Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin spoke at length before the NHL Draft about the value he placed on players who compete and have character. Now there’s heavy speculation the GM is poised to push a guy who defines that description out the door.
Reports indicate Bergevin has a tentative deal in place to move veteran defenceman Josh Gorges to—wait for it—Montreal’s arch rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The transaction would require Gorges’ blessing, thanks to a partial no-trade clause in his contract. If a deal with Toronto—or any club, for that matter—does come together, the assumption is it will be part of a sequence of events that reshapes the Habs’ blueline. Presumably, Montreal would like to bring in a right-shooting D-man from the open market—Dan Boyle or Matt Niskanen, perhaps?—to help balance out and speed up the back end.
In an age when players are increasingly judged by stats that end with percentage signs, it’s still impossible to ignore the intangibles with Gorges. Truthfully, he doesn’t do any one thing really well; he’s not overly quick or strong and brings almost zero offensive ability, which is why his $3.9-million cap hit through 2017-18 gives some pause for reflection. That said, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts.
First off, Gorges is typically paired with Subban and provides a familiar partner for the team’s best defenceman. He’s an alternate captain and likely the most vocal leader on the team. Gorges, who turns 30 in August, has also been instrumental in mentoring young players like Brendan Gallagher (who lived with the Gorges family) and, before that, Carey Price, who is one of his closest friends on the team. Gorges has always embraced the madness that comes with playing in Montreal, which is nothing to sneeze at when you consider how many players wouldn’t touch that scene with a 10-foot hockey stick.
(The same could be said of Toronto, which may help explain the Leafs’ reported interest in Gorges beyond trying to settle their own blueline. And while we’re on the topic, some will do a double take at the Leafs and Canadiens doing business, but at least each organization knows nothing about its own market will faze the incoming player. That’s not the case when you’re making trades with Nashville.)
While nothing about his game pops on the ice, Gorges is also rarely the one looking up at the rafters when a blatant blunder results in a goal against Montreal. Gorges is asked to play heavy minutes beside Subban, and for the most part, he quietly goes about his business without creating unwanted waves.
If Bergevin moves Gorges out in favour of another defenceman, it will certainly be with an eye to blueline mobility. The NHL is getting faster by the year, and with a relatively plodding second pair of Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin, you could see where the Habs are worried about falling a step behind.
Trading Gorges definitely opens the door to bring in some speed. It also creates the possibility of dealing away a player whose full value isn’t felt until it’s gone.