Tom Gilbert’s second season with the Habs certainly wasn’t his best. How much will that hurt him as he heads into the free agent market in July?
Inside the Numbers
Gilbert spent most of the season on the third pairing, particularly with Nathan Beaulieu before he moved into more of a top four role. He wound up seeing his ice time cut by nearly three minutes per game compared to last year. Offensively, there wasn’t much to speak of. He had all of one goal and one assist, good for a point per game rate (0.04) that the only good thing you could say about it was that it was at least better than most goalies around the league.
When he signed with Montreal, Gilbert was praised for his possession game and that was pegged as a big reason for his addition. Of course, that went down the tubes in 2014-15 but he actually improved his SAT% to a level not that far off his final season with Florida this past year.
Stats: 45 GP, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, +3 rating, 12 PIMS, 36 shots, 16:51 TOI, 49.18 SAT%
Argument to keep him
While Gilbert has his limitations, he still brings some useful elements to the table. We saw that he could hold his own playing his off-side which is always handy to have in a bottom pairing defenceman. He also led the Habs in blocks per game for the second straight season and shot blocking is a must for anyone on the back end. Gilbert is also a strong skater and we’ve seen that mobility come in handy quite a few times.
Argument to let him go
For starters, Gilbert is coming off major knee surgery. For a blueliner whose mobility is an asset, there’s no guarantee his skating will be as good as it was before. Greg Pateryn took Gilbert’s spot when he went down just before the trade deadline and showed that he is ready and able to play third pairing minutes; bringing Gilbert back potentially relegates Pateryn back to the press box. Also, despite being one of Montreal’s bigger blueliners the last couple of years, Gilbert has been one of their softest rearguards as he’s hesitant to get involved physically and was pushed around at times.
Let’s get the easy part out of the way – Gilbert’s not getting anywhere near the $2.8 million he received from the Canadiens for each of the last two seasons. When he signed two summers ago, he was coming off a resurgent year offensively that suggested he could get back to being a second pairing blueliner. That’s not the case anymore as he is clearly best suited as a third pairing or even a reserve defender.
Last offseason, the upper echelon price wise for depth defencemen was around $2 million per year (Nashville’s Barret Jackman). On the low end, some players took just over the league minimum (Montreal’s Mark Barberio falls into this category). With the potential cap crunch coming, the depth players are going to be the ones who really feel it so the upper end of the market should fall short of $2 million per year this time around. Also worth noting, despite the knee injury, Gilbert is not eligible for an incentive-based contract as he didn’t spend 100 days on injured reserve.
Personally, I wouldn’t be against bringing Gilbert back on a cheap one year deal. There’s a bit of depth on the right side with players like Morgan Ellis, Brett Lernout, and Darren Dietz but those players are all best served starting in St. John’s. Ellis and Dietz need waivers but I’d have a hard time thinking GM Marc Bergevin wouldn’t add another veteran option for fear of losing one of those two on the wire.
At the end of the day though, I suspect Gilbert goes elsewhere. I can see Montreal adding more blueline depth but I think they’d prefer someone on the left side if all else is equal. Despite a disappointing season, I imagine Gilbert should have quite a few suitors for teams looking at him as a #6/7 option. That should price him around $1 million for a one year deal though that price tag could increase if there’s enough of a bidding war or if someone looks at him as a #5. If that’s the case, something in the $1.25 – $1.5 million range may be attainable but I think he’ll come in short of that.