Tom Gilbert's Main Job

Claus Andersen

Tom Gilbert has gotten a lot of criticism for playing well. He has had a bad rap for no reason beyond he is big and instead of hitting players/getting hit, Gilbert has a habit of getting the puck out of the zone and making smart plays offensively to help his team score. For some, this is not enough. It should be more than enough. It is a job that deserves praise.

A Study in Contrast:

Mike Weaver was once asked to make his ultimate player on the Montreal Canadiens website and said that Douglas Murray was the most powerful because "Douglas Murray hit me at practice. He didn't necessarily hit me on purpose, he just simply fell on top of me and I felt it. He's a big guy." Murray was known as a defensive defenceman who hit guys. Francis Boullion was the same way. The two of them together were skillful at causing goals agains and getting stuck in their own zone.

Tom Gilbert is the veteran defenceman brought in to replace the two of them. In the three games Gilbert has played this year, he has fallen victim to more criticism than Murray and Boullion did last year, even though he has played way more effectively than the two of them did at any point last year. Why? Because defensive value is measured in quantifiable terms like blocked shots and hits by many in the media (and fans). Although this measurement has been proven to be a poor judge of talent, it is still used today,

When Gilbert is on the ice, the Canadiens are more likely to have the puck than not. If the opposition does not have the puck, they cannot score. This logic is generally agreed upon by everyone and arguing it is fruitless. the logic is flawless because you actually have to have the puck on your stick to score a goal (unless it is an own goal). The problem is, if the expectation is someone will never make a mistake, they will never meet that expectation. The idea goes back to Tyler Dellow's Big Mistake concept and how mistakes at different areas of the field of play can lead to goals against and that yes, some mistakes are more costly than others. Those are the mistakes we remember.

Gilbert may make some Big Mistakes. He may cause some goals against. But his real value comes in the mistakes he doesn't make. It comes in the plays he is able to make night in and night out. His value comes from being able to maximize Andrei Markov's and PK Subban's talents in the offensive zone. His value comes from the ability to effectively play defence while not having to defend much. He doesn't have to hit and block shots often as is, so when he doesn't hit someone, it stands out more in our minds.

Objective vs Subjective

Our eyes are bias. If you are looking for mistakes, they will jump off the screen and into your mind. The mistakes add fuel to you colour your already biased opinion, making it even worse for the person you are analyzing. It is hard to "catch them good" because that means pushing aside you preconceived notions of that player bad and looking for what they actually do well. Some players are limited, but their limited skills can be very valuable to a team and that makes the player an important part of the team.

Tom Gilbert is not limited like Manny Malhotra, but like Malhotra Gilbert has a thankless job that is there so that Subban's talents are maximized. The coaching staff has realized that they could use Subban in a defensive role, but his talents are best used in the offensive zone. Tom Gilbert has a skillset that can be buried in the defensive zone and not get killed by the task. Gilbert can get the puck out of the zone, and when the puck is in the offensive zone, he has the skillset to keep the puck there. He makes the job easier for everyone by simply doing a thankless job well. The Habs defence last year did not have a pair well suited for this job. Gilbert's pair, whether he is with young Nathan Beaulieu or savvy vet Andrei Markov.

Re-Thinking the Defence

Because the defence now features four bonafide puck-movers, their job is infinitely easier. Even Jarred Tinordi has the wherewithal to move the puck up the ice effectively. The defence, though bad at times, has the ability to get out of its own end quickly because every pair has a defender who can get the puck out of the zone and into the offensive zone. Each pairing capable of keeping the puck in the Habs possession, not the other way around. No longer is a pairing deployed solely to get destroyed.

The Habs have followed the ways of the Chicago Blackhawks and have created a pairing that lives to start in the defensive zone and get the puck out of the defensive zone. The purpose of the Gilbert pair is not to be a number one pairing, but to enable Therrien to deploy Subban's pair in a way that Subban is able to have the biggest impact on the game. Gilbert has given Therrien that option, so far. It is time that he is judged for what he does, not for what people think he should do.

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