About a week ago, the Montreal Canadiens signed 26-year-old defenseman Josh Gorges to a one-year contract extension worth $2.5 mil. This was met with a mixed reaction as some thought that Gorges was someone the Habs should lock-up long-term because of how big of a role he plays both on and off the ice. On the other side, there are some who were fine with him only getting a one-year extension because he is less than a year removed from knee surgery and it was revealed that he has been playing on a torn ACL since 2003. Which was the right way to go here? When looking at the Habs future cap situation, GM Pierre Gauthier may have been better with giving Gorges at least a two-year extension.
After next season, Gorges, PK Subban, Carey Price and Lars Eller will all be free agents, Gorges being unrestricted so now Gauthier will have to find a way to extend all four of them. While that’s one problem, something else that didn’t reflect well on him was his decision to re-sign Andrei Markov to a three-year deal worth $17.25 mil. Markov missed almost the entire 2010-11 season with a serious knee injury and has played only 52 games the last two seasons. People who are saying that Gorges health was the reason that he didn’t get signed long term need to look at Markov’s deal and wonder why he was given such a big contract despite being very injury prone the last two seasons. It definitely raises some questions. I decided to take a look at the Canadiens top defensemen sorted by quality of competition (props to Behind The Net for the stats) over the last four seasons and it didn’t indicate to me that Gorges is any less important than Markov and vice-versa but it did show some interesting things regarding Montreal’s blue line.
Both Markov and Gorges ranked in the top 24 in all four of the seasons that were recorded here (although Markov’s most recent season shouldn’t count as he only played in 7 games). The difference is that Markov’s assignments got softer in the 2009-10 season as he began to be used in more offensive situations while Gorges’ assignments have gotten tougher every year. I expect this pattern to continue because Markov is coming off two serious injuries and Gorges is finally playing on a healthy knee. The question of whether or not Markov will perform up to his $5.75 mil per year salary is still up in the air because he played well in all of his most recent seasons but there has to be some concern about how much injuries will effect his play over the next three years, especially since he will be 35 at the end of the contract. Gorges is still 26 and extending him to a contract with a cap hit of $2.5 mil for the next two season shouldn’t ahve been that big of a dent even if his play level decreased.
Going back to the table, one other interesting thing I saw is just how many guys that were heavily depended on could leave Montreal in the next year. Jaroslav Spacek and Hall Gill are free agents after next season and will probably be gone because of their age. Roman Hamrlik was a huge part of this Habs blue line and he left via free agency this year (he was 38 though) and James Wisniewski’s rites were traded as the Habs felt they couldn’t re-sign him despite having a great season in Montreal (think the Markov signing had a lot to do with that). PK Subban is also a free agent next year but I think he will be re-signed and then there’s Gorges whose future in Montreal still appears to be up in the air. The Habs D should be fine for next season with their current staff but after that, things could get dicey and it’s possible that Gauthier may have to consider a rebuild project with this.
So, to answer the question in the headline, I do not think that Gauthier completely screwed up with signing Gorges for only one season as Montreal doesn’t appear to be in cap trouble next off-season as it stands now ($26 mil in space), but he could have made his life A LOT easier for when he has to give new deals to Price, Subban and Eller along with Gorges if he gave him a multi-year deal. This and the Markov signing doesn’t reflect too well on him at the moment.