When I first started writing about the Habs (way back in the mid-90′s when I first started posting on the Canadiens newsgroup), I tried to avoid getting attached to players. I’ll always be a fan of the team, but the names on the back would be secondary so long as the right pieces were being shuffled in and out. I’ve had some success, but inevitably some players just become like extended members of the family (I doubt the players feel the same way!). So it was with Kirk Muller, and Saku Koivu, two of my all time favorite Habs. By and large, however, other players were not so much expendable as they were interchangeable stepping stones on the path to success. I liked some guys, didn’t like others, but when trades went down, or when players were released, I tried not to let some mancrush get the better of me. With this edition of the Habs, however, I’m not doing so well. With guys like Gionta, Subban, Gill, Pacioretty and the man of the hour in Gorges in the fold, I find myself more and more attached to these players the longer they stick around. It makes an “objective” evaluation hard to do.
This brings us back to Gauthier’s latest signing.
As one of favorite players on the team, I badly wanted to see Gorges back. His mix of determination, character, leadership, and defensive talents make him one of those guys who you can’t win without. Guys like him can “will” a team to victory through sheer guts. There is, however, a point where giving Gorges too much money ends up hurting the Canadiens more than it helps. For as many positive qualities as he brings, there’s a ceiling for players that put up less than 20 points per season. Debate has raged for weeks on how high that ceiling is. Eventually Gorges will test that ceiling and the flames of debate will reignite.
The 1 year, $2.5 million dollar deal itself has left many, if not all fans scratching their sweaty heads. Why just one year? Where’s the long-term deal that would have seen Gorges in the bleu-blanc-rouge for the foreseeable future? We can conjure up all kinds of reasons why this deal is only delaying the inevitable – the eventual departure of the reliable defenseman. The fact is none of us were a part of the negotiations.
And while none of us are in Gorges’ or Gauthier’s head, most assumed that Gorges was happy in Montreal, and that the Habs were ready to move forward with Gorges as a part of their core for years to come. Now with the risk of losing him to unrestricted free agency looming in just under a year from now, many see a simple one year deal as a slap in the face to one of the team’s leaders in the dressing room, and a sure sign that Gorges already has July 1, 2012 circled on his calendar, and is dreaming of calling some other area home. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case.
If Gorges was that insulted with either the term or the money presented to him by the Canadiens, he could have taken his chances in arbitration and hoped to be awarded more moolah. But he didn’t, which tells me that he’s still a team guy, still wants to play for the Canadiens, and will relish the chance to have a great season as a pending UFA. From there he’s free to hold the Canadiens over a barrel. From Gauthier’s perspective, he’s perhaps trying to save himself as much cap space as possible for when Price and Subban’s deals expire. With only Kostitsyn, Spacek and Gill with significant salaries due to come off the books next season, Gauthier will certainly have little wiggle room with which to work. Perhaps even more notably, as the current CBA expires at the conclusion of next season maybe Gauthier wants to see what type of framework he has to work with before locking in players to longer term deals.
Fans of Josh Gorges can breathe at least half a sigh of relief; the man is back with the Habs for at least one more season. Coming off major knee surgery that saw him play less than half of the 2010-2011 season, this is the most important season of Josh Gorges’ career. It’s to the Habs benefit that they will likely get Gorges at his healthy, motivated best, as he primes himself for unrestricted free agency.