In Minnesota, things continue to play out in the media in nasty fashion. Reporters and bloggers and fans are all venting their frustration and ire as the stalemate between the Minnesota Wild and Marian Gaborik continues. To be fair, there's more than enough blame to go around, but no matter how much spin agent Ron Salcer tries to put on the situation, most people tend to not buy into the prospect that Gaborik is not getting a fair shake.
Yesterday, Salcer spoke to the media and announced that none of the offers being bandied about ($8 million for 8 years, $7 million for 7 years, $10 million for 10 years) have truly been offered by the Wild to his client. He also says that Gaborik is being treated unfairly by the media and the bloggers and the fans because Gaborik has shown his loyalty to Minnesota.
Let's stop right there, shall we?
I think it would be a pretty fair assessment that any reader would conclude that Salcer is, of course, going to be pointing fingers at the Wild and trying to label them as the bad guy. That's his job, to fight like a wolverine, rightly or wrongly, for his client. If he can whip up a storm of perceived ills being visited upon Marian and can sway folks to his side then he wins...for his client and his own pocketbook.
So what of this contention of Gaborik's "loyalty?" Does one truly show themselves to be loyal by simply playing under the contract for which they are already signed? I call that holding to your obligation as a player under contract to the team, not loyalty. Would this be the same "loyalty" Gaborik showed in 2003 when he refused to report to camp and missed the first month of the season as he tried to strong-arm the Wild into a lucrative deal, only to sign for essentially what he had been offered months before? Is that the loyalty we're supposed to be impressed by? I would counter that loyalty is better expressed by many of the guys in Detroit, who literally gave back pay to the team so that more players of higher quality could be brought in, recognizing that they were just one small cog in a machine that needs many working pieces to win a Cup. That's loyalty
What everyone needs to do is look at the plain and simple facts:
Gaborik is going to pull down $7.5 million this season, the last of his contract. That ranks him 14th in the NHL, making the same bucks as Zdeno Chara of Boston and Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta.
No one really believes that Gaborik will seek to stagnate his payroll and settle for the exact same cash, so you have to believe he's looking for $8.5-$10 per season, which puts him alongside Dany Heatley ($10 million), Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin ($9 million), and Miikka Kiprusoff ($8.5 million).
To be honest, no matter what Gaborik thinks of himself or what a pocket of still die-hard believers in him may think, Gaborik does not belong with that crowd. Frankly, he hasn't earned it. Unlike Gaborik, each of those guys has some hardware to their names and excepting Ovechkin, they've all made it to the Finals, and done so while acting as leaders.
Gaborik, by contrast, has hardly been a leader. He was given his first shot at commanding the ship in last year's playoff run. At no time did Gaborik seem to captain the team and he virtually disappeared in their 6 game implosion. Unlike those others, Gaborik is also not a game changer to the level they are. Gaborik does not dominate games like Crosby or Ovechkin, and his efforts tend to pale by comparison.
Injuries have plagued his career in Minnesota as well, rendering him highly paid and unavailable. In the past three seasons he has missed close to 60 games, including a whopping 34 in 2006-2007. And, as one would find slightly humorous were it not so predictable, Gaborik is already missing games this season with a "lower body injury" suffered while playing hackey-sack with teammates.
Come next summer the Wild will have 7 other UFAs and 4 RFAs to deal with, the biggest being goaltenders Niklas Backstrom (UFA) and Josh Harding (RFA). They are already up against the cap now so they are going to have to make some room to fit in a larger Gaborik deal or they need to cut their losses now and try to find a willing buyer for his services this year.
Rumors continue to swirl that some talks have taken place with teams like Los Angeles and Montreal, with Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers, and Buffalo Sabres also interested. You would think that any team would be interested but one has to also balance the fact that anyone making a deal:
a) knows they're getting damaged goods and
b) they're not going to swing a sweet deal unless Gaborik will agree to a longer contract in whatever new city tries to land him.
Some team somewhere will pay him an extraordinary sum. Of that I have no doubt. I do not, however, think that team should be the Wild. Yes, there is some sentimentality to the Gaborik mystique. He was the team's first draft pick and he has been the statistical leader in many categories.
Even so, he is not the heart of this franchise. Mikko Koivu, in a short period of time, has stepped up to the plate where Marian has floundered. He may not put up the numbers Gaborik does but he is more of a rounded player on which a team can build. Even Brent Burns has improved and grown into more of a presence.
Should the Wild see fit to part ways with Gaborik the team will not suffer so greatly and, in fact, may actually find their play elevated by relieving itself of the burden of stardom.