The Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers have swung a significant trade ahead of free agency.
The Canadiens confirmed Tuesday that they sent forward Chris Higgins and defencemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko to the New York Rangers for speedy and highly skilled forward Scott Gomez, forward Tom Pyatt and defenceman Mike Busto.
"We're extremely pleased to have acquired a player of the calibre of Scott Gomez," Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey said. "He is an outstanding playmaker and an excellent skater."
Gomez has five years remaining on the seven-year, $51.5-million US contract he signed July 1, 2007, but Higgins will be a restricted free agent when NHL free agency opens Wednesday at noon ET.
"It gives us a lot more options, more availability to do other things," said Rangers president and GM Glen Sather, who is rumoured to be interested in Ottawa Senators sniper Dany Heatley.
"We're not up against the cap now. "We have got lots of cap room."
"That is the business," Gomez noted. "It is a little sad.
"But at the same time, I'm a little excited. It [Montreal] is the mecca of hockey."
'Scott is a very good player'
Gomez, 29, is locked up through 2013-14, with a salary cap hit of $7.35 million US annually.
He tallied 16 goals in each of his two seasons with the Rangers, and tied Nikolai Zherdev for the team lead with 58 points last season — his lowest offensive output since 2002-03.
"Scott is a very good player," Sather said. "He is a real good guy.
"He works hard. He was exceptional with the team and in the dressing room.
"I have no complaints about him. I think he is a terrific guy and he is going to do well in Montreal."
Gomez has totalled 148 goals and 578 points in 706 NHL games since he was drafted 27th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 1998.
"Having won the Stanley Cup twice with the New Jersey Devils, he brings to our team a lot of playoff experience," Gainey said. "Scott is an elite player."
Gomez's arrival in Montreal likely spells the departure of captain Saku Koivu, one of 10 skaters on the Canadiens eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Koivu, a smallish centre similar to Gomez, has yet to receive an offer from Montreal.
Higgins hampered by injury problems
Higgins is a three-time 20-goal scorer with 84 goals and 151 points in 282 games over five NHL seasons, all with the Canadiens.
But the 26-year-old was hampered by groin and shoulder problems last season, and finished with career lows in goals (12), assists (11), points (23) and games played (57).
Higgins was selected 14th overall by Montreal in the 2002 NHL draft.
As for Pyatt, he played 73 games for the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack last season, while Busto played for the Charlotte Checkers of the East Coast Hockey League.