Scott Gomez is standing in front of a group of reporters, wearing a suit, a tie – and the perfect fashion accessory for the well-dressed job-seeking NHLer, a pair of shower slippers. This is hours before the San Jose Sharks were to play Sunday’s season opener against the Calgary Flames. Gomez is currently travelling and practising with the Sharks, after receiving a compliance buyout from the Montreal Canadiens last week, and pondering his NHL options.
Gomez is trying to get his NHL career back on track and the connection in San Jose is the team’s new assistant coach, Larry Robinson. Gomez knew Robinson back in their salad days together with the New Jersey Devils, before his career went off the rails.
As badly as things went in Montreal the past two seasons, there was a time when Gomez was one of the elite playmakers in the NHL, right up there with Joe Thornton who – if all goes well this week – might end up being his new teammate. Right now, the two sides, player and team, are checking each other to see if there’s a fit. If there is, then Gomez may land a roster spot with one of the NHL’s top teams after playing for the 15th-place Canadiens last year.
Gomez was unprepared for Montreal’s decision to buy him out and said he was thankful for the intervention of his agent – Ian Pulver, formerly a high-ranking member of the NHL players association – for getting the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement reworded so that he could play this season. Originally, the Canadiens determined that they would just send Gomez home for the season, fearing that he suffered an injury playing in the minors it wouldn’t permit them to buy out his contract next summer. The CBA terms were amended following the ratification vote so that he can now get back on the ice.
Gomez says he holds no grudges against the Canadiens, although when asked if he was “pissed off” that he didn’t get a chance to play for Montreal this year, he acknowledged that he was.
“Hey, it’s gone,” said Gomez. “I wasn’t raised that way. You can sit around and cry, but hey, that’s life. Trust me, I’ve been around the game a long time and seen worse. But that’s in the past. I’ve learned from too many guys. You don’t feel sorry for yourself. That’s business.
“But you bet, I was – and you should be pissed off. If you’re not, there’s something wrong with you. That’s just every athlete.”
Gomez spent the lockout playing for the ECHL’s Anchorage Aces so that he could be ready to go.
“I went home, played, learned how to play hockey again,” said Gomez, with a laugh. “I was ready. I think we were all ready. Having gone through it before … when you’re younger, probably in the last lockout, I don’t know whether Lou (Lamoriello, the Devils GM) would have been too happy with the shape I was in. But you learn when you get older. There was a reason I went back to play. I always believed that hockey was coming back and I wanted to be ready.
“Playing on the Olympic sheet back home and working on the skills again, there’s always a reason for everything. The older you get, you can’t take things for granted.”
Thornton, for his part, says he believes Gomez could be a “good fit” with the Sharks.
“He’s won a couple of Stanley Cups with Jersey,” said Thornton. “He’s had some tough luck there in Montreal.
“Gomer plays the same kind of game as me – just give-and-goes. He’s a pass-first kind of guy. It’d be interesting to have a guy like that on your team.
“If he signs here, I think he’s going to be a great addition.”
Unlike Wade Redden, who signed almost immediately with the St. Louis Blues as soon as he became a free agent, Gomez and the Sharks are involved in a longer courtship.
“You never know what it’s like to start a relationship,” said Gomez, wistfully. “We all know that. It could take longer than others. It could go right away. It’s why life is so special and beautiful.”
Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan suggested Gomez’s presence wouldn’t be a distraction and that there’d probably be a decision, one way or another, in a couple of days.
“If it works, we’ll be really happy to have him – and if it doesn’t, I’m sure he’ll find another home and be excited about playing in the league,” said McLellan.
Gomez was asked if there was anything attractive about playing in a non-traditional market after the pressure cooker in Montreal, but answered no. He wouldn’t trade the experience, even if it didn’t work out as well as he’d hoped.
“Canada is passionate,” said Gomez. “It’s why you love playing in this country. Your career only goes so long. To be in a market with you guys (Canadian reporters), I’m not going to say anything bad about (the experience).”
The attraction of winning will factor in highly for Gomez, who says: “The goal is the Stanley Cup. Just knowing some of the guys here – and obviously, I’m very comfortable with Larry. You always hear about San Jose and you never hear anything bad about the organization.
“We’ll see what happens, but just like the fans, I’m definitely glad hockey is back. It’s good to be back in the action.”