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.
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.
"We think that Higgins is a goal-scorer and we're happy to have him," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said on a conference call. "He is from the New York area and he's excited to be coming home.
"We also got two good prospects in this deal and it gives us options (Wednesday)."
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.
Gomez had 16 goals and 54 assists in his first season with the Rangers and 16 goals and 42 assists last season.
"I have no complaints about him," Sather said. "He's a terrific guy who is 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.
"I didn't expect to be traded," Higgins said. "I heard my name thrown around ever since I've been in Montreal, but I never expected it to happen. When it happened, I was absolutely thrilled."
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 am looking forward to a new challenge. It's something I take great pride in to put on a Rangers uniform," Higgins said.
He 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 in playing in Montreal," Higgins said. "Growing up here, I know what the Rangers fans are about."