Josh Gorges is not the most skilled or gifted defenseman in the NHL. His offensive contribution is extremely limited, his foot-speed is average and his size, definitely below-average. Despite these apparent shortcomings, Josh is an extremely effective player when utilized properly. Playing the penalty-kill with Hal Gill has definitely helped develop his game.
If you look back at the 2009 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, you'll remember the effective shutdown duo of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill. Both of those players, took advantage of that playoff run to ink rich new contracts with new teams. Gill, as you all know, signed with the Habs and Scuderi signed with the LA Kings for $3.4M (where for the most part, he hasn't been as effective as he was playing with Gill). Until we see that kind of full on 2-month performance from Gorges, it's not warranted to pay him in those figures. In my eyes, Josh Gorges is your classic 4-5 defenseman. He's definitely good enough to step up and play quality minutes on the 2nd pairing but is ideally suited to excel on a 3rd pairing. Considering, that Gill might not be around after next year, I'd be interested to see Jacques Martin (from time to time) play Gorges with another D-man on the PK this year in order to properly gauge his shutdown ability.
So, what about Gorges' heart and unrelenting team-first attitude, does it make up for the areas where he's lacking? Yes and No. Clearly, Josh's 'heart & soul' attitude is greatly appreciated by teammates and more importantly, it can be quite infectious (especially during the playoffs). The problem here is that all that extra drive one gets from playing bigger than you are can and will get you into trouble. From what I've noticed, Gorges wears down relatively fast. He might be tough enough to play through pain and minor injuries but those bumps and bruises adversely influence his effectiveness. He loses an extra step and gets outmuscled more easily after around 30-40 games. His "never quit" attitude has made me hold my breath on more than one occasion where an opposing player on a clear breakaway either scores or is initially stopped only to have a furiously back-checking Gorges crash into Carey Price and the net at top-speed risking an injury to Price or Gorges himself with the added insult of sometimes having the puck carom off of him and into the net. That kind of play can be as deflating to a team's morale as a fearless block can be uplifting.
What you cannot accuse Gorges of is not caring. He cares so deeply for this team and works hard everyday to show that. He is a natural leader and some have described him as a "glue-guy" in the locker-room. You definitely need to reward that. But in the salary cap world that the Habs live and operate in, it's even more important for you to reward it fairly and within reason. Considering that Gorges' UFA years would commence as of next year, those were always going to be the most expensive years to buy. None of us know just how much he was asking for but we do know certain things:
- We are all aware that Gorges had major reconstructive knee surgery this year and none of us has seen him play since. Considering his all or nothing style of play, I think it's warranted to have a wait and see approach. With all due respect, Josh is not Andrei Markov where his skill-set allows for him to conserve energy and effort wherever he can.
- We also know that the current CBA is up for renegotiation at the end of next season and none of us know what it will look like next summer. It can mean a tighter cap system in which we would all be regretting an overpayment or it might include some clauses where the Habs might more easily find dollars to reward Gorges with.
- Moreover, we've established that Alexei Yemelin will be given an opportunity to showcase what he can do in the NHL and we have no clue if he'll make it or not but rest-assured that should he impress, he won't be staying for another sub-$1M contract next year. Don't forget, he has a solid international reputation as a strong defensive player with offensive ability and he's not undersized.
- Finally,we are all cognizant of the reality that faces the Habs should Carey Price and PK Subban have stellar seasons once again. Serious dollars need to be set aside for those two rising stars. And if this off-season has taught us anything, it's that the best defense against offer-sheets being tendered to your RFAs is to ensure you have enough cap space to easily match.
So although Gorges' value could be debated due to the intangibles he provides, offering him a multi-year contract based on those intangibles would have been irresponsible considering the many unknowns and variables that surround the team. I for one am happy that the Habs did not commit (or over-commit) on a multi-year deal. At the end of the day, Gorges is the ultimate team guy and that means he understands (better than most) if the Montreal Canadiens priority list doesn't have him labelled as priority number one. If he truly loves the city and loves the organization as much as he says he does (and I believe he does), then he'll be happy to prove his worth on the ice this year; let the team take care of its priorities (Price, Subban, etc) and trust them to then offer him a multi-year deal that values his work properly and within reason.