NEW YORK (AP) — Scott Gomez’s brief New York tenure ended Tuesday when the star center was traded by the Rangers to the Montreal Canadiens as part of a six-player deal.

The key player coming back to New York is forward Chris Higgins, a Long Island native who is set to become a restricted free agent. The deal was announced one day before the NHL’s free-agent shopping season opens Wednesday.

New York had been looking to clear space under the NHL salary cap and cut out a major contract that still has five years and $33.5 million left on it. The cap hit on Gomez’s deal is $7.35 million.

“We’re not up against the cap now,” Rangers general manager Glen Sather said of the $56.8 million payroll ceiling for the upcoming season. “We’ve got lots of cap room. It just makes the options more inviting for us. I am not sure what is going to happen.

“It gives us some options tomorrow when free agency comes along and I think there is going to be quite a few options available.”

Ottawa Senators forward Dany Heatley, a natural goal scorer, has asked to be traded and could possibly land in New York. Forwards Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik are also attractive options that could be available on the free-agent market Wednesday.


“Since this deal has happened, I’ve had three calls,” Sather said of potential trades. “It doesn’t take very long for people to recognize that you’re going to make some changes.”

Gomez was sent to Montreal with minor leaguers Tom Pyatt, a forward, and defenseman Mike Busto. Along with Higgins, the Rangers received defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko from the Canadiens.

Gomez never really found his stride in New York after leaving the New Jersey Devils as a free agent two summers ago. He is signed through the 2013-14 season, but is coming off a disappointing year in which he had 58 points — his fewest since he had 55 during the 2002-03 campaign with New Jersey.

After winning two Stanley Cup titles with the Devils, Gomez was part of the Rangers’ rebuilding program when he signed his big deal the same day fellow center Chris Drury left the Buffalo Sabres for a lucrative contract with New York.

“He is an outstanding playmaker and an excellent skater,” Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey said in a statement. “He brings to our team a lot of playoff experience. Scott is an elite player who will certainly contribute to the success of our team for years to come.”

Gomez had 16 goals and 54 assists in his first season with the Rangers and 16 goals and 42 assists last season.


“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’s a terrific guy and he’s going to do well in Montreal.”

Higgins, a 26-year-old forward from Smithtown, N.Y., is also coming off a sub-par season. He had a career-worst 23 points — including 12 goals — last season. He played in only 57 games due to injuries that knocked him out of the lineup several times. Higgins scored at least 20 goals in the previous three seasons, his first three full campaigns in the NHL.

While he is unsigned, Higgins will still come at a cheaper cost than Gomez. He earned $1.7 million in his final season with Montreal. In 282 NHL games, all with the Canadiens, Higgins has 84 goals and 67 assists.

“I didn’t expect to be traded,” he said. “I heard my name thrown around ever since I’ve played in Montreal. You never think it’s actually going to happen. You always think it’s just somebody in the Montreal media making something up.

“When it happened, I was absolutely thrilled. If there was one place I would play besides Montreal, it would be with the Rangers in front of my family and friends.”

Higgins scored a career-high 27 goals in the 2007-08 season when he played in all 82 games.

“I suppose it won’t be any more pressure than I had playing in Montreal,” Higgins said. “Everybody is well aware of the pressure that comes with playing up there. I’ve grown up here. I know what the Rangers fans are all about. I know they are very hard on their players, and I expect no different than the last four years I had in Montreal.”

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