They were made the second and third highest paid centers in the league. They were rewarded greatly for having accomplished nothing, their salaries coming as major investments into the future of the franchise. They were to step in and become the leaders of the team and take the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup. However, what was lost in all of the fanfare and glory of the July 1st stunner was quickly pointed out at the start of the season. Chris Drury and Scott Gomez are good, even great, centers but they are not the 2nd and 3rd best in the league. They are great teammates, but still need time to get a feel for the new club. They are players that improve a team but will not bring them from rags to riches in one season.
Comparables are everything in the NHL today. They are the sole factors that determine salaries in a league where organizations have not gotten a solid feel for who is worth what.
Comparably, Gomez and Drury did not earn their keeps this season. The former Devil boasted a cap hit of 7.357 million dollars while the former Sabre took in 7.050 million. Other centers that earned over 6.5 million dollars include Brad Richards, Vinny Lecavalier, Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Thornton and Daniel Briere. Not only do these two belong in this group fame-wise, they also are well behind stats-wise. This season, Drury picked up 25 goals and 33 assists for 58 points and Gomez 16 goals and 54 helpers for a total of 70 points. The other five players in the same salary range averaged 30 goals, 54 assists and 84 points, marks that rest well above the output of Drury and Gomez.
The acquisition of these two centers also had the feel of being the last piece of the puzzle for the Rangers, who had made the playoffs in the past two years and came close to making it to the Conference Finals in 2007. This expectation also led to disappointment, as the Rangers were ousted in the second round for the second straight year, this time more convincingly than the prior. The two centers were almost a non-factor in the five game loss to Pittsburgh as they combined for only 2 goals and 5 assists. Their ineffectiveness hurt their own production as well as that of their line mates.
Jaromir Jagr virtually carried the team through the series, but his efforts were not enough and backup was not forthcoming from the other 3 lines. Another playoff disappointment leads one to wonder whether the two centers are enough to lead this team to a Cup and if indeed their salaries could have been better spent.
The intangibles are the only hope to rescue Drury and Gomez from their under-acheivements. Both had strong second half performances after looking lost on ice before the all-star-break. That type of adjustment period was expected, but in their case it took longer than expected. Additionally, while either Drury or Gomez was expected to center Jaromir Jagr on the first line, they ended up skating on the second and third lines as rookie Brandon Dubinsky meshed well with the Rangers captain. This lack of ice time and lack of Jagr contributed to their statistically unimpressive seasons. The Rangers also brought up a crop of rookie wingers including Nigel Dawes and Ryan Callahan who subtracted from the effectiveness of the two centers. There are certainly a fair share of excuses for the underperformance of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, but they can only be proven hazards of circumstance by next season's performance.
This brings us to the biggest issue in this signing: the future. Gomez and Drury were not brought in to win a Cup this season. The Rangers are going through the late stages of transition, from veterans like Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka, to younger sparkplugs such as Dawes, Dubinsky and Staal. There is always a drop-off in performance when the older players leave and the younger players are forced to fill their shoes. Glen Sather was trying to avoid this, to keep Rangers fans interested after so many years of failure. The Rangers GM was beginning a youth movement, but needed to build the new team around strong supporting figures, men who had been there before and still had many years to go. Gomez and Drury have won a combined 3 Stanley Cups, but are both in their prime seasons of hockey. They will be in New York for 7 and 5 years respectively and will lead this team when Jagr and Shannahan decide to hang up the skates. This year's success if important, but pales in comparison to the task ahead for the two centers. They have become the face of the New York Rangers and have time to bring a Stanley Cup to the Canyon of Heroes.
It was not the best off-season for the Rangers. Glen Sather could have re-signed Michael Nylander instead of Drury but Jagr's favorite pivot wanted too many years. He could have used Gomez's money to sign a defenseman, a position the Rangers have proven to be lacking in. However, as the salary cap continues to inflate, the Rangers cap space goes up. As teams gain more cap room, player salaries skyrocket. While the Rangers overpaid Drury and Gomez, they could not have gotten them for less, nor could they have gotten comparable talent later on for better value. NHL salaries are a rising market and it is best to buy cheap and early, while hording the merchandise when its value goes up. In that light, the Rangers made a strong investment. They no longer need to worry about the center position and they can afford to spend freed up cash on defensemen and wingers. Many players on this past season's roster will not return to the Rangers in 2008-09. Knowing his team and knowing the market, Glen Sather did the right thing, if not the best thing and gave this franchise many years of hope.
My first blog on HockeyBuzz dealt with the acquisition of Drury and Gomez. At that time, neither player had played a shift wearing the Broadway blue. However, the answer to the ever present question remains the same. "Drury and Gomez: Good Signings or Same Old Rangers," the title screamed, and once again, we must answer by looking forward. Will both players improve with time and finally make the Rangers contenders, or will they wallow in mediocrity along with a team that is overpaid and under-producing? That is yet to be seen, but Rangers fans hope and pray that the former is the case and that they can relive the glory of 1994 once again. Any of the next four years can bring Camelot for Rangers fans, and if it does, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez will be the Knights of the Round Table.