Josh Gorges has played 779 NHL games, including 219 on the Sabres' defense over the last four years. There's a decent chance the 33-year-old is now inside the final 10 games of his career and it's questionable how much more he sees the ice this season.
It's become an all-too-familiar ritual for Gorges, who is getting back into the lineup for the first time in nearly two weeks Friday night in KeyBank Center against the Montreal Canadiens.
"It's miserable. Just miserable," Gorges admitted Thursday to The Buffalo News. "It always sucks not playing. There's nothing good about it. There never will be. Then you add into the fact of where I am in my career, where I am with my contract, trying to look forward to what's going to come. After a year like this, it's hard to swallow. I don't know anything. We'll wait and see what comes."
Gorges has played in just 30 of the Sabres' 73 games this year and there hasn't been an injury at issue since early November. Gorges hasn't played since March 10 against Vegas, serving as a scratch in the last four games. Overall, he's missed nine of the last 11 games and 19 of the last 27. He's playing tonight as coach Phil Housley announced that Nathan Beaulieu and Justin Falk are the scratches on defense.
"It's a difficult situation for sure and it's tough for us and for me as a coach to sit out players," said Housley. "I never want to sit out any players. It's unfortunate but in the situation we're in and the situation that's he's in, he's done a great job of being a good teammate, working hard at every practice and being a pro. It's unfortunate we have to sit players but we have to make decisions."
Gorges, acquired by the Sabres in 2014, is in the final year of the six-year, $23.4 million deal he signed with the Canadiens in 2012. With a bloated cap hit of $3.9 million, he's undoubtedly one of the key salaries Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill is planning to eliminate from the team going forward.
Gorges made his mark with seven seasons playing for the Habs and they'll be the opponent here Friday nigh in what might be the last chance of his career to face his former team.
"You want to be out there playing no matter who it is. The hardest part is it's been two weeks since I've been in a game," Gorges said. "You want to get out there but at the same time in your head you know you're a little rusty and timing might not be great. Will you see things at the same speed you need? Will the conditioning be OK? All those sorts of things. You think too much and you don't go out and play.
"If I get in again, I would relish the opportunity. Try to just turn the brain off and play. I've done it enough times where I should be able to just go out there and play. But it's easier said than done."
Gorges is one of the few Sabres remaining from the team's 2014-15 tank season and his feeling is like that of most fans: It's stunning to still see the Sabres languishing in last place in the NHL's overall standing.
"It is tough when you look in this room and you know we should be better. You just know," he said. "And there's no excuse for it, there's no reason for it. I couldn't give you an answer as to why. All I know is it's not good enough. It's not acceptable. At the end of the day, we are where we are because of the guys in this room. It's on us.
"We've got nine games left and it's a tough part of the season. There's always something to play for: Pride, contracts, your future, a lot of things. But the games aren't the same when you're this far out compared to the start of the year or midway through. It's sad. It really is. There's no other way to say it. The expectations were higher and we've just failed to meet them. It's plain and simple."
Gorges understood the anger Housley felt in the wake of Wednesday's loss, a mostly brutal affair against an improving but still bottom-of-the-barrel Arizona club. To Gorges, Housley's tough practice on Thursday was a message more about the entire season and not just one shoddy performance.
"It should be based on what it takes and what it should take to be in the NHL and not just about one game," he said. "That's a mentality and a mindset of competitiveness. Win your battle in the corner, win them at the bluelines, in front of the net. Be relentless in your pursuit to try to get that goal and try to stop them from getting that goal."
Gorges said his mind has wandered into the future plenty of times this season. Focus is easier once he hits the ice, but with less and less playing time comes more time for self-evaluation.
"It's your life, the only thing I've ever done with my life," he said. "It's difficult. Every player at some time goes through these situations and try to deal with it the best way you know how. ... I still think I can play in this league. I still think I have something to offer. It's a matter of being in a situation with a team that likes what you bring and likes what you offer. If there is a team that's like that, then that's great. And if not? We'll worry about that when that comes."