Canadiens centreman Scott Gomez returned to Brossard ice Thursday with teammates.
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Canadiens centreman Scott Gomez isn’t preoccupied with thoughts of a compliance buyout, despite the fact that the phrase and his name are attached anywhere you surf on the Internet.
Gomez, 33, coming off an injury-riddled season that followed the least productive campaign of his career, will speak to hockey media in Brossard on Friday after practice. But he spoke at considerable length Thursday late evening with Hockey Inside/Out and The Gazette.
Centreman Scott Gomez arrived in Montreal late Wednesday night, driving up from New Jersey following a cross-continent flight from California, where he had been playing with the ECHL Alaska Aces.
The 33-year-old native of Anchorage packed an enthusiasm to begin Habs training camp, along with a very clear understanding that he’s coming off an injury-riddled, unproductive season that followed 2010-11’s dismal campaign, the poorest of the 11 he had played in the NHL to that time.
Gomez has this abbreviated season and a full 2013-14 left on his bloated contract, the seven-year, $51-million deal to which he was signed in 2007 by New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather. That contract has only increased the size of the bull’s eye many have affixed to the back of his jersey.
The 1999-2000 Calder Trophy recipient as the NHL’s rookie of the year arrived in Montreal by trade in June 2009, his acquisition by then-GM Bob Gainey in part paving the way for a handful of unrestricted free agents to sign with Montreal that summer, encouraged by the team’s direction.
A two-time Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey, Gomez had 12 goals and 47 assists here in 2009-10 and his leadership played a large role in helping to carry the Canadiens three rounds into the playoffs.
But his production tailed off dramatically the following year; last season, he missed 44 games with injuries.
So Gomez’s critics are almost giddy now, seeing him as the prime target for one of the Canadiens’ two permitted compliance buyouts that will kick in for 2013-14 and 2014-15, following the upcoming 48-game schedule.
But if such an unceremonious see-ya is on the radar of Gomez, who will have a cap hit of $7,357,143 when the buyout window opens, he’s not letting on.
Late Thursday, Gomez called me to speak at considerable length; more like he rasped, believing he had contracted something from an ailing airplane neighbour on his flight from the west coast.
He was in Ontario, Calif., playing with his hometown Alaska Aces, when rumours started to swirl that NHL training camps could begin as early as Thursday.
So instead of returning home to Anchorage, Gomez threw his hockey gear on a plane and flew east, then drove north.
“My little sister was staying with me,” he said. “So now she’s probably the happiest person in the world.”
Gomez didn’t speak with media gathered at the Canadiens’ Brossard training facility following Thursday practice, his voice almost shot; he said he will meet the cameras and notebooks Friday noon-hour after his on-ice workout.
Through a couple of coughing fits, he had enough to chat for a half-hour late Thursday. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:
You sound like you’re enthusiastically ready to throw yourself back into this mess…
I think everyone’s pretty excited that there’s hockey. Hey, it’s fun playing in the NHL. We’re all excited to get back.
Were you one of the guys who expected this NHL season would begin, or a guy who thought it was toast?
When you’ve gone through it before, you don’t know what to expect. I remember last time, a couple times, I was pulled out of the (Aces) lineup because the rumour was that (the NHL) was going to start. I didn’t think last time there was any way there would be no season. When it happened, it opened your eyes. Going through it once you didn’t know what to expect. But the main thing this time was to get hockey going again for the fans. It’s tough to answer them when they’re always asking and you want to be playing. There are some great hockey fans out there.
Six goals and seven assists in 11 games with the Aces the past few weeks. How was the experience?
It was great. It was fun playing hockey. To get the opportunity to play in front of family and friends again, I had a blast. Alaska is an outstanding organization, the (head) coach, Rob Murray, (assistants) Louis Mass and Scott Burt, it was fun. I got to spend some time at home. It’s been a long time. We all want to be playing here (in the NHL) but I had a great time. It’s always a great experience to play in front of the people out there.
The Canadiens finished up on April 7. We have gone from spring, summer, fall and back into winter without hockey in this city. When you begin camp, it will be a little more than nine months since a meaningful faceoff in Montreal. Does the whole thing seem surreal, or having been through a lockout once before, do you just look forward?
I’m just glad there’s hockey again. I believe I was in Peoria last time when the (2004-05) NHL season was cancelled. You think of how many people are losing out. Not only us, but people who work in and around the buildings and the fans. This time around, too. Especially playing in a city like Montreal, places like that, you realize how important it is, not only for fans. I’ve been in town just a day now and in the restaurants I go to… for certain people, even my buddies back home, they loved the fact I was playing there but they wanted NHL hockey.
Were you back in Montreal at all during the summer?
No, I stayed maybe a week after the season. Then I went to New Jersey and New York. It was still too early to go home. A couple other places but I can’t remember. It seems so long ago. I drove in (Wednesday) night. It was a nice drive up. The only delay was at border patrol. They wanted to talk about hockey. The guy had season tickets and he was pissed. I knew I was back in Canada, put it that way. It was good to go over the Champlain Bridge (laughs).
We spoke at length before last season’s training camp and you were very enthusiastic about 2011-12. You’d had a miserable 2010-11 season and you’d spoken candidly about that to reporters on locker-cleanout day. And then last season, if I’ve catalogued it properly, you suffered a torn lat in October, a torn groin in November, then suffered an eye injury and a concussion in March. You played 38 games and missed 44. Could you have written a script that ugly?
The thing about last year is we didn’t make the playoffs. Simple as that. I don’t care about me personally. We didn’t make the playoffs. You can ask any one of us. Unless you’ve gone through it before, which I hadn’t, and a couple of the guys, it’s the worst. To know you’re not going to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. In all essence, that’s all I’ll say about last year. We didn’t make the playoffs. I’m not going to sit here and talk about my injuries. It’s a long summer. A long summer to think about that. My injuries? It’s never been about me. The bottom line is we didn’t make the playoffs.
Have you had a more bizarre year than last season? Look through it and it reads like a bad novel.
I’ve never not made the playoffs in all my life. I don’t care what it was. The fact we didn’t make them was terrible. That’s what you play for. I don’t know how more I can stress that. That’s all that comes into my mind and the minds of all the guys who were here last year. We just… we didn’t even get a chance to go for the ultimate prize. At the end of the day, the goal is to win the Stanley Cup. And to win the Cup, you’ve got to get in. And that’s all I remember about last year.
Did you watch any playoffs last year?
Do you wear a tuxedo to the games? (laughs) Nah, it’s too hard. I never have. No, no. Since I was a kid, I’m too pissed off to watch. I don’t care to watch when we lose. No, it’s almost like you’re jealous when you’re watching guys play. It’s always been that way. I’m not going to sit there and watch guys having the time of their lives when you’re miserable for not being in the playoffs.
Have you had any discussions or any contact with (general manager) Marc Bergevin or (head coach) Michel Therrien since they were named to their positions?
I talked to (Therrien) this summer, I think when he got the job. It seems so long ago, I can’t exactly. But not to Marc yet.
When would you have the chance? The lockout still isn’t officially over until the players ratify the CBA.
There are still a lot of rules. Most of all, we (the players) were all pretty excited to see each other (in Brossard on Thursday). That was the main thing, to see our teammates again. It felt right, seeing the guys and the trainers. Camp starts Sunday, hopefully, that’s when it all starts over again. A fresh start for every team. Here we go. Going for the Cup.
OK, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. If you Google “compliance buyout,” chances are good your photo will pop up. Your status was addressed at a news conference this week held by (Canadiens owner) Geoff Molson, Bergevin and Therrien. To a question, Bergevin replied, and I paraphrase, that you’re a part of this team and you’d be at training camp. Have you heard from anyone, in any way, about the compliance buyout that’s part of the new CBA?
No. I’m here. I never once have felt I’m entitled to anything. I’m here to play for the Montreal Canadiens and I’m here to help the team win. My dad gave me the greatest advice: “Make them keep you. Make them play you.” That’s every year you go into. I’m happy to be back and a buyout is the last thing on my mind. I’m here to help the team win in whatever capacity they want. I’m going to give my all.
Max Pacioretty suggested to me today that everyone has to prove themselves all over again. From the GM to the head coach and his assistants, there’s a whole new face on the management of this team. Do you believe that it works to your advantage, or at least not to your disadvantage, that you’ve got a new coach and GM and beginning the first time you step on training-camp ice, you’ve got a clean slate to earn that ice time?
Everyone who plays in the National Hockey League, unless you’re a couple of guys, Gretzky or Lemieux, I don’t know, you’re never entitled to anything. You’re hungry. We’ll do anything to get back to winning and being a contender. You prove yourself every day in this game. You prove yourself at every training camp. Patch is right. Everything is new. It’s a clean slate but at the same time the goal is the same and that’s to get in the playoffs and go for the Stanley Cup. Once we realize it’s going to work, you’ll do anything to win and that’s the thought from all of us. It wasn’t a good feeling for us last year. It’s such a good room, such a good group of guys. Let’s face it, when you’ve got the best goaltender in the world, it starts there and you’ve got to take advantage of that. Last year is last year. The goal is to get in the playoffs and get the chance.
A few offseason additions here: Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon. Some sandpaper. Is that something this club needed to maybe keep other clubs at least a little honest?
First and foremost, they’re outstanding teammates. Their reputations speaking for themselves. I’ve known Frankie a long time – the guy can move the puck, he’s a great D-man. I remember I was with New Jersey and there was a scrum in Montreal. I grabbed Frankie, I don’t know, maybe because he was more my size, and right away (Devils defenceman) Sheldon Souray told me, “Gomer, that’s the last guy you’ll want to mess with.” Frankie is not only tough, he’s an outstanding D-man. He’s a pain in the ass to play against. You’re not going to beat him. The other two? Look at what they’ve done in their careers. Not only that, they fit in right away. It is a close team. They’re character guys and great players. They’ll contribute. They’ve been around. We were just together today and the vibe is the room is great. Honestly, I can’t wait to get started.