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Gomez goes - to Canadiens

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / July 1, 2009
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July 1 - free agency day - is one of the NHL’s most exciting days, especially for fans who look at life through the prism of a rotisserie league. They swap players they don’t own, spend money guilt-free and without need of accountability, and book their seat in the lead float at the Stanley Cup parade.

All of which is the way the Rangers have gone about business in recent years. Throw money, lots of it, and see what sticks. They took that approach two years ago today with Scott Gomez, tossing the former Devil $51.5 million across seven years to cross the Hudson and be their franchise pivot. Yesterday, after watching him average a lackluster 64 points in his two years on Broadway, the Blueshirts shoveled Gomez to the Canadiens as part of a deal that brought ex-Yalie Chris Higgins to the Rangers.

Once a cornerstone of the franchise, Gomez became one of the sport’s all-time salary dumps (nearly akin to the Rangers once assuming Jaromir Jagr from the Capitals). Not the expected legacy. For the Rangers, the rotisserie turned into a roast.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens ended up with Gomez as their booby prize center. They have been chasing homeboy superstar Vincent Lecavalier for months, and they believed as recently as Friday afternoon, before the start of the draft, that they would be able to swing a trade that likely would have had goalie Carey Price, defenseman Andrei Markov, and a pair of first-round draft picks headed to Tampa.

One source with firsthand knowledge of the dynamics in the Tampa front office said it was co-owner Len Barrie who blocked the move, opting to keep the 29-year-old pivot on the job as the Bolts’ franchise centerpiece. As of 12:01 a.m. today, Lecavalier’s new deal, a no-trade pact worth $85 million over the next 11 years, officially made its way onto the Lightning’s books. Now he can’t be traded - at least until the next upheaval in the front office sends a tailored suit scurrying to Lecavalier’s stall in the dressing room, looking for him to waive his no-trade clause.

The Rangers no doubt would have been big players in a deal for Lecavalier, especially once Gomez was dumped. Now they’ll likely go after either sniper Dany Heatley, who wants out of Ottawa, or Marian Hossa, who looks as if his stay in Detroit will end after one season now that the Winged Wheels have run out of room for deals of $5 million or more. The path paved in cash has to end somewhere, even in Hockeytown. The Blueshirts no doubt had interest in Heatley, who would not waive his no-trade clause to be shipped to Edmonton last night, according to tsn.ca. The Senators tried to deal him for Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, and Ladislav Smid.

The Flames on Saturday gave up Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick for the rights to Jay Bouwmeester, now ex- of the Florida Panthers. The move allowed Calgary an exclusive window to try to convince the Edmonton-born defenseman to sign there, and last night they locked him up for a reported five years and $33 million - an average of $6.6 million per season.

The biggest stars on the market could be the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. Recent reports out of Vancouver had their agent, J.P. Barry, seeking a package deal of $126 million payable over 12 years (slightly more than $5 million per season per twin).

Ex-Bruin forward Mike “Dobie’’ Gillis, now Vancouver’s GM, flew from the weekend draft in Montreal to Stockholm to present the Sedins a new offer. As of yesterday, according to a report on tsn.ca, Barry only would say the Sedins would consider it. If they don’t sign there, look for the Canadiens, Kings, or Leafs to land the prized offensive duet.

The Bruins aren’t expected to be bidders today, but that was their posture last July 1, too, until they got into a protracted back-and-forth with Michael Ryder. With the Canucks also bidding for his services, despite the fact he was coming off a season in which he scored only 14 goals, Ryder scored a three-year, $12 million deal to come to Boston.

By the eye of Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, a shrinking economy and a flat salary cap (up only $100,000 over last year), should yield some bargains in the next 24 hours.

If so, a player of Ryder’s caliber might attract bids of, say, 25-30 percent below last year’s levels. Such a precipitous fall could prompt Chiarelli into “buy’’ mode, especially if there is a competent two-way defenseman to be had in the $3 million-$4 million range.

One name that sticks out as a possibility is veteran backliner Jaroslav Spacek, 35, who just finished a three-year hitch in Buffalo that paid him $10 million. The Czech-born Spacek, who has an accurate and heavy slapper, collected 98 points and was a plus-29 in three years with the Sabres. He could play in Boston’s top four, perhaps even as Zdeno Chara’s partner, and a two-year deal might only cost the Bruins something around $5 million. Not a long-term fix, but a strong and competent addition for a club that struggled down the playoff stretch first and foremost because of injuries behind the blue line.

When I asked Chiarelli during a conference call yesterday where he would spend money if he had plenty of cap room, he said he would attempt to acquire an impact defenseman, a No. 1 or 2, someone able to log a lot of minutes (read: 20-24 per night). Before this season, Spacek averaged 21:44 over a dozen seasons, and led all Sabres in average ice time last season with 22:16. Not only could Chiarelli add him at what likely would be a modest price, but he also would weaken a divisional opponent. Steve Freyer, who represented Ray Bourque over two decades, is Spacek’s agent.

The bidding begins today, roughly 90 days before the puck drops on a new season. Clubs are allowed to run their payrolls 10 percent over the cap, to $62.48 million, during the summer, but must be no higher than the $56.8 million ceiling by opening night.

Chiarelli, patient and conservative by nature, yesterday didn’t sound as if he were willing to toy with the short-term override.

“It’s a dangerous way to do it,’’ he said, “with the market the way it is, and the glut of players out there.’’

And, as the Rangers have shown, there’s nothing more dangerous than spending it on the wrong players.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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