Today though, he left with a whimper. The Blue Jackets traded Gaborik to the Los Angeles Kings for, according to initial reports, Matt Frattin, a second-round pick (originally from the Toronto Maple Leafs) and a conditional third-round pick (originally from the Edmonton Oilers).
It’s unfortunate for the Blue Jackets their Gaborik experiment didn’t work out anywhere near as hoped. They gave up Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett to land the three-time 40-goal scorer. Granted, Gaborik was in the last year of his $7.5-million contract, but the Jackets received decidedly much less than what they gave up to get him last year. The surrendering of Moore in particular may prove to be quite the mistake down the road.
Gaborik’s play on the ice was often as unsatisfying as it was non-existent. He was beset by multiple injuries that kept him from suiting up and playing in top form. When he was on the ice, even when relatively healthy, he just never looked like a player that jelled with his squad. Gaborik has a stellar — if not elite — skill set, but his finesse style of play didn’t mesh with a team where everyone playing as a unit is crucial to their success.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen must be disappointed with the Slovakian forward’s Columbus tenure, but he was wise to not treat Gaborik like a one-season rental when he wasn’t a part of their long-term plans. Frattin is a fourth-liner whose fit into an already crowded, solid bottom six will be worth watching.
The real meat of this trade lies within the draft picks. Kekalainen’s acumen and track record during his time as an amateur talent scout teeters on elite. If anyone can dig up gold from a second and third-round pick, it’s him.
In the here and now, the return is a tad a disappointing. Any time you have a three-time goal scorer on the way out the door, you expect a bigger name or two in return. Columbus’s return simply reflects the reality of the situation: a former star with a lot of miles and wear and tear in the last year of his contract wasn’t going to yield a gold mine. Maybe the draft picks will pan out into solid contributors down the road, but this particular trade doesn’t bolster the Jackets’ playoff chances this year.
Los Angeles simply scored a slam dunk, at least in the short term. Gaborik is your prototypical ideal rental player. The Kings are starving for goals, and Gaborik still has a shot to be reckoned with. The Kings’ stellar defensive play can give Gaborik the freedom to do what he does best: stretch the ice with his speed and get creative.
The real mystery for Los Angeles is just what incarnation of Gaborik are they receiving. He now comes with the baggage of not meshing with his past two clubs, being riddled by injuries in recent history and apparently losing a step on the ice. How far removed if Gaborik from his prime? Is there still a 30-goal season left on his stick? For now, all the Kings care about is short-term, playoff output, and whether he factor into their long-term plans will be revealed another day.