Despite Montreal’s hot start, many still want the team to move defenceman Tom Gilbert. Everyone knows the reasons why they should move him but there are also some as to why they shouldn’t trade him.
Gilbert never has been Mr. Popular with the Canadiens from the moment he signed with the team back in the summer of 2014. Some looked at his salary and thought he was making too much for a depth role. Others didn’t like that he was a softer defenceman despite being 6’3. Then there were those who remembered he was bought out of the final year of a pricey contract in 2013. Between those and the emergence of Greg Pateryn late last year, most would like to see him gone sooner than later.
I’m not one of those people. Here are some reasons why, as counterpoints to the primary arguments to move the 32 year old.
Point: Pateryn has shown he is capable of playing a regular role and moving Gilbert opens a spot for him to play regularly.
Counterpoint: It’s not as if Gilbert isn’t capable of playing a regular role either. Each has their own strengths but both are worthy of that spot. Pateryn brings more grit but Gilbert is the better skater and puck mover. There are some nights where more grit would help but others where mobility would be best. There’s nothing wrong with platooning the two based on who the best fit for that game is.
Also, the NHL-ready depth on the right side is lacking in the organization. Behind Pateryn, there isn’t anyone that is ready to play in the NHL. If Gilbert is dealt and someone gets hurt on that side, either Jarred Tinordi moves over to his off-side or Darren Dietz becomes a regular. Neither of those are particularly ideal situations.
Point: Moving Gilbert now gives the Habs an extra asset to use at the trade deadline.
Counterpoint: Gilbert isn’t going to fetch a prized prospect or high draft pick. The market for bottom pairing blueliners is often a 3rd/4th round pick if not lower. That’s not an asset that is going to have any sort of significant value in a trade for that final piece of the puzzle. More likely is that the mid-round pick they’d receive would get used to add a depth defenceman at the deadline and that player probably isn’t going to be any better than Gilbert anyways.
Point: Moving Gilbert, a pricey sixth defenceman, would give the Habs some extra cap space.
Counterpoint: While this is true, it’s not as if Montreal is hurting for space. As things currently stand, they are pegged to be able to add nearly $15 million in cap hits at the trade deadline, assuming no changes to the roster. While that number will probably come down a bit as injuries occur, they should still have the funds to add pretty much anyone they want as they approach the deadline. Unless they want to make that big splash now, there really is no financial need to move Gilbert right away.
I’ve often wondered why there are some fans that don’t seem to like having depth and want to trade it away as quickly as possible. It’s a long season. Players are going to get hurt, others are going to struggle. Smart teams will keep NHL quality depth around instead of dealing it off for picks and then scrambling as players go down. Marc Bergevin has long been a proponent of having depth and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
I understand that Gilbert’s not a popular player but he still fills a role for this team. Yes, he’s overpaid for that role (they signed him to be a #4 and he’s no more than a #5/6) but there’s little point in moving him just for the sake of moving him. They’re not up against the cap and there’s no right shooting blueliners in the minors playing well enough to push someone out the door (or at least well enough to be a suitable injury replacement behind Pateryn). And if they want Pateryn to play instead of Gilbert, they can just go ahead and scratch Gilbert; they don’t have to trade him to get Pateryn a spot.
In all likelihood, Gilbert won’t be back next year and if they do decide to move him before then, I’m not going to be all that upset. However, I just don’t see the rush to move him right now. Whatever small piece they get for him isn’t going to justify the extra risk associated with dropping down to just three NHL-calibre right shot defencemen. The safe route is to keep him (for now, at least) and that is the path I expect Bergevin will follow as well.