At roughly 10:17 pm. EST, on Friday July 22, 2011, the Montreal Canadiens franchise announced that they had reached a pre-arbitration deal with defenseman Josh Gorges.
What should have been a collective sigh of relief quickly became the typical inherent bickering of the Habs fan base, as the details of the contract became known.
Gorges and his agent (Kevin Epp) have agreed to sign a one-year deal for $2.5M, keeping him in a Canadiens jersey for another year.
I personally see this as a solid signing by Pierre Gauthier. Despite all the epic contracts that have been handed out since the free agency market opened up, Gauthier stuck to his game plan, and did what he feels is best for the franchise. He knew walking into arbitration that he had the upper hand, and he stuck to his guns.
There are two issues to this contract that have people up in arms creating a thousand sub-arguments. Term is the biggest issue – so it would seem – while the salary portion is causing some ridiculous debate as well.
As far as the term is concerned, I can see why many fans and media believe that one year was not long enough. He’s a young strong defender (at the age of 26) with six years of experience within the Habs organization. Most feel that it was necessary to lock him up long term as soon as possible.
But reality, for those who care to take off their rose-coloured glasses, states that Gorges is quite an average defenseman. I could go on about how he’s only put up 59 points in 364 NHL games (9G, 50A), but that isn’t really the place to be looking. It does give a solid overview of his offensive talent as a defenseman however, and goes to the position that Gorges is purely a one-dimensional player.
His strength on the ice really lies in his own zone, and on the penalty-kill. There was a noticeable reduction in penalty kill percentage after he went out for the season last year. Acquisitions of Paul Mara and Brent Sopel really weren’t enough to fill the void. Off the ice, he’s considered to be a real leader in the dressing room. His character is well above question.
These things, however, don’t place Gorges in the elite “D-man” category. After having a season-ending injury such as he did, with the skill set that he has, there was no way that the organization wanted to take the risk in a long-term signing at this time. Gauthier did what he needed to do, and protected the future of the team.
The salary issue is quite simple as well. You don’t take someone who is not elite in their position, fresh off a knee injury, and hand him three times what he was making the previous season. Why some find this hard to comprehend, I don’t understand. Gorges cashed his paycheck for $1.1M last season. After missing half of the seasons games, and going for reconstructive knee surgery, jumping up to $2.5M is not only reasonable, but proper. In the cap era that we live in, this was no time to be overpaying for a standard defenseman who may not be 100%.
The arguement stemming from all of this has become the comparison of the Gorges contract to the Markov contract — probably the most ludicrous comparison that anyone can make. There is no way to put these two players on the same level.
Markov is an elite defenseman who quarterback’s the power play, is an extremely skilled playmaker with his stickhandling ability, and he averages over a point every two games (366 points in 623 NHL games). Even with the skills of our next upcoming defensive superstar, PK Subban, the Habs defense has been decimated by the loss of Markov during the past two seasons.
To say that it was inconsistent to give number 79 the long term contract for the big dollars, while sidestepping Gorges with the minimum makes no sense. To put it in the straightest possible terms I can think of (so I can also deal with the “risk factor” argument as well): If Markov comes back 10-15 per cent worse than his ability has shown, he still plays as a top two defenseman who will carry the team defensively making them a true Stanley Cup contender. If Gorges comes back 10-15 per cent worse than his past ability, it makes him a fringe NHL player, and very replaceable.
There is a string of strong talent that the Habs have acquired coming up through the system. There is some strong potential in Alexei Yemelin that could seriously make Gorges position more redundant in the next couple of years. There is talent in Nathan Beaulieu and Josiah Didier that may change the direction the team needs to go in defensively, as they come up through the ranks.
At the end of the day, the picture is quite clear. Josh Gorges managed to get himself a healthy raise for a year, while proving to the franchise that he has healed and can be back at 100 per cent. If he does that, he’s also more than likely set himself up to be overpaid as he enters the next free agency frenzy as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) next season.
I like Gorges, and I’m happy to see him back in a Habs uniform, but as I stated in this post on BBBR, there was no need to sign him for a ridiculous amount of money or long term, and Gauthier did the right thing.
I’ve read some interesting comments about Gorges personality, and that he “bleeds the CH”. If he bleeds the team, then he’ll probably be happy to prove himself and earn a long term contract with Montreal as an UFA with a substantial raise.
Welcome back to the fold Josh! We’re all happy you’re here, regardless of the bickering that goes on!