MONTREAL, QC. — The big question that remains surrounding the Montreal Canadiens, is why general manager Pierre Gauthier has not yet inked defenseman Josh Gorges. In a recent column, I mentioned that I expected Josh Gorges would sign with the Canadiens prior to his arbitration hearing on July 28, and that he would sign a contract roughly at 3 years/$10M. I’m no longer all that sure this is going to be the case.
As the days go by, and as we approach the arbitration hearing, it appears to be that Pierre Gauthier and Josh Gorges (who is represented by agent Kevin Epp) are somewhat far apart in this negotiation. Call that an assumption on my part, but nobody predicted the signing would take this long, but rest assured, it will happen.
How did we get here anyway? Josh Gorges became a restricted free agent after his contract came to an end this season. The Canadiens had to extend a qualifying offer (100 per cent of last season’s salary) to Josh Gorges in order to retain his rights, and they did so offering Gorges a $1.3M contract, for one season. Gorges rejected this offer on July 5 (deadline for qualifying offers), but because the Canadiens had made this qualifying offer, they retained Gorges’ rights, and this gives them the ability to continue to negotiate with him up until the arbitration hearing, scheduled for July 28.
If Gorges is still not signed by this hearing, both he and Pierre Gauthier will make their case before a neutral arbitrator, and will each propose a salary for the upcoming season. The arbitrator will then have 48 hours to decide on the amount of the salary.
I was quite amused today, when I read an article at danslescoulisses.com making a huge (it wasn’t huge at all) comparison between Josh Gorges and Shane O’Brien, who recently signed a one-year, $1.1M contract with the Colorado Avalanche. In a nutshell, the article demonstrates how both players have very similar career stats, and they do.
The fundamental flaw is in it’s conclusion, and I quote (French):
“Comment un joueur dont les droits appartiennent toujours à une équipe (RFA) pourrait-il obtenir un salaire de 4 millions $ si un autre joueur possédant des statistiques presque identiques, libre comme l’air (UFA), vient de signer un contrat de 1,1 million $?
Surtout que Gorges ne peut pas dire qu’il distribue plus de mises en échec et qu’il dérange davantage l’adversaire que O’Brien car ce n’est pas le cas!
Poser la question, c’est y répondre!
Je suis certain que la direction du Canadien a bien aimé la signature de O’Brien, hier.
Si j’étais l’arbitre qui allait devoir trancher dans le cas de Gorges, je ne pourrais pas fermer les yeux sur la récente entente entre O’Brien et l’Avalanche…”
Let me translate:
How can a restricted free agent [Gorges] obtain $4M, if another player with almost identical career stats, and who is an unrestricted free agent, just obtained $1.1M?
Especially since Gorges cannot say that he distributes more body checks, and annoys the adversary more than O’Brien.
To ask the question is to answer it!
I’m sure the Canadiens direction really liked the O’Brien signing.
If I were the arbitrator who would have to decide on this matter, I would not be able to close my eyes on the contract O’Brien just got with the Avalanche.
I guess most people would read this and think, “makes sense”. But it doesn’t. Here’s why, and you will understand very quickly when you see what can, and what cannot be used in arbitration:
What can be used in arbitration:
- Player’s career stats and performance.
- Injuries, illnesses, games played.
- Length of service with the team.
- Overall contribution to team’s success/failure.
- Player’s leadership abilities and public appeal.
- Performance/salary of a comparable player.
What can NOT be used in arbitration:
- Performance/salary of a comparable player, that signed as an unrestricted free agent.
- Testimonials, videos, and media reports.
- Financial state of the team.
- Salary cap and team’s payroll.
So in the end, their conclusion is incorrect, as the arbitrator cannot use the Shane O’Brien’s signing as a comparable, because O’Brien signed as an unrestricted free agent.
Funniest part of this whole story is that this article, on their site is located in a section called “Scoops from our sources”. They have great sources I see.
We do see however that Gorges stats, injury and length of service could play against him. Gorges is not known to produce many points. Actually, TSN recently released a stat that showed Josh Gorges was the worst NHL defenseman last season when it comes to putting the puck on the net. He basically missed the net last season, on 48.7% of his shots. (Scott Cullen added caveat that stay-at-home defensemen are often top this list as they try to maintain the zone more than taking a shot on net. Gorges certainly fits that description.) Granted, he only played 36 games, but it could be a stat used by Gauthier to plead his case.
His injury requiring knee surgery last season will also be used by Gauthier and should weigh quite heavily in the balance I would think.
Once the arbitrator determines the salary for next season, the team has the right to accept or walk away from the decision, meaning they can accept the arbitrator’s decision, or let Josh Gorges walk away an unrestricted free agent, which I don’t expect to happen at all.
I might be getting ahead of myself here but I’m starting to think that Pierre Gauthier knows very much what he is doing in Gorges’ case. He knows he is in a position of power, and he probably believes he will get a favorable decision before the arbitrator.
It begs to ask the question on whether Josh Gorges is in the Montreal Canadiens’ long term plans, or not? Think about it. The Canadiens have some good young defensemen both in the lineup and coming up. Currently in the lineup, there is P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber who are both only 22 years old. Many believe Alexei Yemelin (The Gremlin from the Kremlin) will also be in the lineup next season, he happens to be 25. 2010 first round pick Jarred Tinordi is only one-year away from NHL readiness according to some. (Let me remind you he’s 6’7″, and listed at 212 lbs.) I could go on with guys like Diaz, Nash, first round pick this season Beaulieu, and the other 79 defensemen drafted this season. (Slight exaggeration)
All of this said, I believe there are a lot of question marks surrounding Josh Gorges within the Canadiens direction, questions that perhaps were not there before his injury, but it is what it is. I also believe Gauthier wants to keep his options open with so many young defensemen in the organization, and doesn’t want to commit to long-term contracts.
In all fairness to Pierre Gauthier, in his position, would you sign two defensemen to long term contracts, after they missed the majority of the previous season having their knee reconstructed? I wouldn’t.
(Photo: Andre Pichette)