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Monday, November 21, 2011

Montreal Canadiens Josh Gorges: His Value to the Habs Is Underrated

Looking for a multi-year contract after an injury-riddled 2010-11 campaign, restricted free agent Josh Gorges had to settle for a one year $2.5 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens this off-season.

Gorges missed 46 games last year with a knee injury.

He originally tore up his right knee during his last season with the Kelowna Rockets, of the WHL, and had hoped to postpone the surgery until his retirement.

Despite what Gorges may say, the surgery was the best thing that could happen to him and the Canadiens.

Gorges has been far more effective this season for the Canadiens, playing on a depleted defensive corps that has seen four key veterans miss time with injuries.

Currently paired with the offensive-minded P.K. Subban, Gorges has been the calming veteran presence that Jacques Martin needs to keep his team afloat.

The Canadiens are currently using four rookies on their blue line—winning two of their last three games—both via shutout, with Frederic St-Denis, Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin combining for only 104 games in the NHL.

That's not a small feat, especially against the red-hot New York Rangers on Saturday.

With a 9-8-3 record for 21 points after 20 games, the Habs are only one point back from the eighth seed—Ottawa Senators is eighth in the Eastern Conference—and Josh Gorges has been a key to the Habs 6-3-1 record over their last ten games.

Through 20 games, Gorges leads the Canadiens defensemen with one goal—a game-winner in Phoenix—and seven assists for eight points.

The 27-year old defenseman is on pace for a career-high of 33 points, ten more than his previous summit of 23 points in 2008-09.

Gorges is also ranked 12th in the NHL with an impressive plus-10 +/- differential. The second best Habs player is Travis Moen at plus-six. The Kelowna native also has 24 hits and seven takeaways this season.

Most impressively, Gorges is currently second in the whole league with 52 blocked shots, seven behind the NHL leader Ladislav Smid of the Edmonton Oilers.

Gorges is averaging 21:42 minutes per game this season, which is second on the team only behind P.K. Subban's 23:47 minutes per game. Despite playing far less than some defensemen, Gorges is averaging 30.6 shifts per game for the Canadiens, which is good for eighth in the NHL.

Gorges is also ranked 13th among rearguards with 3:48 of PK icetime on ice per game—eight seconds more per game than penalty-killing specialist Hal Gill.

To top it off, all of Gorges' points have come at even strength as he's barely used on the power play. In fact, he presently averages a mere seven seconds of PP time per game!

Acquired from the San Jose Sharks along with a first round pick—which the Canadiens turned into Max Pacioretty—in exchange for veteran Craig Rivet, Gorges has turned into one of the most undervalued and underrated blueliners in the league.

When he arrived in Montreal, Gorges was often a healthy scratch and played only sporadically when dressed. Now, he has been given the task of shutting down the top players in the league on a nightly basis.

And he does so with great success.

The problem is that this situation might turn out to be a major problem for GM Pierre Gauthier. The Habs GM has painted himself into a corner by giving Gorges a one-year deal, preferring to extend a longer, three-year contract to brittle veteran Andrei Markov.

One has to wonder if Gauthier will have enough money to retain Gorges' services since he needs to re-sign RFAs P.K. Subban and Carey Price—both will likely hit the jackpot, signing long-term extensions.

The Canadiens' GM needs to “think outside the box” and start negotiating with one of these key players immediately. Every game Gorges plays, every solid mistake free shift he takes, he gets a little more expensive.

With both veterans Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek slated to become unrestricted free agents at season's end, Gorges' experience and leadership will be even more so important for the Bleu Blanc Rouge's long-term plans.

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Fred is a freelance sports write and translator, as well as a featured Montreal Canadiens blogger on http://hockeyindependent.com/blog/ and a baseball columnist on http://www.dobberbaseball.com/. Fred also joined HabsAddict.com in time for the 2011-12 season.

Follow Fred on Facebook and Twitter


(Photo Getty Images North America)

9 comments:

Fred, I agree. PG may have painted himself into a bit of a corner here. The cap is certainly an omnipresent issue, but I also feel that a one year pact may have been perceived as somewhat of an insult.

This summer, I said on HabsWorld that "it is often mentionned that Gorges is a leader on the team, a loyal individual who wishes deeply to play for the Canadiens, but it worries me that the organization might be testing the blueliner’s loyalty a touch. If the Habs lose Gorges for nothing next summer, it will be hard not to look at this decision as a misstep."

Not sure why people are worried about the cap. For starters it is likely to increase again now that Atlanta is gone and Winnipeg is now in the NHL meaning we will have a little bit more freedom.

Secondly we have quite a bit of money coming off the books at season end. Spacek ($3.833), Campoli ($1.75), Kostitsyn ($3.25), Gill ($2.25), Moen ($1.5), Darche ($700k). Together that represents $13.283 million plus whatever increase.

How hard is it going to be to replace a Gill or a Spacek or a Moen with less expensive players? I mean do you think McCabe is desperate for even a $2 million contract right now? What about a 3rd liner who would be happy making just $1 million. Let's be realistic here for a second, the players on that list are overpaid.

So let's assume for a second that Gorges goes from $2.5 to $3.5 million, That Price goes from $2.75 to $5.0 and Subban from $875k to $3.5 million. Overall that represents an increase of let's say $6 million, that still leaves us $8 million role players because of nucleus will be intact.

We are fine.

@Fred: Good stuff Fred! I agree that Gorges is a played who often doesn't get the respect he deserves.

Since coming back from knee surgery, this guy looks better than ever. He is truly THE anchor for the Habs defense right now.

Word today is that Markov will be taking part in team scrimmages so he is moving along nicely.

Once he is back in the lineup (and Spacek and Gill) the Habs will actually have a solid defense corp...if they can only stay healthy!

@Bryan: Everything you said makes sense...except there is no way Subban gets $3.5 mil per year coming out of entry level contract. Somewhere around $2 Mill should be more than adequate.

He is an RFA after all, and doesn't have a lot of leverage.

The bottom line is that with so much money coming off the books this summer, Montreal definitely has room to play.

If I'm Gauthier, I consider trading Gionta or Cammalleri or both, to bring in a LEGIT No. 1 center.

Great article.I've been saying it for a long time (and I'm not the only one!),Gorges as been underrated for a loong time in his OWN team.
Trough out the league he is known as a great defense man.
But in Montreal...I dont know why,but he seem to pass under the "popularity" radar.

Pleky is another underrated player.Pleky is good night after night,and he make his teammates look way better!Anyway,thats another topic.

@KP

Sorry bud there is no way he makes $2 million. Look aroudn the league at his comparibles of players coming out of entry level deals. Guys like Burnes, Seabrook, Bogosian, Schenn, Letang, Kronwall, etc..... all of these guys except for Bogosian make or made around $3.5 million on their second contracts.

Sure there is no leverage for an RFA but he'll get his money non the less before he jumps to the $5 million range.

As for trading, Cammallaeri is the guy I think is the odd man out. he seems generally disinterested or upset since not being named captain and is certainly not living up to his $ 6million contract.

If I am Gauthier I am doing everyhting in my power right now to see what it will cost to get Staal from Carolina.

Cammalleri is looking for his chances, he's not disinterested. Simply put, although you mentioned the D issues here..which I think that some will be aged out, and big money will be spent of both Price and Subs.... the reality is getting rid of a guy that has two solid years left on a contract "just because" would not bring Cams to the conversation, it would be Gomez or Kost... but Kost - if he's streaky enough, will require a deal, letting him go doesn't make sense then either. Gomez can be replaced.

The problem lies with Gomez, when his hefty contract is off the books (demotion, trade, buy-out) the Habs will have no problem with the cap hit, but until they make that decision, I might become difficult for PG to keep his best assets.

I think the issue here is that it would be nice to have some additional cap flexibility but given Molsons fiscal responsibility and given the fact that the Habs as an organization care deeply about the image that they represent, they will not dump Gomez to the minors.

Can we trade him...sure maybe but let's be hones here a deal involving Gomez will likely involve us including a top rated prospect and/or pick just for a team to take the salary plus we'll have to eat a bad one in return.

Cammalleri would give us the biggest return via trade value.

Do I want to trade him, no, not really. I mean the guy was our best point producer for 2 consecutive playoffs but when we have so many little players, it really takes a toll physically.

I'd like to see what we can get for him and add some much needed grit and depth.

@ Fred.....my hope is that Gomez has woke up. That he plays like eh can and nets a good 50 points this season and makes himself much more tradeable.

A team thats struggles to meet the cap I am sure would like to have a $4.5 million player with a $7.4 million cap hit.

Here's hoping to a great year by Gomer from here on out.

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