After two disappointing, injury-plagued seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Tom Gilbert will be hitting the open market on July 1st looking to prove that he can still be an effective contributor on a team’s back-end.
After a few great seasons in Edmonton, and brief but respectable stints in Minnesota and Florida, Gilbert’s play fell off the rails in his most recent season in Montreal, where he posted the worst CF% of all Habs defenders, and managed only a single point at even-strength, despite being the beneficiary of some very favourable deployment by Michel Therrien.
While there will certainly be more attractive blueliners available in free agency, Gilbert’s services are unlikely to command much in the way of money or term, so he could be a nice low-risk addition for a team looking to a mobile, veteran presence to their lineup.
We’ll examine whether or not the Canucks are a fit after the jump.
Gilbert’s HERO chart paints a very ugly picture of his underlying numbers, but the fact that the chart is weighted heavily towards recent performance isn’t doing him any favours. Gilbert has never boasted particularly strong underlying numbers, but he’s also played on some truly awful possession teams. He was a positive possession player by relative stats in six of his nine seasons in the NHL, and his raw possession stats improved dramatically when he played on stronger teams. The numbers have likely undersold his abilities, even if his play has been in precipitous decline over the past few seasons.
THE SCOUTING REPORT:
Mobility has always been Gilbert’s biggest asset, but after undergoing knee surgery in February, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to perform at the level he’s been capable of in the past. In fact, Gilbert’s next contract likely hinges less on what he’s done over the course of his career, and more on whether or not teams believe he can still contribute effectively in the future.
At his best, Gilbert has been a reliable two-way defender, capable of transitioning the puck out of danger and into the attacking zone. He showed quite a bit of offensive aptitude early in his career with Oilers, even reaching 40 assists in 2008-2009, but at 33, those days are long behind him.
Unless he finds a way to turn back the clock and play the way he did in Edmonton, Gilbert is a bottom-pairing defenseman at this point in his career. Signing a fifth or sixth defenseman isn’t something that’s likely to be lauded by any fanbase, but seeing as how the Canucks are paying Luca Sbisa $3.6 million to slot into that role, it’s important to remember the benefits of keeping such a position cost-controlled.
Most teams could do a lot worse than adding Gilbert as a depth piece. He’s a proven NHL defender with a long resumé that could help a contending team in a role as a 6th or 7th defenseman. He could also be a wise addition for a rebuilding team that can afford to experiment a little. Gilbert was at one time considered a quality top-four defender, and if he has a good season, he could be worth an asset at next year’s trade deadline.
You have to think the Canucks will pass, though. They have enough defenders as it is, and being neither a contender nor a rebuilding team in the conventional sense means that taking a flier on Gilbert doesn’t realistically help them with their short or long-term aspirations.
Gilbert’s had a rough go over the past two seasons, but he could still be worth a contract. He’s likely capable of at least being a reliable bottom-pairing defenseman at this point in his career if he can stay healthy. While his tenure Montreal was largely forgettable, his performance over the rest of his career suggests he could be a relatively low-risk, high-reward option for any team looking to add a veteran presence on their blue line.
As currently constructed, I don’t see a spot for Gilbert on this team’s roster. In fact, even in the likelihood that a number of moves are made, I’d have to think a player of Gilbert’s profile would be the last thing the team would be looking to add. Which, given how unpredictable this regime has been, means he’ll probably be pencilled into a top-pairing role come training camp.