January 26 2012 12:17PM
Poor Scott Gomez. From the website which asks the rhetorical question "Did Gomez score" to players naming him the 3rd most overrated player in hockey, it seems like there are a lot of hockey fans, players and media who don't appreciate his talent.
Yes, Scott Gomez is overpaid. Yes, Scott Gomez doesn't score goals. Yes, players who score $7M a year in salary should probably also score a few goals, but Gomez has never been known as a goal scorer. Just once in his career has he ever gone over 20.
In the summer, I wrote a post about how Gomez's scoring fortunes are likely to change. They haven't, naturally, but Kent Wilson in the comments made a terrific point:
"Gomez was forever ruined by that Sather contract. At least, the perception of Gomez."
I'm willing to accept that point, and say that Gomez, ruined in perception by his contract, is probably hockey's most underrated player, seen as so useless and overvalued that nobody recognizes his true talents, or his importance to the Montreal Canadiens.
What Scott Gomez is is a playmaker and a defensive forward. As noted by practically everybody all the time, he won't score goals, but he does have the highest first assists rate in the entire NHL. That's higher than Henrik Sedin and Claude Giroux, who are tied for the second spot and both are players who are generating Hart Trophy buzz.
Last night for Montreal's game against Detroit, the Bell Centre Brats booed Scott Gomez as he touched the puck for the first time. All Gomez did, is what he's done his entire career: he moved the puck forward, and, quite literally, banked the puck into the net off René Bourque.
I'm not exactly sure why Habs fans feel the need to boo Gomez. After all, with Scott Gomez in the lineup in the last two and a half years, the Habs have gone 90-87. Without Gomez over three years, they've gone 12-24. Whether the guy scores goals or not, there is quite possibly something that he does better than any player on that team.
Moving the Play north
Consider puck possession. One of the best stats for evaluating team performance is score-tied Team Fenwick rate (all shots at the net minus blocked shots for and again), a good measure of puck possession and an excellent predictor of future team success. Using data obtained via timeonice.com here, here, here, here and here, I filtered out the stretches of games that Scott Gomez missed this season.
I found that with Gomez in the lineup, the Canadiens have had a team possession rate with the score tied of 53.5%. Without him, it was 44.6%. Why is this important? Well, here's the overall team rank with Gomez in the lineup:
So the Habs go from one of the best possession teams with Scott Gomez in the lineup to one of the worst without.
With and Without You
While traditionalists may look down upon these advanced stats, keep in mind the old cliché "the only two numbers that matter are the ones that appear on the scoreboard". This season, in games with Gomez, the Habs at even strength have out-scored their opposition 39-31. Without, they've been out-scored 56-61. In the 19 games Montreal has played with Gomez, they've gone 8-11, which isn't great, but without, they've gone 11-19, which is way worse.
It's to easy to criticize a guy who lacks the "hockey card stats" of Scott Gomez, but he is a premier possession player in the NHL, who clearly has talents or, dare-I-say, intangibles that, for whatever reason, help Montreal control the puck and win hockey games.
Gomez sees favourable zone starts and his competition is below average, but the fact is that the guy also has a terrific possession rate, with a 54.3% score-tied Fenwick rate and he also leads the team in relative Corsi at 18.2 per 60 minutes (a number which is also 8th in the league).
He may not have talents appreciated in Montreal or by fans around the NHL who may be too caught up in hollow statistics such as goals or assists that don't paint a full picture. If he wasn't a terrific hockey player, Montreal wouldn't seem to always have the puck when he's on the ice, nor would Montreal be so much better objectively with him in the lineup as opposed to without.
UPDATE: The folk over at SB Nation's "Habs Eyes on The Prize" looked at a similar effect of Scott Gomez on the Montreal Canadiens' possession stats. Chris Boyle went very in-depth on December 7th was titled "Do The Habs Miss Their Most Useless Player?"