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.