Last year, shock waves were sent through the NHL when the Columbus Blue Jackets made a deal for New York Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline. It was a bold move for a team that almost saw the deal pay off. Columbus surged to the finish line, but missed the playoffs by a hair. Regardless, they had Gaborik in tow for another season, and he was expected to help the team clinch a postseason berth that barely eluded them last year.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t played out like that. While the Blue Jackets are hanging in there, just slightly out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, Gaborik hasn’t had a banner year. As of today, he’s only played 19 games so far this season. He was injured in November, then returned in a December game against the Philadelphia Flyers for a whole two minutes before getting hurt again. In the final year of his contract, he isn’t exactly having a year that begs Columbus to resign him.
Gaborik returned to the ice last night in the Blue Jackets’ loss to the New Jersey Devils, scoring a goal and escaping the game injury free. However, if he wants Columbus to resign him this offseason, he’s going to have to do a lot in these final weeks of the season.
Make no mistake; Gaborik is definitely under the microscope this year. GM Jarmo Kekalainen stated back in November that the team wanted to see more from him before they moved forward with a contract offer. Goals are one thing, but for a team with minimal postseason experience, Kekalainen wanted to see leadership from the Czech forward. Of course, you have to imagine he’d also like to see some durability as well.
One has to imagine that, if forced to make a choice today, Columbus would probably pass on resigning Gaborik. He’ll come with a high price tag, but hasn’t done enough this season to merit it. That said, there’s still time.
If Gaborik truly enjoys playing for Columbus – and there hasn’t really been any evidence he doesn’t – he needs to play at the highest gear during the season’s home stretch. He needs to put pucks in the net, but also needs to show he can be a veteran leader on a team that doesn’t have a ton of them. Although there are less than two months left in the regular season, that’s plenty of time for Gaborik to make a final push to be resigned by the Blue Jackets.
Gaborik has been around the league long enough to know that, if you really want to show your worth to a front office, a playoff berth goes a long way. If he was able to contribute enough to help Columbus make their first postseason since 2009, it would be tough for Kekalainen to oppose the idea of bringing Gaborik back.
There is, of course, always a chance that Gaborik is on another roster come next season. However, this certainly doesn’t mean he shouldn’t give it his all every game this year. The better he plays, the more dollars he’ll see, regardless of what club signs him.
At the end of the day, significant effort and leadership are huge requirements for Gaborik in these final weeks. He’s a Blue Jacket now, and if he wants to be one next year, he knows what he has to do. His motto should mimic that of his current club; its playoffs or bust.