There was a lot of excitement when Marian Gaborik was traded to Columbus nearly a year ago. Gaborik waiving his no-trade clause brought a much needed boost of credibility to a city and fans of a team on a surprise playoff push.
But, as it goes with Gaborik throughout his entire career, injuries have been a problem. After a valiant push with the Jackets last spring and falling just a tie-breaker short of making the playoffs, Gaborik's 2013-14 season has been spotty at best. He's played in less than half of the team's games, and while 12 points in 18 games isn't too far off his typical pace, just 5 goals is not acceptable from someone making $7.5 million per year. That's nearly $2 million more than the next closest Jacket (Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky).
As the trade deadline approaches, officially set for March 5th at 3 pm, the ongoing conversation in Jarmo Kekalainen's office becomes: What do we do with Marian Gaborik?
It's hard to see them trading him if the team is within earshot of a playoff position. It would be eerily similar to Adam Foote's trade and Rick Nash's trade request. It would be a blow to a team and a fanbase that can only suffer through so much mediocrity. But that doesn't change the fact that, even if he will be let go, traded, or re-signed after the season, it will affect what the Blue Jackets can and may do during the trade deadline.
His talent is obvious. The Blue Jackets need a player like Gaborik to compliment a top six including Ryan Johansen and Nathan Horton. You don't want teams to be able to stack up against a top line, essentially egging on the other 9 forwards to try to score, which has been the case in Columbus for as long as I can remember. This team is a legitimate playoff threat when they have at least two lines that scare the opposition every night. Gaborik, even when he's not scoring a lot of goals, demands a certain amount of attention. But is that attention worth north of $7 million?
It comes down to money for me. If he's willing to take a pay cut, I have no issue keeping him. But the combination of age and injury is lethal. I don't think he'll attract huge money in free agency.
– Jeff Little
It's simply not an easy question with an easy answer, but it needs to be decided. If Gaborik is willing to take, say $5.5 million, putting him in line with Horton and Bobrovsky, I could see him being a valuable asset on the team. If he wants over $6 million, would that money be better spent chasing after someone younger, healthier, and on a longer term deal?
While Gaborik's collarbone injury was a case of bad luck, the groin issues, even after having a surgical repair in the offseason, is concerning.
He has the talent to be a game breaker, but I am concerned about offering him more than a one or two year deal at this point.
– Matt Wagner
I don't see how Gaborik could be re-signed for more than one or two years given his current output. Even for a team that likely won't bump up against the salary cap, something like 3 years and $6.5 million just seems like too much to put on a question mark. Is there a team out there that would offer that to Gaborik, hoping he regains his form as a 40-goal scorer? I think at least one team would. Ottawa or New Jersey, maybe? Edmonton, if they unload some forward talent for defensive upgrades? Or, if he is willing to take a paycut, couldn't you see him going to Pittsburgh, or Detroit, or back to New York? Wouldn't that suck? Yet that's the risk of taking this into free agency.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the risk this team will have to take. Wait until the off-season, see if he'll take a discount, and if not, part ways. The Blue Jackets appear to be headed in the right direction with or without Gaborik, but this team needs a player like #10, and they don't come along very often.