To nobody's surprise, Steven Stamkos signed a huge new deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning this week. When a player puts up 96 goals in two seasons, he's going to end up with a pretty nice pay day, one way or another, because those kinds of numbers are fairly easily quantifiable. It's not quite the same when you're trying to put a dollar value on a guy who scored a grand total of nine goals in 364 career games.
Of course, a player like Josh Gorges who doesn't score goals can be as important to a team in his way as a star like Stamkos. A defensive defenceman can help control the other team's Stamkos or block a shot late in a close game to save a valuable point. The numbers of blocked shots, PK minutes and takeaways just aren't as sexy as huge goal totals when contract time rolls around.
Since points are irrelevant when dealing with a guy like Gorges, one must examine the stats in which he does excel when calculating his worth. In each of the last three seasons, he's been developing as one of the top shot-blockers in the league, improving every year. Two seasons ago, he was 16th on the list. Last year, he moved up to 12th, and this year he was on pace for 6th place in the league. Looking at consistent comparables in the shot-blocking category, with similar point totals, Minnesota's Greg Zanon will make $2.1-million this year. Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Blackhawks is scheduled to take home $3.5-million this season, although he undoubtedly got an inflated raise because of a Sharks offer sheet last summer. New Jersey's Anton Volchenkov has a $4.25-million cap hit. The Dallas Stars' Karlis Skrastins, with free agency looming, signed in the KHL. So, players who can list shot-blocking as their primary skill are all over the financial map, depending on how much teams value that particular asset.
In other stats that determine the worth of a defensive defenceman, like hits, takeaways and giveaways, Gorges barely makes the top fifty in each of the last three years, with the unfortunate exception of being on pace to crack the top ten in giveaways this season.
Where Gorges' value is more apparent is in the number of goals scored against his team when he's on the ice. Last year, in his most recent full season, Gorges was third among all regular defencemen when he was on the ice for a scant 1.85 GA per 60 minutes. On the PK, he was 12th in the league with 5.08 GA per 60 minutes. At the halfway point of this season, just after Gorges had been sent for knee surgery, his numbers weren't quite as good. He was sitting at 27th out of the top 30 defensive defencemen in the league at even strength, on the ice for 2.34 GA/60. He improved on the PK, though, with 4.67 GA/60. That still put him at 13th in the league. Of comparables in terms of effective shut-down play, we can see Washington's Tom Poti at $3-million for next season. San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic will make $3.1-million. And New Jersy's Colin White will get $3-million. So, it appears that guys with similar shut-down numbers to Gorges' are all making similar kinds of dollars. They're also putting up similar kinds of points, which makes them good comparisons for Gorges.
Each year, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail publishes a couple of lists of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL; one halfway through the season and the other at the end of the year. He uses stats like goals against and quality of opposition faced to rank the players. At the end of last year, Gorges was 16th in the league among shut-down guys. This year, at the halfway point, which is when his season ended, he was 14th. It appears that when it comes to overall effectiveness in preventing the opposition from scoring, Gorges isn't only well up on the list, but climbing. Other guys in around the same place in the rankings include Carolina's Tim Gleason, who will make $3.5-million this year, with a $2.75-million cap hit. Buffalo's Robyn Regehr will get $4-million, but he signed that deal as an UFA. Brooks Orpik of the Penguins is slated to make $3.75-million, a deal he also signed as an UFA. All three defencemen are close to Gorges' ranking on Mirtle's list and all scored similar numbers of points. It appears the big difference between them is the difference between RFA and UFA status at the time they signed their contracts.
Stats are just numbers, though. They can be manipulated and re-evaluated like an image in a hall of mirrors, giving a different view each time. In assessing the worth of a guy like Josh Gorges, in which the stats aren't as black and white as the number of goals scored, intangibles carry a lot of weight. Gorges, at 6'1" and 190lbs isn't exactly delicate, but he's not the typical size of your typical hulking stay-at-home defenceman either. That said, he's shown remarkable resiliency, coming back right away after stopping pucks with his head or getting plastered by rushing wingers. Even his knee injury showed an unusual level of toughness, when he admitted he'd been playing essentially without an ACL in his knee for years. It's risky to assume he can come back without missing a beat, but it's a risk that, given his ability to withstand pain, is worth taking.
Then there's the much-vaunted "leadership" quality Gorges seems to have in spades. From captaining his hometown junior team to the Memorial Cup to forging an NHL career after going undrafted, Gorges has always demonstrated an intensity and work ethic that inspires others to follow him. In the hours before that epic Game Seven against the Caps last year, the team held a meeting and somebody (who won't be named) who was there says Gorges spoke with an eloquence and passion that probably helped the team believe it could really win that game. He's also close to Carey Price and well-liked in the room, which helps build team unity. That kind of dedication should be rewarded in contract talks.
On the other hand, Gorges has found a home in Montreal after seeing little ice time in San Jose early in his career. The Canadiens have given him every chance to make his mark in the NHL, and might believe they deserve a bit of hometown discount in exchange.
There are very many factors that go into determining fair value for any player, but a player like Gorges is a tougher case than most. Looking at comparables in the categories in which he excels, and of players who score similarly few points, it would appear that the market says he's worth about $3-million a year. If Pierre Gauthier is trying to lowball that figure, it could explain why Gorges is looking at an arbitration case in the next week. That would be a mistake on Gauthier's part. Gorges is worth the money, based on his performance compared to similar players. Arbitration, which by its very nature creates hard feelings, would be a difficult experience for a player who truly buys into the idea of putting the team ahead of himself.
Josh Gorges will never be Steven Stamkos, but a team needs a Gorges as well, if its going to be successful. The market reveals something of what he might be worth. Now it comes down to whether Pierre Gauthier places the same value on a guy who won't score many goals, but will help keep a lot out of his own net.