After much histrionics and nattering from their fans, the Montreal Canadiens have finally nabbed the top-line centre they've long coveted - but his jersey won't read Lecavalier.
Habs general manager Bob Gainey engineered a trade for New York Rangers playmaker Scott Gomez last night, sending winger Christopher Higgins and highly touted defensive prospect Ryan McDonagh the other way as part of a package involving seven players.
The deal should probably be seen as a beginning rather than an end as both teams are expected to be active when the free-agent market opens at noon EDT Wednesday.
With Gomez's hefty $8-million (all figures U.S.) salary off the books, New York GM Glen Sather likely has the manoeuvring room to go after disillusioned Ottawa Senators sniper Dany Heatley - who has also piqued the Edmonton Oilers' interest - or Minnesota Wild free agent Marian Gaborik.
"Since this deal has happened, I've had three calls. It doesn't take very long for people to recognize that you're going to make some changes," Sather said Tuesday night.
Sources said the Senators were still fielding offers for Heatley - he is due a $4-million bonus payment Wednesday, and GM Bryan Murray has threatened to ignore his trade demand if forced to shell it out - but as of press time, no deal had been made.
With Gainey's pursuit of Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Vincent Lecavalier effectively at an end, the Montreal GM can concentrate on signing players like impending free agents Alex Tanguay and Alex Kovalev, who was offered a contract last weekend.
Because Gainey still has roughly $21-million worth of salary cap space to play with - factoring in contract offers to five restricted free agents and Gomez's salary - he might even be able to afford pairing Gomez with a free agent triggerman like Martin Havlat, Marian Hossa or Gaborik.
More likely still is an improved offer to rugged defenceman Mike Komisarek, whose agent confirmed that his client will dip his toe in the free-agent market Wednesday.
Gainey's main concern Tuesday night was lauding the merits of the newest Canadien.
"We are extremely pleased to have acquired a player of the calibre of Scott Gomez. He is an outstanding playmaker and an excellent skater. Having won the Stanley Cup twice with the New Jersey Devils, he brings to our team a lot of playoff experience. Scott is an elite player who will certainly contribute to the success of our team for years to come," Gainey said in a statement issued by the team.
Though the speedy Gomez is a perennial all-star, he had a subpar season in 2008-09, notching only 16 goals and 58 points.
At an annual salary cap hit of more than $7.35-million for each of the next five seasons, the 29-year-old doesn't come cheap.
Nor would Gomez, at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, appear to be the remedy for an undersized centre-ice corps.
Gomez does have ample international and playoff experience, and a sterling injury record, having missed only 32 games in his nine-year NHL career. And as a setup specialist, Gomez is a younger, stouter version of outgoing Habs captain Saku Koivu, who is expected to sign elsewhere, possibly in Minnesota, when he becomes a free agent Wednesday.
A native of Alaska, Gomez has scored 148 goals and 578 points in 706 career games for the Devils and Rangers.
Higgins, who topped the 20-goal plateau in his first three seasons in Montreal but slipped to just 12 last year, has 84 goals and 151 points in 282 games.
Higgins, who began the year on Montreal's top line but ended the season with the fourth-liners, was stunned by the trade, telling The Associated Press "I heard my name thrown around ever since I've played in Montreal. You never think it's actually going to happen. You always think it's just somebody in the Montreal media making something up."
The Long Island-born 26-year-old said he's thrilled at returning home.
"If there was one place I would play besides Montreal, it would be with the Rangers in front of my family and friends," he said, adding "I know what the Rangers fans are all about. I know they are very hard on their players, and I expect no different than the last four years I had in Montreal."
In addition to Higgins and McDonagh - both former first-round draft picks - the Rangers picked up the rights for Russian defenceman Pavel Valentenko and journeyman blueliner Doug Janik, who becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Montreal also acquired minor-leaguers Michael Busto, a defenceman, and Tom Pyatt, a 20-year-old forward.