clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2015-16 Montreal Canadiens Season Preview: Tom Gilbert

Having struggled in his first season with the Habs, Tom Gilbert hopes to improve in 2015-16.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joining the Canadiens as a free agent in 2014-15, Tom Gilbert was viewed as the heir apparent to long-time defensive stalwart Josh Gorges.

Gilbert’s arrival, after signing a two-year contract with the Habs, signaled a shift towards a new defensive mentality for the club. The departures of Gorges, along with Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon, were indications that priority number one for the Canadiens’ blue-liners would be to move the puck out of their zone efficiently - whether they accomplished that or not is another story.

The expectation was that Gilbert would step in and fill the hole left by Gorges in the Habs’ top four. After all, the season before he had finished with 28 points: good enough for second among Florida Panthers defenders, and sixth on their team overall.

2014-15 Review

In reality, the 2014-15 campaign saw Gilbert shuffled around the lineup as much as anyone. Spending time at the start of the season with veteran Andrei Markov, Gilbert would later be moved long-term to a pair with Alexei Emelin, the defenseman he played alongside the most. He also played for an extended period of time with rookie Nathan Beaulieu. The only really consistent part of Gilbert’s year was, unfortunately, that he mostly underperformed.

Gilbert 10-game CF% condensed
2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with Gilbert on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On Ice. Charts created by Spencer Mann.

As Justin Blades mentioned in his season preview for Emelin, Gilbert was at his best in early-to-mid February. The Habs averaged much lower possession numbers over this time without that duo on the ice, but aside from a good stretch, Gilbert’s season was not much to write home about. He struggled greatly with possession numbers in January and March, and generally over the course of the season the Canadiens were better off with him on the bench.

Gilbert saw a sharp decline in production in 2014-15, though that is unsurprising given his top-two usage in Florida compared to his eventual bottom-two usage in Montreal. Though he did score one more goal than the season before, Gilbert wasn’t even close in assists, notching only 8 helpers this past season – down 17 from his year in Florida. His twelve points meant Gilbert had, undoubtedly, his worst offensive season to date with just 0.16 points per game, and 0.58 points per 60 – both career lows.

Gilbert Passing Project
Data provided by contributors to the Passing Project, led by Ryan Stimson. | Glossary of Terms

As we can see above, Gilbert was not entirely successful in living up to his job title as a puck moving defenseman this past season. Gilbert simply was not very involved offensively, as shown by a very low CC%, indicating that he was barely a factor in any offense created while he was on the ice. He also ranked quite poorly in the entry assist category, which is where you would like to have seen much better numbers, as he was brought in primarily to help the team in transition. The one redeeming statistic here is Gilbert’s composite shots generated per 60. In relation to his shot attempts generated, it shows that while Gilbert didn’t often make passes that led to an attempt, when he did, it was often one that got through to the net.

2015-16 Projection

Gilbert 2015-16 Marcel projection

2015-16 Marcel statistical projection courtesy of Domenic Galamini | Calculation procedure

These projections indicate that we should see a return to the Tom Gilbert of old in 2015-16, with the blue-liner poised to improve his numbers for assists and, consequently, points per 60. His possession numbers should look better next season as well, though much of this may be dependent on who Gilbert finds himself playing with. It must be mentioned that being paired with Emelin certainly did not help his cause offensively last season, as he was forced to make up for Emelin’s lack of speed, as well as the "occasional" defensive lapse. Gilbert is a clear third on the Habs’ depth chart for right handed defensemen, behind P.K. Subban and Jeff Petry. He seems set to line up next to Emelin once again, though Jarred Tinordi will make a case as well. In either of those cases, Gilbert would likely be responsible for much of the offensive heavy lifting.

Gilbert should, at the very least, come into this season with a more defined role and a sense of stability in the lineup. The Canadiens’ top four seems pretty set, and playing easier minutes on the bottom pairing throughout the season should help Gilbert expose weaker opponents.

In any event, it promises to be an important year for Gilbert. With young defensemen knocking at the door, all hungry for regular NHL minutes – not to mention his contract expiring in the summer - there will be no shortage of motivation for Gilbert heading into his second season with the Canadiens.