Is Scott Gomez hockey's most underrated? (Yes)

Cam Charron
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:

Rank Team Fenwick Rate
3 Pittsburgh 54.9%
4 Chicago 53.9%
5 Montreal 53.5%
6 San Jose 52.6%
7 Boson 52.4%

And without:

Rank Team Fenwick Rate
26 Buffalo 46.7%
27 Anaheim 46.0%
28 Montreal 44.6%
29 Nashville 44.3%
30 Minnesota 43.7%

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?"

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Kent Wilson
January 26 2012, 12:20PM
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Really good points Cam. I probably still wouldn't take Gomez at his price point but if the Canadiens ever did the re-entry waivers thing I would demand the Flames scoop him up.

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#2 Danny Gray
January 26 2012, 12:44PM
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@Kent Wilson

They are, but I don't know if it makes him "underrated" maybe you could say- "not deserving of the scorn heaped upon him" or "under-appreciated".

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#3 MathMan
January 26 2012, 01:35PM
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Habs' cumulative scoring chance differential chart, all situations, up to the Capitals game:

Data collated based on Olivier's inestimable work, who should get all the credit, not me just punching them in a spreadsheet.

The grey areas represent Gomez's two injuries, the turquoise line the Perry Pearn firing, the red line the Jacques Martin firing.

Losing Gomez and his ability to outpossess second toughs really hurt the Habs, as they didn't have a strong second pairing to make up for it due to Markov's eternal recovery setbacks. This forced them to overtax Plekanec, throw Eller into the fire too early and build their strategy around giving Desharnais super-offensive minutes.

It's not just losing Gomez's puck possession that hurt, it's what his absence did to the rest of the lineup.

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#4 MathMan
January 26 2012, 01:36PM
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Image link for previous post: http://i40.tinypic.com/2mevhxt.png

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#6 Stephan Cooper
January 26 2012, 02:05PM
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The centermen isn't the biggest issue. Eller is sufficiently good to take 2nd toughs if properly supported and there aren't many centers that beat Plekanec defensively.

Its the complete lack of a second pairing without Markov that kills them when they don't have Gomez. Gorges-Subban can only backstop 1 line at a time.

Also Gomez leads to many more offensive zone faceoffs which leads to more ozone time for Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole which leads to events for Montreal.

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#7 A. Bates
January 26 2012, 03:11PM
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Nice post, I guess you could call him under-ratted defensively. Unfortunately, for him, because of his contract over-rated offensively. I get good laughs about it though.

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#8 MathMan
January 26 2012, 03:37PM
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Cam: It comes from having two sophomore centermen. Desharnais is really very good at what he does, but he can't do what Gomez does. Eller someday will, but that day is not now (it might come as early as next year, though). Plekanec is great, but he can't play 30 minutes. Tough-minutes centers don't grow on trees. That's why the Habs acquired Gomez in the first place, in a move that was universally panned...

They might have been able to paper over Gomez's loss better if Markov had actually been back in the lineup when expected, but lack of Gomez exposed their lack of a second pairing (again, having two rookies and two sophomores back there will do that to you). With their forwards healthy they could do well even when they had to dress their eleventh D-man at some point, but you can't afford to be shallow simultaneously at C and at D (especially with your PP shooting blanks). The loss of Gomez for most of the season likely killed them more than any of the things that went wrong this year, and there were several.

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#9 Olivier
January 26 2012, 04:29PM
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The interesting aspect of Gomez's salary is that he's now entering the "hot air" part of his deal, being on the books for 5,5 and 4,5m in the last two seasons of his contract.

To a team always spending to the cap such as the habs, it isn't terribly nice, but pretty much any team not doing so can afford to see him as a 5mil/year player for the next two seasons. You look at the next FA crop of centers, look at Gomez and buddy is, I think, far from "unmoveable".

That being said, I wish they'd keep him. Plekanec/Gomez/Bourque is an intresting defensive option (even tough it seems Cunneyworth uses them as a defensive line on the road only).

I'm sure René Bourque, for one, doesn't want him to go :).

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#10 Stephan Cooper
January 26 2012, 05:28PM
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While he's pretty valuable possession-wise, I doubt Montreal can really afford to keep him next year in their salary structure, with both Subban and Price getting raises and the need to maintain winger depth by retaining Kostitsyn or equivalent and fixing the 2nd pairing issue. While Scott has value, he still doesn't have good value for money.

Maybe they could do it if they get rid of Kaberle without taking on salary or if Markov is a permanent LTIR player. Or if the cap has another major bump upwards.

I could see a team like Phoenix that doesn't care about the caphit, has difficulty getting free agents and starved for center talent taking him on. Same with Winnipeg. Also the Islanders who seem to be always looking for ways to make the floor without spending real money are a possibility.

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#11 Marc Fortier
January 26 2012, 08:22PM
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@Kent Wilson

Having worked as journalist and desk editor for more than 30 years in a daily newspaper, it is nice to read an article from a young journalist who took the time to research and make a point you don't see or hear in the mainstream media.

Excellent story young man.

Keep up the good work.

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#12 Jsn212
January 27 2012, 10:58AM
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I do agree with the article about his pass first mentality and defensive play but the sticking point has to be, who else could the Habs have considered for $7 million a year? Not saying they were available but lets look at some comparibles in salary at least using capgeek.com:

Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar, Eric Staal, Marian Gaborik, Drew Doughty etc.

ummm ouch!

(p.s. keep up the good work, great article, made me think more about the player instead of the salary, he would definitely be a good fit elsewhere)

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#13 Jeff
January 27 2012, 02:12PM
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Cam for Prime Minister!

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#14 Topher
January 27 2012, 03:47PM
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As a Rangers fan, I witnessed a few years of Gomez here.

He definitely does not deserve all the scorn BUT I can also say that Gomez is the rare case where somebody can be overrated by advanced stats.

His possession skills ARE top notch, Gomez' problem is nothing results of it; too many times I've seen him gather the puck behind the net, gain a head of steam blow past 2 defenders enter the zone, circle back, look around, wait...wait.. and....pass the puck into traffic, or give it away or seeing no options just put one in the goalies chest.

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#15 habs
January 27 2012, 05:37PM
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And his cap hit is 5 million next year ! So that will make him a good deal or trade-able

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#16 charles6767
January 28 2012, 06:28AM
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The reason Gomez is booed in Montreal is because he is more of a negative to the team than a positive. Cherry picking a couple of stats in which Gomez does well does not prove that he is underrated. Most people place a value on a player by his price tag. At the end of the day, is Gomez worth his contract to the Canadiens? Euh, no. It is not his rate of first assists or how he helps puck possession that are important, it is how many points per dollar he costs? Not only how many he is generating but how many is he to blame for? Add those up I would bet the cost is pretty high, maybe the highest in the league, for this year and several consecutive years. I believe that is how the average fan, pretending to be the manager of his beloved team, judges a player. You cost x amount of dollars, you are expected to produce (or help produce) y amount of points, period. And then when that does not happen, you say, how could that GM have been so stupid than to buy that player? And in this case, the GM is likely on his way out because his mistakes are adding up, unless he can turn it around before play off time and in a big way.

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#17 The Keystone Garter
January 28 2012, 02:04PM
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Wow, 1st assist? A stat tracking who most recently passed the puck to goal scorer? If so is an amazing stat; should be a separate stat way more important than the other often gifted assist. Gomez had a good playoff run a few years back. If they would've made the Cup Finals certainly worth $7M/yr. Habs had trouble, like Oilers overpaying Souray, attracting FAs. The problem is as soon as Markov got injury prone playoffs became not a given. The Habs shouldn't have shed so many D. Gomez would've been ideal for Caps pre-Backstrom. I like that T.Thomas has his own style. Is smaller and fast recovery. And hockey players used their egos to fight the Cold-War in 1972 and 1976 Canada Cups. I think Kharlamov mouthed that "at least he can sleep with Russian women". He was the only one able to acknowledge it is nice to have groceries. But it really doesn't make sense for an athlete, especially a hockey player, to be GOP. Hockey will suck in the future if only indoor rinks. Gretzky really did practice wrist shot in backyard rink. So no future Gretz (he'd be Gomez with D-vision). And GOPers would lock up many pro-athletes in prisons for life. Especially the Celtics. When goaltending becomes maximizing surface area, need smaller equipment. When it becomes about maximizing velocity of body to cover an open part of net, then is fun to watch, like T.Thomas does.

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#18 MathMan
January 30 2012, 08:02AM
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@charles6767

What's important is not points per dollar, that's completely silly, or else Carey Price would be a worthless player. Points are a very shallow way to evaluate players, too.

What's important is how many *WINS* the guy brings to the team. And Gomez helps the Habs win. They actually floundered without him.

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#19 Naahhhh
February 03 2012, 12:04PM
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This is Scout Gomez this season: 21 games 0 goal 7 assists -3 on the ice

He never play in penality kill but he play in power play.

He is good to pass and play in the middle ice, he go in the zone and drop the puck and run away. Every time the puck is in a corner, he wont go, if he is there, he wont get it. But he is never because he look scare to get hit on the ice so he never battle for the puck.

7 millions for 7 assists, that's what Gomez did for Montreal this season. Not saying his team is better, but he is sure not the futur for the habs.

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#20 tweegy
February 04 2012, 04:30PM
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Shame on you Gomez !!!

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#21 tweegy
February 04 2012, 05:05PM
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Shame on you Gomez !!!

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#22 tweegy
February 04 2012, 05:25PM
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gomez, shame on you !!! ouach !!!

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