Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gorgeous Gorges

He might not be the most classically handsome man on the Canadiens' team, with his military haircut, blunt features and scarred visage, but Josh Gorges is a beautiful speciman of a defenceman. His best features don't show on the outside, with the possible exception of the determination in his eyes. Still, his teammates know what he's all about and in the absence of anybody more experienced on the blueline, the Habs' young D-corps is following him.

Gorges' story is an inspirational one. Undersized and undrafted, he came off a Memorial Cup championship as captain of the Kelowna Rockets and, after an injury-shortened season in the AHL, elbowed his way onto the San Jose Sharks roster in 2005. He never really found a permanent home on the Sharks' blueline, though. Relatively inexperienced, he played well when called upon, but was the easy guy to scratch when facing big, banging western conference teams. So, when the Sharks were gearing up for one of their innumerable failed playoff runs in 2007, they went looking for a veteran D-man to shore up their back end. Enter Craig Rivet, with Gorges and a Sharks' first heading to Montreal.

Looking back now, most fans consider that trade to be the best one Bob Gainey made as Habs GM. At the time it looked like the first would be the most important element changing hands. Gorges had a tough time finding a full-time spot in Montreal with Andrei Markov (remember him?), Mark Streit, Roman Hamrlik, Francis Bouillon, Patrice Brisebois, Mike Komisarek, Mathieu Dandenault and Ryan O'Byrne already there. He spent a lot of nights in the press box and was mentioned as a throw-in in more than a few trade rumours.

Gradually, however, Gorges wormed his way onto the daily roster. With blueline injuries in his second year in Montreal, he ended up playing a solid 81 games and has never looked back. We've seen his value increase as he's proven he can take a beating (remember the Mike Green slapper to the head?) and keep on going. He's been so indestructible, in fact, that when he announced he'd been playing essentially without an ACL in his knee for seven years and would finally need surgery last season, it was shocking. Not surprising at all has been his return from rehab, as though nothing ever happened. This, in contrast with poor Andre Markov's trials, is a testament to his recuperative abilities.

He was a leader on his Memorial Cup team in Kelowna, and he's done the same thing in Montreal. During the Habs miracle playoff run two years ago, just before Game Seven against the Caps, three guys spoke to the team. One of them was Gorges, and every ear in the room was tuned to him. He even got several mentions as a potential captain before Brian Gionta was awarded the C. Now we're seeing him stand up and support a decimated defence corps on which he, at 27, is the veteran.

Gorges has been a rock for the majority of the season. He's killing every penalty, and taking on the most skilled players on the other team. He's even putting up points at a faster rate than ever. Already this year, with no PP time, he's got 8 points in 18 games. That puts him on pace for 36 for the season, a third better than his previous career-high 23.

It can't be overlooked either that he's very close to Carey Price and is a steadying presence for the sometimes mercurial goaltender.

One could argue this is a contract year and Gorges, as always, has something to prove. On the other hand, it's hard to make the case that a player who's always given his heart and soul to the team was holding back in anticipation of a better deal before now.

Gorges admitted he was a little hurt the Canadiens only offered him a one-year deal last summer. It must have been particularly hard to swallow in light of the more-frequently injured Andrei Markov's three-year contract. He's not letting that interfere with his job, however, which is testament to his total commitment to the team.

If Pierre Gauthier has an ounce of sense, he'll be drawing up a long-term deal for Gorges right about now. It would be a lovely New Year's gift for Habs fans to see #26 locked up for a few years. He's got nothing left to prove.

Josh Gorges may not be beautiful, but he's a beauty. And the Habs' blueline would be a much uglier place without him.


Hadulf said...

Thank you Craig Rivet!

Anonymous said...

Bob Gainey gets a rough time from some quarters. He brought this team back from, well there isn't really a word for abandonned by ownership and management. Instead of getting worse every year the team turned the corner and got better every year. Gorges is an example. Surprisingly so was Kovalev. What!! Yeah, Kovalev. The guy who some fans disliked because he didn't achieve all he could. Guess what. He never had but his ability salvaged a team that was without a scorer at all. And I think he tried the same thing with Gomez. I think he figured the talent was there and needed a chance again. Gomez, like Kovalev, is all about attitude. If either had Gorges' attitude the league would ban Gainey. Sometimes people don't get the credit they deserve. Fans get on them. Media senses blood. Injuries happen. A kid makes a lifestyle mistake with no mentor. Things just don't work out.

It took several years for Gorges to get the attention he deserves. This summer he will get a contract he deserves. That is fair. Fairer than tying him up, coming off an injury, for less than value over several years.

If you look back Beliveau and Richard were not tearing up the league in their last years with the team. But guess what? When the chips were down they came through. They stuck with the Canadiens and the Canadiens stuck with them. Maybe there is a lesson there. Maybe Gorges will be around for a long time. I hope so.

Tara said...

We can love Gorgy all we want, and when he touches the puck, we do expect magic - as we should - 'should' being the operative word. But these Bulldog call-ups are really lovely and deserve some loving. These boys just stun me with every shift with their tenacity and desire.
Gorgy and Skillsy are great and are strong influences for the newbies, and I will always have a bit of a crush on them. (And I will always pledge my love for Hammer, here or not!) I love, love, love our D-corps, regardless. These young boys have totally wowed me and have proven that desire, drive, guts and muscle (and a wicked slapshot) will bolster a forward line. (And can I just add that finally we have a dynamic first line in Pax, DD and Colesy? This coming from a girl with a Pleky crush to match JT's and a proclivity towards goalies.)

moeman said...

Love Josh, he'd be my Habs Captain in an instant. Hey's Gaineyish.

JF said...

J.T. - A very good piece on an often overlooked player. I was shocked when Gauthier offered him only a one-year contract last year; it seemed almost like an insult in light of his solid play and in contrast to the three years Markov received. I certainly think Gauthier should make amends by signing him long-term during the season. I always thought Gorges should have been made captain last year; I hope he still may be at some point.

MC said...

Nice piece, he IS a beauty. He even seems better than before and his knee is probably still improving. It is almost unbelievable how long he played with a bad knee, considering how much D-men need to pivot. He is one tough mofo. The one year contract does not make sense on the surface, but I wonder if this was based on what the Dr.'s advice was to PG on the damage to the knee. In the end it will benefit both sides because the Habs now know what they have and Gorges will finally get the payday he deserves. +2 again last night in a loss; sign him now!

Steve said...

great documentation

Anonymous said...

Josh might be the captain if it was left up to the players as it was always the players who chose the captain before JM decided nhe'd pick Gionta.