Commentary

Gomez trade = cap space = Heatley?

Updated: June 30, 2009, 7:40 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Perhaps this is the domino that starts the frenzy of the free-agency period in the NHL.

The movement of center Scott Gomez and his whopper contract (five more years at an annual cap hit of $7.36 million) from Manhattan to the Montreal Canadiens opens the door for the New York Rangers to add another impact forward.

Chris Higgins, who comes from Montreal in the Gomez deal, will be a nice addition -- assuming the Rangers can sign him. The 26-year-old had three straight 20-goal campaigns before injury limited him to 12 goals in 57 games last season.

But the real bonus for the Rangers is in clearing Gomez's salary.

Does this give the Rangers enough room to acquire disgruntled Ottawa forward Dany Heatley? The Rangers would still like someone, presumably Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, to take Michal Rozsival and his $5 million cap hit or Wade Redden off their hands.

But by trading Gomez, the Rangers are a big step closer to bringing in the impact scorer they covet. If not Heatley, perhaps New York will take a run at Marian Gaborik -- or Marian Hossa if Hossa declines a long-term deal from Detroit at a smaller price tag than he likely will receive on the market starting Wednesday afternoon.

As for the Canadiens, they now have two skilled centers in Tomas Plekanec and Gomez, although both saw their numbers decline dramatically last season over those of 2007-08.

With new coach Jacques Martin, notorious for his emphasis on defensive hockey, Gomez could rediscover the comfort zone he had in New Jersey, where he won two Stanley Cups and was considered an elite playmaker. His arrival in Montreal suggests GM Bob Gainey won't be looking at bringing back either Robert Lang or captain Saku Koivu, two centers set to become unrestricted free agents.

Now, Gainey has to find some wingers to put the puck in the net for Gomez, something that didn't happen in New York, where Gomez had just 58 points last season. He had a career-best 84 in 2005-06. Gomez's acquisition might prompt Gainey to make an extra effort to return enigmatic winger Alexei Kovalev.

One other implication of the Gomez acquisition? It should put to bed the notion that Vincent Lecavalier, another skilled center, would be coming to Montreal from Tampa Bay, where his contract extension and no-trade clause will go into effect July 1. Unless, of course, the Habs plan to flip Gomez.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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