Scott Gomez created many highlights while a member of the New Jersey Devils from 1999 to 2007. He had so much success that it earned him a big contract from the New York Rangers as a free agent, a seven-year deal. So not only did Gomez leave, he went to the team's biggest rival. Aside from his first year with New York, the native Alaskan’s career has been in precipitous decline since.
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Gomez is being given a lifeline, however, and it’s from the organization that gave him his start and turned him into a star. The Prodigal Son is returning to the Devils on a tryout according to Tom Gulitti of the Record. Gomez will have to work in camp and attempt to earn himself a contract.
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"Scotty and I met a couple of times and he still has the desire to play and he would like to try," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said today. "I encouraged him that if that's what he'd like to do, he'd be given every opportunity.”
Gomez will look to follow the similar path to Petr Sykora, who attended the Devils' 2011 training camp as a tryout and ended up earning a contract.
Gomez admitted there were times during last season when he wasn’t playing that he thought he might retire, but when he got the chance to play near the end of the season he realized he was still capable of playing in the league and still wanted to play.
“There were other opportunities and I had some other offers on the other side of it, in TV and stuff like that, but no,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot to prove. I still want to play. There’s a lot of hockey left. I talked to so many guys that I played with. There’s still a lot to prove. For whatever reason, last year didn’t work out. I had some other teams call, but we went to Lou and I just said, ‘Give me the opportunity to make the team.’ We talked, obviously and he wanted to know where I was at and I just said, ‘I want to come back. It’s still there. No one’s writing my script. I’ve got a lot to prove.’
“And he gave me the tryout and now it’s my job to make him keep me.”
The 34-year-old center spent last season with the Florida Panthers. He was in and out of the lineup for a lot of the year and managed just 12 points in 46 games. The last few years have been generally unkind to the former Calder Trophy winner.
The Rangers traded Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens in 2009 and that deal has lived on in infamy due to the fact that it led to the Habs dealing Ryan McDonagh as part of the trade. McDonagh went on to become a top defenseman, while Gomez became more of a punchline when his scoring went south in Montreal.
He was eventually bought out by the Canadiens and signed a free-agent deal with the San Jose Sharks for the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He played more of a fourth-line role, but had 15 points in 39 games.
While with the Panthers last season, Gomez found himself on the wrong side of the age curve as the team looked to get their younger players more reps. It wasn't until late in the season that he earned more playing time as injuries piled up for the Cats. Being a frequent healthy scratch for one of the league's worst teams was hardly a vote of confidence for the veteran of 14 NHL seasons.
Now Gomez will be fighting to keep his career going in a camp that has a lot of NHL-caliber players under contract for next season. The Devils are heavier on wings than they are down the middle though, so Gomez has a fighting chance.
Perhaps returning to the franchise that gave him his first NHL home and seven really great years that included two Stanley Cups will energize Gomez. He has 450 points in a Devils uniform over 548 career games with the club, but he seems a long ways away from that player anymore.
There are many solid wings on New Jersey’s roster presently, so Gomez’s history of being a strong set-up man could aid him as he looks to earn a deal from his former club. Knowing that Petr Sykora was able to make an NHL comeback at 35 and be a big contributor to the Devils in 2011-12 gives Gomez something to shoot for. Also of some comfort, have proven over the years to give the benefit of the doubt to one of "their own."
This development may give Devils fans some mixed feelings considering how Gomez left the club, but after the team finished 27th in goal scoring last year, adding a veteran playmaker might help. Of course, if Gomez doesn’t regain a little magic and that offensive touch, the addition won’t mean much.
It’s a no-risk situation for the Devils and at the very least, worth a shot.