Another defenseman who faced a lot of criticism last season was Josh Gorges, though it wasn't as pointed as Andrei Markov's. The main criticism of Gorges was that his play didn't improve along with the rest of the team, but that was really only true for the first half of the season, when he was separated from P.K. Subban.
Yes, Gorges is the main beneficiary of the Subban Effect™, being his main defensive partner for two years now, he has seen his possession statistics jump from solid to excellent. Gorges is a defensive defenseman, but he started jumping into the offense a lot more last year, and although the results were minimal, he did score one of the nicest goals of the year.
Gorges is the number three defenseman on the Habs, but he's not an elite number three. His improvement over the last two seasons has more to do with being paired with Subban than anything else, although his skating has improved a lot since he had his knee surgically repaired. Gorges is nearing the back end of his prime though, and can we really expect him to continue to improve?
In the following graph, the blue line is Gorges' even-strength Fenwick percentage from 2007 to 2013, the red line is his team's even-strength Fenwick percentage without him on the ice, and the green line is Gorges' offensive-zone start percentage, giving us insight into his usage and role. All statistics are at even strength, and all are rolling 10-game averages. What this means is that aside from the first 10 points in the graph, every point represents a 10-game sample, giving us a better grasp of trends.
With all that information on one graph, it can look a little messy and be tough to decipher, so I've included trend lines for each statistic. To understand the trend lines, blue turns into black, red turns into yellow, and green turns into purple. The x-axis is simply the games to represent time, and the y-axis is the percentage in decimal form, and the placement of the y-axis is the beginning of the 2013 season.
Even keeping in context that Gorges' improvement has a lot to do with being paired with Subban, this kind of growth curve is exactly what you want to see in any top end player. Over time, Gorges has taken tougher and tougher assignments. That's a great stat line to have for any player.
Gorges' offensive game is nearly non-existent, which means he's there to be a steadying presence on the defensive side of the puck. It looks like he'll begin the season with Subban again, but don't be surprised if at some point in the season Gorges is shifted to the right side to play with Markov, while Subban takes on one of the lesser left-handed defensemen on the top pairing. This would give Markov the steadying presence he needs with the second best defensive defenseman on the roster, and allow someone like Raphael Diaz to play third-pairing minutes and dominate in that role.