Devils' Gomez will be an unrestricted free agent in July

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Scott Gomez packed his equipment
and bid farewell to the Continental Airlines Arena and quite
possibly the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old freewheeling center who led the Devils in
scoring in the playoffs will become an unrestricted free agent in
July, and he clearly intends to test the market.

"We have gone this far, it would be foolish not to see what's
out there," Gomez said. "That doesn't mean anything. It doesn't
mean I am leaning one way or I don't want to be here. I have talked
to all the guys that have played here and gone through this. It's a
once in a lifetime opportunity."

Gomez went to arbitration last summer and was awarded a
one-year, $5 million deal.

After collecting 13 goals and 47 assists in the regular season,
and four goals and 10 assists in the postseason, Gomez can expect
even more next year.

General manager and coach Lou Lamoriello said that fitting Gomez
under the salary cap next year depends on a lot of variables he
would not discuss.

"There is no question we would like to have Scott back, but we
understand the situation he is in," Lamoriello said.

Loosely translated, the Devils had trouble with the salary cap
last year, and it will be even tougher next season if they give a
ton of money to Gomez.

A member of the Devils' 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup champions,
Gomez knows that could send him packing.

"I have been fortunate to win here," Gomez said. "I have
grown up here. I don't know anything else. I got two Stanley Cups.
I learned how to win. I learned commitment."

Staying with the Devils would let Gomez play for an organization
that has a shot at winning the Cup seemingly every season. The
negatives would be remaining in a system that is not as wide open
as he would like, and being on a top line that rarely goes head to
head with the opposition's No. 1 line.

Gomez refused to talk about those drawbacks before walking out
of the Continental Airlines Arena for what might be the final time.
The Devils are moving to the new Prudential Center in Newark next

"He is a great offensive player," Devils forward
Jay Pandolfo
said of Gomez. "He is great in the locker room and has been great
for the team for a long time. If you asked anyone on the team, they
would love to have him back."

Patrik Elias, the left wing on Gomez's line, said free agency
isn't fun. Last summer he got a six-year, $42 million deal to stay

"It was a stressful situation because there are a lot of teams,
and you have to make a quick decision," Elias said. "Do you go
ahead and explore the option or lose it? If you do make a decision,
how does it affect your life and hockey career?"

Gomez will get those answers in July.

"Guys who have gone through it think it's 'this big party,'"
Gomez said of free agency. "You want it to end as quick as

Lamoriello has six other unrestricted free agents to consider:
defensemen Brian Rafalski and Brad Lukowich; forwards
Erik Rasmussen, Mike Rupp and Jim Dowd; and goaltender
Scott Clemmensen.
Defensemen Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya are restricted free agents.

Lamoriello, who fired Claude Julien as coach and took over with
three games left in the regular season, said he has candidates for
the coaching job. He refused to discuss them.

Assistant coach John MacLean said he is interested, although he
has not spoken to Lamoriello about it.

On Monday, Lamoriello toured the Prudential Center and said the
Devils' new home, still under construction, is "well, well along"
and will be ready for next season.

In case of delays, Lamoriello said the team probably would ask
the league to open the season on the road.