Marian Gaborik joined the Los Angeles Kings with the labels of streaky and “injury-prone” (rightfully) attached to him. While he has his faults, he is, when healthy, one of the most electrifying offensive players in the NHL with a speed/shot combination.
When at its best, it would make the “Russian Rocket” Pavel Bure proud. Since arriving in LA, he has been a steady point producer for the Kings and brought a mixture of speed and the skill the team’s top six forwards were sorely lacking. In the Anaheim Ducks series alone Gaborik has found the back of the net five times (the team has scored 11 total goals in the series) showcasing his amazing ability to score in a number of ways. Regardless of where the Kings’ season ends, the team will be facing a big decision on whether or not to re-sign the pending free agent.
At age 32, Gaborik doesn’t define youthful, but at the same time he isn’t exactly over the hill and it can be reasonably assumed he has at least a few solid offensive seasons left in him.
While age is a concern, the biggest worry the Kings should have is his games missed throughout his career. Gabroik has only played a full 82 games once since entering the league in 2000 and has missed at least 15 games six times in that span. Of specific concern should be the amount of lower body (knee, groin, thigh and hip specifically) injuries he has sustained.
For a player like Gaborik, who is reliant on his speed to make plays and score goals, such injuries can be what derails his career in the short and long-term. If the Kings are to invest $5-6 million over 3-5 seasons they need to be sure they will get a capable return on investment. I
f re-signing Gaborik causes the Kings to have to amnesty the tenacious Mike Richards, who was instrumental in their 2012 Cup win, there could be a shift in the team’s identity. The Kings should be asking themselves is it worth losing a proven winner (who albeit has had his struggles offensively) for a player who has bounced around (Since 2009 going from the Minnesota Wild to the New York Rangers to the Columbus Blue Jackets before arriving in Los Angeles at the trade deadline) in recent years and has anything but a clean bill of health?
The bottom line is as much as the Kings “need” Gaborik’s skill set, they shouldn’t tie themselves down with a massive contract on an injury-prone winger on the wrong side of 30.
The Kings should try to open up salary cap room this summer and make a run at a big name free agent (Thomas Vanek) or make a trade for a player who wants out of their current situation (Evander Kane) before going “all in” on re-signing Gaborik.
One thing working in the Kings’ favor is the fact that this team appears to be a contender for a long time, something a player like Gaborik, who has yet to play in the Stanley Cup Finals, must relish. I really feel there is enough mutual interest between the Slovakian winger and the Kings for a “team friendly” deal that has Gaborik taking a “hometown discount” to stay in LA to get done. The Kings will be a contender for the foreseeable future, the only question is will Marian Gaborik be part of that future? The choice rests squarely on his shoulders.