Columbus Blue Jackets forward and two-time Olympian Marian Gaborik will not be joining his Slovakian teammates in Sochi for this year’s Winter Olympics due to a collarbone injury he received in a Dec. 21 game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
While the x-rays came back with the positive news that the bone is healing properly and at the normal rate, it still isn’t far long enough in its recovery process to absorb the body checks competing Olympians will surely be delivering, hence why he hasn’t been cleared to play.
Naturally, Gaborik is disappointed he won’t be taking part in his third Winter Olympics:
Im very disappointed to not play in Sochi!Collar bone is not there yet where I could play at my best. I’ll be cheering for my boys out there
— Marian Gaborik (@MGaborik10) February 7, 2014
His boys are surely equally disappointed by his absence. Team Slovakia scored their highest finish ever, fourth place, in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. However, their national team already lost an invaluable contributor when Pavol Damitra died in that tragic 2011 plane clash that killed nearly every player from team Lokomotive of Russia’s KHL.
Losing the veteran presence and offensive prowess of Dimitra, now coupled with Gaborik’s absence, leaves Marian Hossa as the de facto go-to guy for all things scoring. No one man can score all the goals alone though. Slovakia was already listed at 40/1 odds of winning the gold medal — and that was before the seven-time 30-goal scorer was officially ruled out. Slovakia’s path to winning gold, or even medaling, just became a lot more arduous.
For the Blue Jackets, it’s frustrating and potentially a great source of relief all at the same time.
Columbus has played 67 games since acquiring Gaborik in a blockbuster trade with the New York Rangers, giving up Derick Brassard, John Moore, Derek Dorsette and a sixth round pick. Of those 67 games, Gaborik has only laced up the skates in 30 of them due to being snake bit by multiple serious, nagging injuries the past two season.
On the all too rare occasion Jacket fans have had the chance to watch the All-Star ply his craft, they’ve seen a mix of the Gaborik that has scored 40 goals in a season three times and a Gaborik that was hampered by injuries and that just didn’t seem to mesh with his teammates or the system in place while on the ice.
Though his speed stretching the ice was always a major plus, he doesn’t necessarily fit the emerging identity the Jackets are forging right before our eyes: tight forechecking and working as a unit. Quite surprisingly, Columbus is currently seventh in the league at 2.88 GPG; the lion’s share of this has been done without Gaborik’s services.
Now factor in that Gaborik is an unrestricted free agent and his agent has stated there have been absolutely zero talks about contract extensions with the Jackets’ front office. One doesn’t need to know how to read tea leaves to see that Gaborik is a prime trading block candidate. The local media sure seems to think so as well. Why wouldn’t they? If the Jackets don’t plan to re-sign him and vice versa, why would the Columbus brass let him walk away for nothing.
How much value is he worth though?
Had he played in the Olympics and went on a scoring tear for the Slovaks, especially using his elite speed and that wider ice to his advantage, his stock would surely rise. While he has amassed a very impressive record during his career, his recent history leaves plenty of room for doubt. We already mentioned the injuries, and his last season with the Rangers was filled with what many would consider him underachieving and it being quite public that him and former Rangers coach John Tortorella did not see eye to eye.
The flip side to this is if Gaborik isn’t playing in the Olympics, he can’t get injured again. The NHL’s roster/trade freeze lifts at the conclusion of the Olympic games. If they are indeed shopping him around as the Mar. 5 trade deadline approaches, he will clearly generate a lot of interest from contenders looking for a “rental” to give them that extra scoring touch they’d need to lift that Stanley Cup over their heads. Even if Gaborik is seen as a bit tainted right now, a recovered Gaborik is a lot more valuable than one who received a season ending injury in Sochi.
Michael Nyeste is a writer for www.RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @SlimZamboni.