Josh Gorges & Arbitration: What's the Issue?
There was a bit of a surprised reaction in Habland yesterday when it was revealed that Josh Gorges and his agent, Kevin Epp, had decided to file for player-elected arbitration.
The news was especially surprising to me, as I had just got done posting a blog where I had mentioned that I thought the negotiation process with Gorges would be relatively simple, as the 26-year-old defenseman was one of only two skaters on the main roster that the team had left to sign, along with tough guy forward Ryan White.
To give you a bit of a backstory to the whole matter:
Gorges made $1.3 million in the last of a three-year deal that the Kelowna, BC native signed with the Canadiens a little more than a year after the team traded Craig Rivet to acquire him and the pick that would eventually become Max Pacioretty. That three year deal saw Gorges go through three very different seasons seasons with the Canadiens. In the first year, Gorges put up a career high 23 points, with a +12 rating. His four goals were three more than any of his previous totals, and 19 assists were 10 more than in 2007-08.
In 2009-10, Gorges' production dropped to just 10 points and a +2 in his first and only full 82 game season, but it was still a breakout season for the defensive defenseman, as he was simply lights out for the Canadiens in their Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Finals, leading the team in shutting down the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.
This season, Gorges would of course only play 36 games, thanks to season-ending knee surgery.
So how did all of this lead to player-elected arbitration?
Simply put, it seems as if the Canadiens aren't willing to give him the money and term that he wants. We obviously can't say for sure, but we do know that the only offer the Canadiens tendered to the Gorges camp was the required qualifying offer at the end of June. And that was a one-year, $1.3 million salary Gorges made last year.
Obviously, in most cases, a qualifying offer is just a starting point in the negotiation process. I doubt anyone, including the Canadiens, was expecting Gorges to sign for the same money he made last year. He's clearly earned more in the five years he's donned the Canadiens' uniform. Moreover, the Canadiens have more than enough room to give him a substantial and deserved raise.
The problem arises when you decide to factor in Gorges' performance over the last three years, and when you take into consideration that Gorges will be an unrestricted free agent in a year's time -- if, of course, he ends up getting but a one year deal. Do you give more to the fact that he put up career highs in points during this contract, and that he turned it around, providing top flight defensive hockey the next year? Or do you weight all of that against the knee that Gorges couldn't -- pun intended -- put any weight on for most of the year?
We could bring up the comparisons of other similar defensive defensemen and the stats they put up throughout the last couple of years, as well as the contracts that they were awarded at a similar age, so near unrestricted free agency, but in reality, Gorges is a particular case, simply because of that pesky knee surgery. And when you put that together with the fact that his contributions aren't as quantifiable as, say, points, it gets a little complicated, and it's understandable that the two camps might not yet be at a meeting point.
But all of this doesn't mean that Habs fans should worry. Just like a qualifying offer is a tool for teams not to lose the rights to their players, filing for arbitration for both teams and players is a negotiation tool to more or less set up a deadline for the negotiating process, so the teams and players don't have to worry about arbitration through long, summer months. Instead, filing for arbitration tells the Canadiens that Gorges doesn't want to spend his entire summer wondering what he'll be making in September, and that he wants to get this done.
In fact, most players who file for arbitration sign contracts before their hearings. According to Pat Hickey, 19 players filed for arbitration last summer, with only four actually making it to their mid-summer hearings without signing. This year's number is a little higher, with 23 players having filed, headlined by Blake Comeau (New York Islanders), Teddy Purcell (Tampa Bay Lightning), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets) and even former Hab Sergei Kostitsyn (Nashville Predators). But Columbus has already taken one name off the list, signing defenseman Marc Methot soon after he filed, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Josh Gorges' name scratched off that list by July 20th either.
That said, it should still be relatively concerning to Habs fans that the team is unwilling to give Gorges his fair share of the pie. Maybe they've already offered him a sizable increase over the $1.3 million qualifying offer, maybe they've offered him a better term. The going rate for a defensive defenseman these days is anywhere between $2.5M and $3.5M, and frankly, considering some of the contracts given out these year, I would be okay with any amount within that range. Not to mention, Gorges has been a Canadien for a very long time now, and an important one at that that clearly has the respect of pretty much everyone in town, most importantly the coach, Jacques Martin. Which, of course, implies that he wouldn't want to handicap the team with insane demands that were out of his market price range.
While, as I said, I'm aware that filing for arbitration in many cases is nothing more than a bargaining chip for teams and agents, all of this begs the question: why did it have to come to this? To me, signing Gorges seems like a straightforward for the entire season. I thought that the knee injury would even make it easier to sign him, not because it would reduce his value, but that it would give Pierre Gauthier an excuse to sign him earlier, seeing as he was important enough to warrant attention from management and he wasn't playing.
The Canadiens had over half a season and two off-season months to get a deal that strikes me as incredibly simple. Give him the $3 million price range he's earned, give him four or five more years with the team, doing yourself a favor in the process by taking him away from unrestricted free agency, and move on to other things.
All of this having been said: What's the hold-up?
- Daily Hab-it: Gorges Would Have a Strong Case by Arpon Basy
- Montreal Gazette: Arbitration Could Hasten Gorges Deal by Pat Hickey
- RDS: Gorges Chooses Arbitration (french)
- Puck Daddy: The Seven Most Interesting Arbitration Scenarios by Greg Wyshynski