Every time the NHL playoffs come around, one thing to watch for is any player on the final year of his contract. There’s always at least one guy who steps up big time knowing that, on the league’s biggest stage, significant contributions could lead to a rich contract in the offseason.
It happened in 2011, when Joel Ward scored 13 points in 12 games with the Nashville Predators, then signed a four-year, $12 million contract the following offseason with the Washington Capitals as a result. Sean Bergenheim put together a quality playoff performance for the Tampa Bay Lightning that same season, and went from being paid $700,000 a year to $2.7 million with the Florida Panthers.
This season, it appears Marian Gaborik is the most notable contract player stepping up his game.
After starting the year with the Columbus Blue Jackets, it became apparent pretty early that he wasn’t likely to be resigned there at the end of the season. Injuries plagued him in the first few months, and he was eventually dealt at the trade deadline to the Los Angeles Kings. It was looking more and more like Gaborik would see a significant pay cut in the offseason.
However, the playoffs may have changed everything, as Gaborik waited ‘til the perfect time to start going on a tear.
Gaborik is sitting at the top of the leaderboard in terms of goals scored this postseason, netting ten in 18 games. For those keeping track, that’s just one less goal than he scored in 41 regular season games played this year. Though he’s been a little quiet during the Western Conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks – one goal in four games – he exploded against the Anaheim Ducks in the conference semifinals. His six goals and four assists, including both the last-second, game-tying tally and overtime winner in Game 1, were crucial to his team’s success against the Ducks.
Whether or not Gaborik adds a Stanley Cup ring to his postseason resume this year remains to be seen, but make no mistake, his impressive playoff stat line is going to make a big difference in his offseason contract negotiations.
One thing the Slovakian winger has going against him, though, is his injury problems. As previously mentioned, he’s already dealt with this a few times this season. He’s only played a full, 82-game campaign once in his 12 year career, logging at least 70 regular season games just six times in that span. Health issues have hung around Gaborik for quite some time, and it’ll definitely be something any interested party will be keeping in mind.
At the same time, if we’ve learned anything from players converting a stellar postseason into big money in the offseason, it’s that the past doesn’t factor in as much as you think. Consider the aforementioned examples as proof of this. Ward hadn’t scored more than 17 goals in a season before cashing in with Washington. The same can be said for Bergenheim. In fact, he still hasn’t topped that goal total.
The bottom line is players who don’t possess the scoring talent of Gaborik have made a lot of money based solely on one impressive playoff run. Because of this, expect Gaborik’s current play with the Kings to result in more than a few solid offers from around the league this summer. And if he adds a Cup, he might just add another zero to his salary next season.