Thursday, July 7, 2011

Player Spotlight: Josh Gorges

Though our previous two Player Spotlights (Berger, Yemelin) looked at Habs prospects, this weekly feature can spotlight anyone in the organization, and the most appropriate member this week is Josh Gorges – a hot topic of conversation recently amongst Montreal Canadiens fans.

Born in Kelowna, B.C., Gorges was fortunate to play his junior hockey for his hometown team, the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Gorges spent 4 years there, captaining his team to a Memorial Cup Championship in his final season in 2004. The fact that Gorges was a captain in juniors has led to a popular internet meme on hockey discussion board HFBoards which has users reply to poor questions or irrelevant threads by asking “Did you know Josh Gorges was the captain of the Kelowna Rockets?”

At 6’1”, 202 lbs, Gorges doesn’t have a particularly imposing physique, but he makes up for it with sound defensive coverage and strong work ethic. A tremendous penalty killer, Gorges found a home as a partner to Hal Gill in forming a top-notch shutdown pair during the team’s Cinderella 2010 playoff run. Over the course of his time in Montreal, he has also played alongside Andrei Markov, and so one of Markov or Gill will in all likelihood begin 2011-12 on his left side.

On the negative side, #26 has little offensive upside, with a career high of 23 points (though he’ll still be just 27 years old in a month’s time), and has at times been linked with balancing his “work hard” attitude with a “party hard” mentality. Now entering his prime as a blueliner, he’ll need to be disciplined as he matures both on and off the ice to fill out and reach his full potential.

Gorges was acquired in the undisputed best trade Bob Gainey made during his tenure as Habs’ general manager. Just prior to the 2006-07 trade deadline, he dealt an aging Craig Rivet to the San Jose Sharks for Gorges and a first round pick. The Habs used that pick to select Max Pacioretty, so while Rivet was never a true impact player and has long moved on, the two assets Montreal acquired now form young cornerstones of the franchise.

Having just completed a cap friendly 3-year, $3.3M contract, Gorges will be looking to cash in this summer. His raise may have been tempered by an ACL injury that cut his campaign short, but it also gives Habs fans reason to be optimistic, as the fact that he had been playing essentially without an ACL for the last 8 years came to light. This means that the Josh Gorges we see in the Fall will be the healthiest that we have ever seen in a Canadiens’ uniform.

Slight panic spread through Habs nation as Pierre Gauthier cleared one dossier after another with regards to his RFAs this summer, but there remained little news of Gorges’ status. Gorges received a qualifying offer so the Habs would retain his rights, and some media pundits spun the lack of a signing as a “rejection” of the offer. It should be clear this should have been no cause for worry – Gorges qualifying offer of $1.1M is far below the salary expectations of either side, and the Canadiens would like to lock him up well beyond the 1 year term of a Q.O. (if he does sign a 1-year deal, Gorges will be an unrestricted free agent next summer).

News broke earlier this week that Gorges has opted to take the team to player-elected salary arbitration this summer, at a hearing date to-be-determined. The process of arbitration is not a positive for player-team relations, as the player and his agent must hype his play and potential beyond the reality of the situation, while the club does what they can to degrade his worth in their eyes, in hopes the arbitrator will find a middle ground. It is very likely it will never come to that between Gorges and the Canadiens, as the two will continue to negotiate in hoping to reach an agreement beforehand. Similar players are often used as a gauge for determining salary, and comparable defensive d-men for Gorges might be Columbus’s Marc Methot (4 years, $12M, $3M cap hit) or St. Louis’s Roman Polak (5 years, $13.75M, $2.75M cap hit).

Your Canadiens had a chance to chat with Mr. Gorges in the middle of his rehab this winter, and there is no reason to doubt his heart is in Montreal. Beyond his well-publicized friendship with Carey Price, he fits in with general locker room vibe. He indicated, during our brief chat, that he had no doubt he would be 100% by the summer and thus trained and ready to go come the beginning of training camp. Perhaps Josh's best quote on his rehab, courtesy the Montreal Gazette: "I told Marky (also rehabbing from ACL surgery) we’re going to get to know each other real well," said Gorges. "It’s nice to know I have him there. I’ve had lots of talks with him on how he’s dealt with his situation, different scenarios (like how) you can’t walk for a few days, driving, He’s been through it once and he’s going through it again."

Don’t worry, Gorges lovers. He isn’t going anywhere. Josh fills a need that no other player in the organization is near-ready to step into, and his defensive style will be greatly appreciated for many years to come by the glut of offensive-minded rearguards the team continues to draft and sign. If anything, by filing for arbitration, Josh has said, "Hey! I don't want this to drag on and on and jeopardize my training camp. Here's a deadline, let's get down to business, hash it out, and move on!"

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