Anchorage — Scott Gomez thought the Florida Panthers planned to announce his signing on Monday, but it didn't take him long Wednesday morning to understand the NHL club had already clicked send on a press release.
All it took was one glance at his cellphone.
"This morning I woke up to 43 text messages,'' Gomez said. "And I didn't think I'd done anything bad, so I figured they must have released it.''
Gomez, Alaska's most decorated and prolific-scoring NHLer -- two Stanley Cups, 701 career points, most among active American skaters -- signed a one-year, $900,000 deal with the Panthers, who are full of young players and looking for some inexpensive veteran leadership from the center.
At 33, Gomez will be entering his 15th season as a pro and 14th season in the NHL -- that one-season difference was because of the 2004-05 NHL lockout, when he played for the ECHL's Alaska Aces while the NHL lost a full season.
"I'm at the point now where it's about helping out the young guys, being a vocal guy in the room,'' Gomez said by cellphone while playing Wednesday afternoon at Eagleglen Golf Course.
After the Montreal Canadiens in January bought out the last two seasons of his seven-year, $51.5 million deal originally signed with the New York Rangers, Gomez played last season's truncated campaign with the San Jose Sharks on a one-year contract. Gomez said he and agent Ian Pulver talked to more than one NHL team this offseason, and he flew to Florida about a week ago to meet with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon.
"It got to the point where it was a couple teams, and I wanted to get it done,'' Gomez said. "They stepped up and wanted me. The fact that it's a young team and I know Dale -- this probably gives me the best opportunity to play.
"I still feel like I can play and contribute.''
In 941 career regular season games for the New Jersey Devils, Rangers, Canadiens and Sharks, Gomez has furnished 171-530--701 totals. The former Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year also has registered 29-72--101 totals in 149 playoff games.
Last season, Gomez went 2-13--15 in 39 games for San Jose, where he primarily logged third- and fourth-line duty and played on the second power-play unit.
Money wasn't an issue, Gomez said. He said he's handled his money smartly -- he has made roughly $60 million in salary in his NHL career -- "so it wasn't like I'm going to nickel-and-dime (Florida).''
With the Panthers, Gomez joins right wing Joey Crabb of Anchorage, who earlier this offseason signed a two-year, $1.2 million deal with the club. Gomez and Crabb were among four NHLers from Anchorage who played for the Aces last season until the lockout ended.
Four of the five Alaskans under NHL contract -- all five are from Anchorage -- will play the upcoming season for teams in Florida. Center Nate Thompson, who also played for the Aces last season, and defenseman Matt Carle play for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of bets going on,'' Gomez joked.
The other NHLer, winger Brandon Dubinsky, who was teammates with Gomez for the Rangers, plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Tallon, the Florida GM, said Gomez gives the Panthers depth and a player who can serve as a mentor, a role San Jose coach Todd McLellan last season said Gomez embraced.
"Scott is a veteran center who adds further depth to the middle of our line-up," Tallon said in a press release. "He is a quick and skilled forward, with a wealth of hockey experience including two Stanley Cup titles, who will be a leader for our younger players."
Gomez said he only recently begun to think about reaching 1,000 career regular-season games, and he's somewhat startled to find himself entering his 15th season in the play-for-pay game.
"It's still hard to fathom,'' he said. "I want to play. San Jose was great, but I've still got a lot of hockey in me.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Alaskans in the NHL
Player Position Team 2013-14 Salary
Matt Carle Defense Tampa Bay $5,750,000
Brandon Dubinsky Wing Columbus $4,650,000
Nate Thompson Center Tampa Bay $1,500,000
Scott Gomez Center Florida $900,000
Joey Crabb Wing Florida $600,000