Who would have thought that the trade that sent Craig Rivet to San Jose in 2007 would prove to be one of the smartest moves made by then general manager Bob Gainey? Firstly, they acquired a first-round draft pick that turned out to be Max Pacioretty, who forms the cornerstone of the Montreal Canadiens’ offense. The second acquisition, however, is the one that intrigued and surprised me the most: the acquisition of defenseman Josh Gorges, one of the most underrated defenseman in the league.
Quite frankly, if you were to ask me at the time of the trade, if Gorges would still be on the team today, I would think you were a comedian. Maybe he’ll be lucky enough to play a game or two with us before being sent down to Hamilton, or traded, I thought; but boy oh boy was I wrong, and thankfully so.
There’s nothing flashy about Gorges’ play; he keeps it safe in his own end, and makes smart passes that don’t compromise his teammates. However, he has two qualities that strike me: his shot blocking abilities and his leadership, on and off the ice. He leads the team with 87 shots blocked in 35 games and ranks 3rd in the league behind the Flames’ Kris Russell and the Islanders’ Andrew Macdonald. In 2011-2012, he led the league in blocked shots with 250 over the span of the entire season, and blocked a little less than half that amount in the lock-out shortened year. Stats aside, his willingness to sacrifice his body for his teammates reveals his dedication and commitment to the sport. Interviewed during the dismal roller-coaster-ride-to-hell of a season: “ ‘Sometimes it’s awful’, he said […] of his often painful existence. ‘And sometimes it’s a nothing shot, just a little wrister that hits you right in that spot that kills.’” (The Canadian Press, 2012).
There’s no question that his ability and desire to block shots has made him an important part of this team. However, another one of his qualities can be seen on the left-hand side of his chest, where he dawns the “A” for assistant captain. He is an example to follow on and off the ice. You can find him in the middle of a scrum defending his teammates, talking to referees throughout the game, and speaking honestly to the media before and after games. On the Habs’ hit show “24CH”, fans often see him shouting words of encouragement to teammates and his overall level of involvement with the team.
I’m not trying to say that Brian Gionta is a bad captain. By all means, he was an excellent leader in New Jersey and remains a great example on and off the ice in Montreal. If I’m going to be truly honest however, I’ve never actually “felt” Gionta as our captain. From a fans perspective, sometimes I forget that he is our captain. Carrying on Saku Koivu’s legacy isn’t an easy thing to do, and I wasn’t expecting him to become as influential as the Finn.
Koivu grew up and established himself with the Montreal Canadiens. Gionta, on the other hand, hasn’t been in Montreal long enough for me to consider him as the perfect captain for this team. Which is another reason why I see Gorges as fitting the captain’s role to perfection: although he was drafted by the Sharks and spent the first bit of his career in San Jose, he only became the player he is today after being traded to “La Sainte-Flanelle”. He flourished into a solid top-four defenseman who isn’t afraid to stick up for his teammates or speak his mind. In my eyes, he represents the perfect captain for Montreal. Given that Bergevin should prioritize Subban, Eller, and Markov’s contracts, keeping Gionta would be difficult and his offensive production isn’t sufficient either. There is no doubt in my mind that Captain Jorge would be a hit in Montreal.
By Safia Ahmad