The underrated value of Josh Gorges to the Montreal Canadiens

Looking for a multi-year contract after an injury-riddled 2010-11 campaign, restricted free agent Josh Gorges had to settle for a one year $2.5 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens this off-season. Gorges missed 46 games last year with a knee injury that prevented him from playing. Gorges had originally tore up his right knee during his last season with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and had hoped to postpone the surgery until his retirement.

Despite what Gorges says, the surgery was the best thing that could happen to him and the Canadiens, as Gorges has been far more efficient this season for the Canadiens on a depleted defensive corps that saw four of his key veterans miss some time with injuries (Andrei Markov (knee), Jaroslav Spacek (upper-body), Chris Campoli (hamstring) and Hal Gill (infection)). Currently paired with offensive-minded defenseman P.K. Subban, Gorges has been the calming veteran presence that Jacques Martin needs to keep his team afloat.

The Canadiens are currently using four rookies on their blue line, winning two of their last three games (two shutouts) with Frederic St-Denis (3), Yannick Weber (69), Raphael Diaz (20) and Alexei Emelin (12) combining for only 104 games in the NHL. That’s not a small feat, especially against the red-hot New York Rangers on Saturday.

With a 9-8-3 record for 21 points after 20 games, they are only one point back from the eight seed occupied by the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference, and Josh Gorges has been a key cog to the Habs 6-3-1 record in the last ten games.

Through 20 games, Gorges leads the Canadiens defensemen with one goal (a game-winner in Phoenix) and seven assists for eight points. The 27-old defenseman is on pace for a career-high of 33 points, ten more than his previous record (23 points in 2008-09). Gorges is also ranked 12th in the NHL with an impressive +10 +/- differential. The second best Habs player is Travis Moen at +6. The Kelowna, B.C., native also has 24 hits and seven takeaways this season. But the most important and impressive for Gorges is that he is currently second in the whole league with 52 blocked shots, seven behind the NHL leader Ladislav Smid of the Edmonton Oilers.

Gorges is averaging 21:42 minutes of play per game this season, which is second on the team only behind P.K. Subban’s 23:47 time on the ice per game, and despite playing far less than some defensemen, Gorges is averaging 30.6 shifts per game for the Canadiens, which is good for eight in the NHL. Gorges is also ranked 13th among rearguards with 3:48 time on ice per game on the penalty kill which is eight seconds more per game than penalty-killing specialist Hal Gill. All of Gorges’ points have come at even strength as he’s barely used on the power play averaging a mere seven seconds of PP time per game!

Acquired from the San Jose Sharks along with a first round pick (Max Pacioretty) in exchange for veteran Craig Rivet, Gorges has turned into one of the most undervalued and underrated blueliner in the league thanks to a great work ethics and serious off-season training. When he arrived in Montreal, Gorges was often a healthy scratch and played only sporadically when dressed. Now, Gorges has been given the task of shutting down the top players in the league on a nightly basis with great success.

The problem is that this situation might turn out to be a major problem for GM Pierre Gauthier, as he has painted himself into a corner by giving him a one-year deal, preferring to brittle veteran Andrei Markov to an expensive three-year contract. One has to wonder if Gauthier will have enough money to retain Gorges’ services since he needs to re-sign RFAs P.K. Subban and Carey Price who will both hit the jackpot signing long-term contracts. Now, the Canadiens’ general manager needs to “think outside the box” and start negotiating with this important man right now. Every game he plays, every solid mistake free shift he takes, he gets a little more expensive. And with both veterans Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek slated to become unrestricted free agents at season’s end, Gorges’ experience and leadership will be even more so important for the Bleu Blanc Rouge’s long-term plans.

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Fred is a freelance sports write and translator, as well as a featured Montreal Canadiens blogger on http://hockeyindependent.com/blog/ and a baseball columnist on http://www.dobberbaseball.com/. Fred also joined HabsAddict.com in time for the 2011-12 season.

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About the Author: Working as a freelance sports writer and translator, Fred, 33, graduated from Laval University in Quebec City, earning a bachelor of translation in 2002. An avid fan of the Northeast division teams, he's also a long time fan of the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens. Fred also speaks fluently French and Spanish. http://twitter.com/FredPoulin98 www.traductions-quebec.com

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