January 2, 2012

Josh Georges is Off to a Great 2012

Wow - What a way to start a New Year in Montreal !!!

If the 1st day of 2012 is any indication of how the rest of the year is going to play out, then Josh Gorges is going to have an INCREDIBLE year! Not even 12 hours after celebrating for New Years, Gorges got what I could essentially guarantee was the best gift he has ever gotten. 23.4 million dollars is a pretty tough gift to beat, but that is exactly what Gorges received from the Canadiens yesterday in the form of a 6 year extension worth 3.9 million a year. But this gift didn’t come unearned, as he has given his heart and soul to the Habs organization throughout his entire tenure in Montreal.

Josh Gorges isn’t very flashy, he isn’t the best skater, doesn’t have the hardest shot, and doesn’t exactly rack up the points. In 277 games played with the Habs, he has only scored 9 goals, and put up 59 points, that is an average of 17 points in a full season. When you look at those numbers you might wonder why the already  Salary Cap-strapped Montreal Canadiens would offer such a lucrative contract to Gorges. This must look like a horrible contract, however, that is not the case. Despite not putting up many points, or being dangerous offensively, Gorges brings a lot of intangibles to the table. First off he is an assistant captain, and if Brian Gionta needed to be replaced as captain, there is no doubt in my mind that Gorges would be named as his successor. Not only does Gorges provide leadership in the locker room, but he also leads by example on the ice. He is one of the only Habs players that gives 100% every single game, and puts his body on the line for the CH on his chest. If an opponent drives the net hard, or takes advantage of one of his teammates, Gorges is always the first; sometimes the only; player to get in his face and defend his teammates/goalie. The Canadiens don’t have a lot of tough guys, and although he isn’t the most intimidating player at 6’1, 200 pounds, he won’t back down from anybody! Right there that’s 2 qualities; leadership and toughness; that he provides that cannot be measured by stats. But let’s look at the stats that do measure how valuable he is.

Time on Ice: This season Gorges has played under 19 minutes in only 2 out of 39 games. And as the season has gone on, his ice time has went up, as he has played 21+ minutes in each of the last 16 games (including 4 of 25+ minutes). When it comes to total time on ice, Gorges is in the top 50 in the NHL. But most other players in the top 50 get significant powerplay (PP) time as well. Gorges rarely gets PP time, as he only averages 39 seconds a game on the PP. Time on the powerplay is a luxury, players love to be on it, but those aren’t the minutes he gets, he gets most of his time without the man advantage. In fact, Gorges has played the 13th most even strength minutes in the NHL, and his nearly 149 minutes played shorthanded is the 3rd most in the NHL. This is a large reason that you don’t see him contributing goals and assists, because he isn’t an offensive player, he is the shutdown guy on the blueline. His TOI combined with his PK expertise make him almost worth the 3.9 million alone.

Hits/Blocked shots: What makes Gorges so effective as a shutdown guy and as a penalty killer is his dominance in the area of hits and blocked shots. Gorges has blocked 101 shots so far this year, which is the most by any player in the NHL, that’s 101 shots that Carey price hasn’t had to face because Gorges sacrificed his own body to help out the team. And when it comes to hits, his 60 hits so far on the year ranks him in the top 50 d-men. What is really impressive however, is the fact that he is 1 of only 9 players in the NHL to have both 50+ hits and 75+ blocked shots!

Plus/Minus: Gorges has been a minus in only 1 of his 4 seasons in Montreal. And this year he currently is a +6, good enough to lead the team. What’s even more impressive about that is the fact that nobody else on the team is better than +2! Only 6 players aren’t a minus on the Canadiens and not a single one of them is a defenseman who has played significant time this year! So when you consider that, clearly Gorges is the most responsible player on Montreal’s blueline.
Those are the reasons why Josh Gorges became a fan favorite almost immediately as soon as he came over from San Jose, and he has gained popularity every single season. He only made 2.5 million last year on a 1 year contract, it was the way he responded once given a bigger role due to the injury of Markov that earned him the extension. 3.9 million is a lot of money for a guy who doesn’t contribute offensively, however, for the reasons listed above, Gorges is definitely worth it.

The only problem I have with the signing is that the Habs were already in cap trouble. After they made the Kaberle trade, they now had 38 million dollars spent on 7 players for each of the next 2 seasons. Add Gorges contract to that, and the Habs have 42 million committed to 8 players that will make up the core of this team for the next 2 seasons. Those 8 players are Gomez (7.4), Cammalleri (6), Plekanec (5), Gionta (5), Cole (4.5), Markov (5.75), Kaberle (4.25) and Gorges (3.9). That is hardly the core of a Stanley Cup contending team. Teams like the Penguins who have stars like Malkin, Crosby, Letang, and Fleury pay around the same amount for their core. The problem isn’t just one contract (although if it was it would be Gomez), the problem is the Habs have too many bad contracts which add up. Over the next 2 seasons the Habs will have 22 million to fill out the rest of their roster. The scariest part of that is the fact that after this season the Habs have many key RFA’s that will be expecting big raises. Carey Price will be expecting a HUGE raise, PK Subban although underachieving should expect a big bump in pay as well, the team’s leading hitter Emelin, and young Lars Eller’s contract is up as well. And in 2 seasons, the team’s most explosive offensive weapon in Max Pacioretty will be up for a new contract. When you look at all those upcoming RFA’s there just isn’t enough money to go around for everyone. You have to ask yourself, was it worth trading for Kaberle and re-signing Gorges, if it means having less money to work on deals for Price, Subban, Pacioretty and other potential free agents…? That is a question that Pierre Gauthier will be asked all summer if he isn’t able to find a creative way to get rid of some cap space.

But the Montreal salary cap problems are not due to Gorges, he is worth what he is getting, it’s the teams higher-paid forward that really just aren’t living up to the contracts they were given. The Gorges signing was great news for Habs fans in the short-term, but a storm could be brewing in the near future in Montreal as problems definitely lie ahead.

Grant Robinson  (@Thesportsgrind)

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