Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Defenseman Josh Gorges was one of three veteran players brought to Buffalo by Sabres GM Tim Murray at the beginning of free agency July 1, 2014. The trio of Gorges, Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson were headed to a team that had just finished in last place and the prospects for the upcoming season didn't look much brighter. Sure enough, the Sabres finished in last place once again.
Unlike Gionta and Moulson who signed free agent contracts with the Sabres, Gorges was traded for. Murray sent a 2016 second round pick (received from Minnesota in the 2014 trade of Moulson to the Wild) to the Montreal Canadiens for Gorges. It was a trade that surprised many, especially up in Toronto where backlash was fast and furious. The Maple Leafs had a trade offer on the table, but Gorges had a limited no-trade clause which included the Toronto as one of 15 teams he would not go to. Buffalo was originally on that list but Gorges reconsidered and the trade to the Sabres went through.
Boy did that ruffle some feathers at "the center of the hockey universe."
"[Gorges] made that decision of supposedly sound mind, or so we are informed," wrote Steve Simmons of the Toronto Star. "He selected living in Buffalo and playing for quite possibly the worst team in the NHL over living in Toronto and playing in the so-called centre of the hockey universe.
"He chose the armpit of America over one of the world’s great cities, current traffic and politics aside."
Gorges decision weighed heavily last season, especially with his first child on the way (born four days after the trade,) as he found himself in unfamiliar territory on a team barreling towards the bottom of the league. An undrafted free agent out of Kelowna in the Western Hockey League, Gorges signed with the San Jose' Sharks before being traded to the Canadiens on February 25, 2007. He spent the next seven full seasons in Montreal on a team that made the playoffs five times reaching the eastern conference finals in the 2013-14 season. Then he accepted a trade to a doormat.
Coming from that kind of success a team at the bottom of the rebuild cycle was a shock to the system and Gorges was taking the many losses personal. Murray brought him in for leadership and character, but he tried to do way too much. "I think I learned a lot last year," said Gorges on the eve of training camp this season. "I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how things went, what I could’ve done differently and what I liked and I think I took too much onus on the responsibility of being a leader when I was brought here. I felt it was my job to do everything and I think first and foremost, my job is to go out and do my job. I have to go out and play at a high level and be a leader in how I play the game.”
One way he's helping himself do his job is by forgetting about the past season. Gorges told Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette about his first meeting with new Sabres head coach, Dan Bylsma. "I’ve talked to Dan (Bylsma) a couple of times," he told Stubbs. "We spoke about whatever’s happened in the past is not to be talked about any more. It’s only looking ahead at what we have in front of us and that’s a great way to look at things.”
Gorges will also be looking ahead to an injury-fee season. Last year he was shelved for the last 26 games after playing on a bad knee that got worse as the season progressed, but true to his character, he never said anything about it while playing. He's been on the mend ever since and feels pretty healthy. “It’s been a long process. Over six months, every day of doing just little things to try to get back healthy, so it’s been a long road, but I’m finally there," he proclaimed.
As one of the few left-handed defensemen on the roster right now, Gorges looks to have a spot in the top-four amidst a roster overhaul. "Changes had to be made," he said, "and we knew it was going to be drastic because I think anyone that’s still here doesn’t want to go through this anymore, we’re done with it.
"It’s time to start winning games and have a winning mentality and not accept mediocrity. We’re going to be professional about the way we do our business and the way we come to the rink, the way we prepare and get ready to play some high quality hockey.”
A healthy Gorges (in both mind and body) will be a big boost to the Sabres blueline. He's accustomed to big, shutdown minutes and being sound in his own end no matter who he's paired with and this year especially, he may see a multitude of d-partners as the team tries to figure out where everybody fits in.
Hopefully, Gorges will feel he fits in as well in Buffalo as he did in Montreal.