MONTREAL -- Already missing Andrei Markov, the Montreal Canadiens will have to do without another rock of their defense for the rest of the season.
General manager Pierre Gauthier announced Thursday that Josh Gorges will undergo season-ending surgery on his injured right knee, leaving a gaping hole on a Canadiens defense that was already heavy on youth.
Gorges will be a restricted free agent on July 1, but Gauthier said this injury will have no bearing on the club's plans moving forward.
"He's a strong leader and a great competitor," Gauthier said. "Obviously, we'll want to keep him going forward despite the fact he won't play this year."
Gorges came to prominence during last season's playoffs, playing a key role in shutting down Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby as the Canadiens eliminated the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back series.
His mobility and competitiveness made his partner Hal Gill a much more effective defenseman, and Gill's play has suffered since Gorges injured his knee against the New York Islanders on Dec. 26.
Gauthier said he had an inkling immediately after that injury happened that it could be serious, and it influenced his decision to grab James Wisniewski from the Islanders in a Dec. 28 trade. Gauthier also acquired minor league defenseman Brett Festerling from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forward Maxim Lapierre on New Year's Eve.
He's hoping the organization's depth on defense will allow the team to weather the loss of Gorges without forcing any new trades.
However, the team already has rookies P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber playing regularly, so adding more young defensemen from the minors may not be the best course of action.
"It's something we'll monitor," Gauthier simply replied.
Gauthier does have something most of his colleagues don't, and that's salary cap space. The injuries to Markov and Gorges, and also trading away Lapierre and Ryan O'Byrne while only adding Wisniewski and three rookie contracts of minor league call-ups Weber, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, have given the Canadiens some financial wiggle room.
It would allow Gauthier to pull the trigger on a deal before the trade deadline, a time of the season where he prefers not to operate.
"I'm not a big fan of the trade deadline, as you well know," Gauthier said. "I don't believe in giving large assets for players that play 15 or 20 games for you in that season. It's very tough for players to connect with the team and build some chemistry that quickly. Having said that, you have to keep all your options open and that's what we'll do."