Only way to get the good, while protecting against the bad
The Montreal Canadiens will buy out Scott Gomez after this season. The future salary cap, combined with the $61M committed to just 16 skaters in 2013-14 will force their hand. The more interesting question is, what do the Habs do with number 11 this season?
Play him on the wing, and play him on the top-9.
Gomez's salary often blinds us to the point where we forget that he remains an NHL-calibre player. He still brings speed, and elite puck-carrying ability.
He ranked fourth on the Canadiens in offensive-zone risk/reward rating in 2011-12. He led the team in offensive-zone puck-possession plays per-minute played. He both attempted and completed more offensive-zone passes than any other player, while leading the team in success-rate when attempting to beat opposing players 1on1 in the offensive-zone (deke).
He also led the team in defensive-zone puck-possession success-rate. This means that Gomez was less likely than any other player to give the puck away in the defensive-zone. He also had the most attempted and completed defensive-zone dekes per-minute played, to give him the second-best defensive-zone success-rate when attempting to beat opposing players 1on1.
OK. So why the wing?
To limit the damage.
Gomez struggled defensively last season. He was successful with only 48.5% of his attempts to remove puck-possession from the opposition in the offensive-zone; ranking him 11th among Montreal forwards. Twelve other forwards averaged more blocked passes per-minute played than he did, while 10 other forwards had better defensive-zone ratios than he did.
At 41.5% and 61% respectively, he was last among forwards in both defensive-zone puck-battle winning percentage, and overall defensive success-rate in the defensive-zone.
Playing Gomez on the wing will limit his defensive responsibility, and by extension his defensive-zone events. Once Gomez has the puck in the defensive-zone, he can get the puck out; the numbers show this. The problem is, and will always be acquiring or removing possession from the opposition. As a winger, most of Gomez's d-zone events will occur after his defensemen or centre will have done the dirty work for him.
The emergence of Lars Eller and David Desharnais, combined with the existence of Tomas Plekanec leave no room for Gomez at centre; and this is a good thing. Moving him to left-wing gives the team another player with puck-possession skills in the top-9, while providing some semblance of offense behind Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, and Brian Gionta; not to mention the bonus of keeping Gomez away from down-low coverage in the defensive-zone.