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Scott Gomez expulsion: Grounds for NHLPA grievance?

By Eric Macramalla | Sports Lawyer

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Scott Gomez. (Getty Images)

In my recent article “Canadiens Have No Choice But To Part Ways With Gomez” I wrote that the Montreal Canadiens simply do not have the cap space to accommodate Scott Gomez and his $7.357 million cap hit next season.

With $60.2 million already allocated to just 16 players next season (including Gomez), that leaves just $4.1 million to sign seven players. That's an average of $585,000 per player. And this doesn't include P.K. Subban, who hasn't been signed yet.

Getting rid of the Gomez cap hit would give the Canadiens much needed breathing room, dropping the team's salary cap hit from $60.2 million to $52.843 million.

Next season the Canadiens have the option of using one of their two amnesty buyouts on Gomez. The other option would have been to trade Gomez to a cap-hungry team looking to make the salary floor. Given that Gomez's actual salary next season is $2.8 million less than his cap hit ($4.5 million vs. $7.357 million), a cap-hungry team may have found him to be an attractive option given the net gain on his salary.

That was the thinking for next season.

However, the Canadiens beat everyone to the punch. The club announced Sunday that it advised Gomez he would not be playing this season. Rather, he was being sent home with pay ($5.5 million for this season). A team can't buyout an injured player, so the Canadiens were concerned Gomez would suffer an injury, which would preclude the team from buying him out next season.

The bottom line: Gomez was sent home so the Canadiens could preserve their option to use an amnesty buyout next season. He's effectively being bubble-wrapped.

So for the NHLPA and Gomez's agent, Ian Pulver, the issue becomes whether they will challenge the move by way of a grievance (arbitration).

It would not be unreasonable for the NHLPA to grieve the expulsion of Gomez. Contract law obligations flow both ways. Part of that includes providing Gomez the reasonable opportunity to discharge the services he has been contracted to provide. In part, the NHLPA could argue sending home a perfectly healthy player with no off-ice issues simply with a view to preserving an amnesty buyout is not in keeping with the spirit of the contract. The NHLPA could say Gomez is being banished not because he failed to discharge his contractual obligations, but simply because of newly implemented system issues.

As well, a full season off could adversely impact Gomez's market value next season. He won't be able to showcase his talents and his skills may erode. That could affect his ability to get a new deal next season.

The NHLPA may also remind the Canadiens that if Gomez suffers a serious injury he could be placed on long-term injured reserve. If that were the case, his salary would not count against the cap.

So the Canadiens sending Gomez home is certainly not without risk.

Eric Macramalla is a partner at a Canadian national law firm and also a sports legal analyst and sports lawyer. You can follow him on Twitter at @EricOnSportsLaw, and his sports law blog is located at www.OffsideSportsLaw.com.

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