Season of High Expectations

Scott Gomez enters the upcoming hockey season with a massive list of expectations around him. After being traded by the New York Rangers, Gomez enters the hockey mecca of Montreal with the pressure of being the highest paid player on the team at a cap hit of over $7 million per season. There is also the other issue of Gomez trying to make the upcoming USA Olympic team after having two subpar seasons the past few years with the New York Rangers.

For many players entering Montreal, there are many aspects of life that can be a bit intimidating for those who wear the Habs sweater. There is of course the influx of the French language, the upbeat nightlife, being recognized as a player at every restaurant and bar in town and of course the intense scrutiny from both the French and the English media.

If last year was any indication, there is also a sense of tabloid journalism that comes along with the Canadiens as well. The YouTube generation that we now live in led many fans to see some of the Canadiens players enjoying the endless bars and nightclubs that Montreal has to offer.

While images of players going out and having a drink may not that big story in other hockey markets, these images are nonetheless front page news in a place like Montreal. Gomez, along with the other newcomers to Montreal like Gionta and Cammalleri will have to be aware of the fact that there are always people watching you. Playing well however will help deflect any criticism that might be directed to the new faces in Montreal.

One way to endear yourself to the Montreal faithful is to try to make some attempts at becoming fluent in French. One example lies with current Habs GM Bob Gainey, who as a player in Montreal made sure he learned French and thus even saw himself become captain of the Canadiens. In this regard, Gomez is already gaining the acceptance of some of the fans as he arrived in Montreal well before the season began and is currently taking some French lessons in order to become better accustomed to his new surroundings.

Gomez has already displayed the odd French sentence here and there during media scrums in Montreal as well. While learning the language will be a benefit to Gomez, it is ultimately his play on the ice that will determine how he is received by those in Montreal. Like many hockey fans, those who cheer le bleu, blanc et rouge are not immune from booing their own players.

Goaltender Carey Price heard the cat calls from the crowd after the season ended to Boston and with Gomez slated to earn $8 million this season, he is the perfect candidate to hear some criticism from the fans. If Gomez is unable to surpass the 16 goals he scored with the Rangers last year, then one can surely expect the Bell Centre to be a hostile environment every time Gomez steps on the ice.

Yet another battle that Gomez will face this season is the chance he has of making the 2010 US Olympic team.

With a changing of the guard currently happening in USA hockey, names of the past like Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, and Keith Tkachuk are likely to be replaced by young players like Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler. At 29-years-old, Gomez fits in between this group of aging USA veterans and the youth movement that will characterize USA hockey teams in the years to come.

U.S.A. hockey GM Brian Burke has indicated that a player like Gomez will have to crack the first two lines of the team is he is going to represent the United States at the Olympics. If Gomez is going to make the squad, he will we have to be put in a scoring role and not in the position of a third or fourth line checking center.

When Scott Gomez signed a 7-year contract at over $50 million with the Rangers in 2007, there were many in the hockey world and the media alike who were very critical of the deal. Unfortunately for Gomez, he has not met the expectations associated with a contract of such as significant magnitude. However, Gomez remains in the early stages of his contract and now has an opportunity to prove his worth in one of best hockey markets on the planet.

The fact that Gomez is embracing his new surroundings in Montreal must be commended but it will ultimately be his play on the ice that will determine how he is received.
With fan favourites like Koivu and Kovalev out of Montreal, it will be new acquisitions like Gomez, Cammalleri and Gionta who will likely carry the torch for the Habs in the next few years.

A good start to the season will allow Gomez to increase his chances of making the United States Olympic team and downplay some of the endless criticism that he has endured since signing his lengthy contract a few years ago.

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