I've never been a big fan of Josh Gorges. I'm not a 'hater', my world isn't black or white like that, but I've never been as impressed as some analysts who love his steady, dependable game. I've always felt that a defenceman like him should either bring more offence to the table, or more toughness. Josh is a 'tweener', not small and slick with the puck, not a big bruiser who'll make the opposition pay, and maybe it's my fault for not seeing the value he brings while not necessarily being easy to pigeon-hole.
I winced when his new contract was announced by Pierre Gauthier, appalled at how much money he was set to make and the term he received. We were overtaken by circumstances, having let Roman Hamrlik walk in free agency, and being bereft of quality defenceman. Now, I applauded the decision to let the veterans go and give minutes to Raphaël Diaz, Alexei Emelin and Yannick Weber last year, but it effectively pushed Josh Gorges into the #2 role, and we were forced to compensate him as such. I like to characterize that as Maple Leaf disease. Dmitri Yuskevich had a good season? Ladle on the dollars. Luke Schenn is having a promising start to his career? Let's pay him like a superstar, but now, quick!
Anyway, Josh had an underwhelming season, he struggled on a few nights, especially against bigger teams. This has brought out two distinct reactions by some fans, which is that he should either be traded, or be asked to bulk up so as to be bigger and tougher.
First, the idea of trading him is silly and ill-timed. You don't trade an NHL-regular defenceman out of spite, or frustration at a relatively uneven season. That's the classic definition of selling low. Josh is a valuable asset, and we need to retain him and avail ourselves of his services, and if we are to trade him eventually, it has to be when he's playing well and there is demand for his services.
Right now, every team believes that some youngster or two in their system is ready to step in and play a role next season. After training camp, when these guys disappoint, or later in the season when injuries hit contenders, is the right time to trade Josh Gorges. Near the trade deadline, as an injury-depleted team is contemplating its playoff chances, would be a better opportunity to be discussing such a trade.
The second fan reaction, to require him to add on ten or fifteen pounds of muscle over the summer, is not realistic, unless Josh has a way to contact Dr. Jamie Astaphan. Which admittedly would be quite the trick.
For Josh Gorges to 'muscle up to at least 215' is not possible by legal means. He's a mature, trained athlete, he's not a growing boy of 18 or 19 who still has a lot of growing and filling out to do. Josh's frame and body type isn't that of an ectomorph who puts on muscle in his pecs and lats every time he has a steak. He's a leaner guy with a frame that tops out around 195-200 lbs when he trains for hockey. That's who he is.
Josh Gorges works out every summer with his former Kelowna Rocket buddies, including Shea Weber. Players who spend their summers in the Okanagan join them for these training sessions, including notably Carey Price. He's not lazy, he's not shirking his conditioning, he's not failing to realize some advantage by not training. He works out very hard, by all reports.
A lot of people have unrealistic expectations of what is possible for an athlete to achieve just through training. For a player to put on five pounds of muscle in a year is a herculean achievement. When you hear that a player "put on 15 pounds of muscle over the summer", you should be very skeptical. If that number is accurate and verifiable and not pharmaceutically-derived, it takes as a baseline the athlete's weight at the end of a difficult season, when he was beaten and sore and overtaxed. Just by taking a month off to recuperate and heal, he probably put back on 10 or 12 pounds of body weight, and not all that was "pure muscle", a lot of that was water weight or reserves stored as fat. The last two or three pounds may be muscle put on through extraordinarily hard work in July and August. That's the real story about the 10 or 15 pounds of muscle put on during the summer.
So we need to moderate our expectations of Josh, and accept that he's a steady, dependable defenceman who'll give everything he has to the team, but he'll not be the big bruising type, just the guy who's good enough to block shots and then clear the zone efficiently. Which isn't bad, and certainly shouldn't mean we should run him out of town for a low draft pick.