picked up more than a few tabs on the road in the minors, as he’s likely making almost as much money as the rest of his teammates combined. It hasn’t been widely reported in the media (which is by design), but I have it from a reliable source that he still pays for a luxury suite in Ottawa on behalf of a charity organization, so that underprivileged kids can go to Senators games, in spite of the fact he’s no longer a player there. Gomez is also very popular with the players in Montreal, and anyone familiar with the situation says that it’s not for lack of effort that he’s not scoring. Something went off the rails for him in Montreal, and it’s almost a universal sentiment coming out of the Habs organization that he will have success elsewhere. Mercifully, both look like they are going to get the opportunity to resurrect their NHL careers. As a Habs fan, for as much as Scott Gomez has driven me crazy for the last couple of seasons, I really hope the guy can bounce back. For Wade Redden, a realistic contract, and the realistic expectations that will accompany it, hopefully will compensate him for some lost NHL seasons that should have been there all along.