SAN JOSE- When San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson signed Scott Gomez shortly after this season began, the hope was to revive the career of a once-stellar set-up man. But the veteran center struggled out of the gate of his Sharks tenure and was quickly in the proverbial dog house of head coach Todd McLellan.
One would of thought a player of Gomez’s stature, a player whose recent primary assist rates still ranked amongst the best set-up men in hockey (despite not living up to his big contract), would have gotten a bigger benefit of the doubt from the coaching staff. Not to mention current Sharks associate coach Larry Robinson coached Gomez during his prime years with the New Jersey Devils.
Shockingly, and in a move that befuddles yours truly to this day, the Sharks staff scratched Gomez in three out of four games in late February with just eight games under his belt. In his place were such players like Matt Pelech.
If you’re asking yourself who is Matt Pelech? Nobody would blame you. He’s a former 2005 first round pick who had appeared in just five NHL games prior to this year, all coming during the 2008-09 campaign with the Calgary Flames.
If you were to ask me, even a struggling Gomez gives the club a better chance to win than the best efforts from a guy of Pelech’s caliber. But for whatever reason, the Sharks felt otherwise.
Recently however, Gomez has gotten back to playing on a nightly basis and he’s reaping the benefits of finally getting comfortable in his surroundings.
With his power play assist in San Jose’s 4-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings on Thursday, Gomez now has five points in his last six games. He’s playing some great hockey in the third line center role we all thought he would fill when he was first brought in.
“I’ve played against Gomer a lot in New Jersey, I always thought he was a real competitive guy, skates real well and sees the ice real well,” commented Sharks captain Joe Thornton. “So [at the time he signed] I thought we were getting an elite center and [that he's] definitely going to help out this squad and he is.”
“Yeah he’s a skilled player,” confirmed Logan Couture referring to Gomez. “He’s been on the power-play, [he's] good through the middle. When we got him we all said he’s gonna help us and that’s what he’s doing.”
Had Gomez not been a healthy scratch, it is this writer’s opinion that the two-time All Star, Stanley Cup champion and U.S. Olympian would have found his game much sooner. And in the compressed schedule, with every little detail so magnified, scratching Gomez may have cost San Jose some ground in the standings.
After the victory Thursday coach McLellan talked about what Gomez has done better in his current hot stretch that he wasn’t doing early.
“He’s skating more [than he was], he’s more involved in the middle of the rink, he’s not playing on the outside. He’s another one who seems to be enjoying himself a little bit more now, consistently playing night in and night out, having some consistent linemates has certainly helped him. But he’s skating and playing on the inside of the rink, not just playing on the exterior.”
The definition of a set-up man, Gomez has always had the ability to dish the puck. And despite the way things ended in Montreal, most believed Gomez still had the skill to be an extremely effective NHL player. He may no longer be a $7 million per year player at this stage of his career, but he’s proving to the hockey world he can still produce at a high level.
As McLellan noted, Gomez is using his skating ability to generate offensively and his tremendous on ice awareness has allowed him to keep numerous pucks alive for wingers James Sheppard and Tommy Wingels.
Simply put, the biggest question facing the Sharks before and during this season has been where will the secondary scoring come from? And as of late Gomez is starting to deliver the answer with an resounding “me.”