Friday, May 20, 2011

The Curious Case Of Gorges

The Canadiens made a lot of moves this season. Seemingly all on defence. Rookies and minor leaguers showed good signs of progress too. Seemingly all on defence. And the free agents that one would put near the top of a list to re-sign are all on defence.

There's some interesting arithmetic going on in the Candiens organization as they bring in assets before deciding which ones they will need to part with.

After the Emelin signing, it was assumed (probably rightly) that the Russian was going to be in North America to play for NHL dollars.

One can add the courting of Andrei Markov (though as yet unfulfilled) as as a sign that he too is part of Plan A for Martin and Gauthier. I wouldn't disagree with the management there.

Subban is signed and unquestionably on the team.

That's three.

A fourth, like it or not, will likely be Jaroslav Spacek with a signed contract, an NHL education and the coach's trust already in hand.


The rest

The remaining two (really four, if you think about it) places will be taken up by the free agents and minor leaguers.

There are any number of unrestricted free agent defencemen around the league, and there are 5 on the Canadiens: Hamrlik, Wisniewski, Gill, Sopel and Mara.

In the restricted camp, the team has Josh Gorges, Alexandre Picard and Yannick Weber.

Hoping for their chance from Hamilton will be Brendon Nash, Mathieu Carle and even Raphael Diaz with contracts, and possibly more if signed.


From the names above, most sages seem to be coming up with the combination of Gorges, Gill and Weber, with an 8th to be filled by someone cheap I presume (Picard?).

But is this right? Are these the right players from the bottom list to go with the players in the list above?

Gill we know is a right answer. For Subban, for Price, for Martin. He doesn't look pretty doing it, but when the rules are curtailed, Hal Gill puts a pretty wide blanket over some threatening attacks. He's been the main reason that the team can even think about playing the way they do.

Weber started shakily, but made great strides I thought towards the end of the season and in the playoffs. He's versatile, has a good shot and has that underlying offensive side that tempts many a GM to hang on.


The case of Josh Gorges is curious, I think.

A fan favourite to be sure, most assume his place has been cemented for a decade to come by now.

Not that I think the fan admiration is misguided in any way, I'm a big fan myself of Josh. But, and it's a big but, I believe the value of Josh Gorges is intrinsically tied to the cap hit on his contract.

Josh Gorges is a solid defenceman, a very solid one. Having him on the team allowed many of us to see that our previous definitions of solid (Komisarek) were off the mark. For the past three seasons, the Habs have been getting this solid play for a bargain price. At the bargain price, it was inevitable that Gorges would show up in all kinds of lists like most-underrated in the NHL, best cap bargain, etc. That alone made him a big star, the anti-Sather signing.

But while his clockwork proficiency is wanted, needed by the team. Unfortunately the Canadiens have to live in a salary cap reality just like everyone else. And in their salary cap reality they have some pretty hefty salary cap clangers to account for (Gomez, Spacek, Moen, the guy they sign this summer who is meant to be "big"). In this world, the Canadiens need to be aware of more than the ability to make a simple pas safely.

The unknown here, I suppose is the mind of Josh Gorges. He's not a UFA so he can't get whatever he wants, but with RFA status comes a bit a of leverage and the possibility of arbitration. It is not inconceivable to think that he might double, triple or multiply his salary by some big factor.

Let's say for the sake of argument that the Habs are forced to face at least face the threat of arbitration in his case and the salary he ends up with is in the neighbourhood of $3 million. Let's say there's a few years on it. It's not an unreasonable salary for a player like him. It's less than Johnny Oduya.

But at $3 million is Josh Gorges the untouchable cornerstone of the Canadiens backline for years to come? A back line that may already include Subban, Markov, Emelin and Gill?

If Gomez is your benchmark, he'd still be a bargain. But what if Hamrlik does cut his rate in two? What if Sopel would stay for Gorges former salary? What if the team wants to see about Mathieu Carle at some point? What if the team needs those extra two million to address a forward hole?


Trade value
The other very interesting thing about Josh Gorges is that he is one of the few pieces the Canadiens have in their hands right now that has any sort of foreseeable value on the market.

Armchair GMs would all trade Spacek, and I'd applaud them if they could. But in all likelihood his contract is untradeable. The UFAs have no value at all to anyone of course. And Weber for all our praise is still largely unproven.

Gorges signed or unsigned provides a suite the three-fold advantage of age, non-UFa and proven NHL play. If the Canadiens really want to upgrade at forward, and I hope someone has keyed on that need, then a trade has to be in the mix. If a trade's in the mix, I can't see how Josh Gorges isn't on the table.

If I were GM, I wouldn't trade him now or at the draft, or before signing him (cap be damned until fall). I'd keep him and play him and see how the whole corps pans out. But hey, I'm not Gauthier. Sometimes the man makes trades earlier than I would.


Anyway, the point here isn't that I want to see Gorges go. I don't. The point is that based on the order negotiations have taken place, a fan needed to raise the possibility that perhaps the dogma that Josh Gorges is here forever might be in question. It's curious that the log jam on D never really raised a discussion on him and his place.

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