The Josh Gorges Saga Continues
You know that when the Montreal Canadiens announce a signing or some news late on a Friday evening, it's likely not going to be good news.
And Friday was a relatively busy day for the Habs, as the team announced the promotion of two coaches from Hamilton to assist Jacques Martin next season, in the absence of Kirk Muller. But this, of course, wasn't the "bad" news. The bad news that the team received on Friday was that the Canadiens had signed defenseman Josh Gorges to a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
Why is this bad news, you say? After all, the Canadiens did manage to avoid arbitration with Gorges, on what could have been an overinflated contract, but one that was just as short. It's also a much lower price-point than many were expecting for the 26-year-old defenseman, and it gets this entire mess behind the Canadiens for another year.
But that's exactly the problem. In less than a year, the Montreal Canadiens will be facing this exact same problem with their best defensive defenseman. Only that there won't be an arbitration hearing, there won't be any tricks or any tools out of the CBA to help the Canadiens keep Gorges at an obviously discounted price. There will only be unrestricted free agency, and the possibility of other teams vying for Gorges' services.
When it was announced that Gorges and his agent, Kevin Epp, had filed for arbitration, the reaction was mostly one of surprise. It didn't seem to me that this would be a complicated signing at all. Give him term, give him security, and I'm sure that Gorges would gladly take a more than reasonable salary. It's evident to me that the Kelowna native is happy playing in Montreal. The fans have embraced him, he has close friends on the team and this is likely the one city where the services of a good defensive defenseman are properly appreciated on most nights.
Obviously, there was more at play than whether Gorges wanted to stay here or not. His knee injury, the amount of hockey he's missed in the past year, and the uncertain status of the Canadiens' top six defensemen past this season all came into play in negotiations, and Gorges and Epp found it necessary to file for arbitration -- a hearing which would have taken place this Thursday -- in order to press the issue with the usually impassive Canadiens general manager. Somehow I doubt they got the outcome they had intended.
In this whole ordeal, one thing is clear to me. Josh Gorges is not in the long-term plans of the Canadiens. With PK Subban looking for a pay raise next season, Yannick Weber waiting patiently still for his opportunity, Andrei Markov locked in for three years, and Alexsei Yemelin looking to make an impact next season -- not to mention high profile defensive prospects such as Jared Tinordi, Mac Bennett and Nathan Beaulieu in development -- it's pretty clear that the Canadiens want to "wait and see" what happens with Gorges, coming off major knee surgery which ended his season way too early.
To me, Gorges obviously slides in perfectly in the spot of either Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek, who will likely be on their way out of town after next season, but apparently, the Canadiens don't see things the same way, or at least don't want to pay Gorges the money he deserves to be in that spot, even though the two guys mentioned above make exactly that.
How else would you explain it? Was it Gorges who wanted a short term deal, with the Canadiens vying for a long term? Gorges doesn't exactly strike me as the type who might want to test his luck on the open market, or the one who would purposely screw with a team to get to unrestricted free agency. Were Gorges and his agent asking for too much money? Considering his salary more than doubled with this new contract, and the assumed price-range was actually higher among fans and writers, I find that unlikely as well.
The answers obviously sit with Pierre Gauthier, and Pierre Gauthier only, which means we're unlikely to get them. But things should become much clearer in June 2012, when Gauthier has to not only worry about losing Gorges on July 1st, but also re-signing the two core players on his team, Carey Price and PK Subban -- because, let's face it, what are the odds he does the smart thing and negotiates with them over the course of the season, like any sensible GM would do?
In the meantime, Gorges has to focus on being ready for training camp, on making sure he's recovered from his knee injury, and that he has the best year of his career in front of Carey Price next season. Because in my eyes, it's pretty clear that the organization thinks that he hasn't earned a single thing yet.
In the end, we're left with a late Friday "dead zone" announcement, a head-scratcher of a deal, and the potential to lose the team's best defensive defenseman in less than a year, for seemingly no reason to it all. But I guess doing business in Montreal isn't exactly the simplest thing.
With the deal, the Canadiens now have 21 players under contract, and all their free agents re-signed. While possible that you may see Gauthier make a late-summer acquisition to replenish a potential hole in their forward ranks, left by the departing Jeff Halpern, but the team you see today is more than likely the one you'll see at training camp in September. That said, the Canadiens still have another five million dollars under the cap to play with, so anything can happen.
Are you happy with the team you see before you today, following the Gorges signing and the promotions behind the bench? What else could be done to improve the team between now and September? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!