LCS Hockey: Born Again
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July 22, 2014
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What Price Gabby?




Marian Gaborik
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

The Marian Gaborik sweepstakes have officially begun. Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough has put the Slovakian speedster on the block a bit early, apparently unwilling or unable to sign the impending unrestricted free agent to a new contract.

Gaborik has sat out the past few games with the dreaded “lower body” injury. Considering he’s missed 73 games the past four years with various groin ailments, seeing Gabby on the shelf is no surprise. But this is one of those special “lower body” injuries. You know, the kind that only hurts when someone discusses his contract.

Word on the street is Gaborik isn’t hurt at all. The Wild are sitting him to keep him healthy long enough to trade him. And with the NHL general managers currently meeting in Chicago, Gabby’s days in Minnesota could be solid gone.

Early reports have the Montreal Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings as the two frontrunners to land Gaborik. I’ll believe it when I see it. The last time the Canadian media nailed a trade rumor was when King Clancy went to the Leafs.

As an unabashed Pittsburgh Penguins homer, I’ve been banging the drum for the Pens to get Gaborik before the ink dried on Maid Marian’s contract with the filthy Red Wings. Gaborik on Kid Crosby’s wing would be spectacular. So let’s make a deal.

Jordan Staal and Ryan Whitney to the Wild for Gaborik. Done and done.

Let that sink in a minute. Sure, Staal is a tremendous talent, and I think he’s already the best defensive center in hockey. But what has more value, a 50-goal scorer or a shut-down center? I’ll take the 50-goal guy.

Staal must play center. Having him on the wing completely wastes his freakish reach and uncanny defensive instincts. Personally, I’d love to see the Penguins keep Crosby, Malkin, and Staal, because I think Staal is the perfect third-line pivot, but it’s simply too much of a good thing. With those three in the middle, the Pens would never have the resources to score a premier winger for Crosby.

Pittsburgh’s pitiful prospects at wing have forced Michel Therrien to reunite Crosby and Malkin on the top line with Pascal Dupuis, and the results have been predictable. The Pens have rattled off three straight wins, with Crosby and Malkin combining for three goals and 15 points. But there's a whole mess of eggs in that basket.

Staal is now centering the second line with Petr Sykora and Ruslan Fedotenko. The third line has Max Talbot between Tyler Kennedy and Miroslav Satan. Mike Zigomanis anchors the fourth line with tough guys Eric Godard and Paul Bissonnette. And laugh all you want at Zigomanis, but he wins draws, making him the ideal fourth-line center for this club. Randy Gilhen, anyone?

But imagine the lineup with Gaborik. You’d have Crosby, Gaborik, and Dupuis on the top line, and Dupuis and Gabby used to play together a bit in Minnesota. The second line would be Malkin, Satan, and Sykora. And when Matt Cooke returns from the injured list, you’d have Talbot with Cooke and Fedotenko on the third. That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!

Right now, teams can load up against the Crosby-Malkin line and take their chances with Staal and Talbot. But if you’ve got Kid Crosby and Gaborik on one line and Malkin-Sykora-Satan on the other, you’ve got worry. And Talbot-Cooke-Fedotenko would be a wicked good checking line.

On defense, Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang have acquitted themselves quite nicely in the early going, with Goligoski looking very much like a quicker, better skating Whitney. Granted, Whitney’s trade value is hurt somewhat since he’s currently recovering from foot surgery, but he’s just 25-years old, and he’s locked in at a very affordable $4 million for the next five seasons.

Whitney needs to be included for the salary cap hit. Together, Whitney and Staal make $6.2 million. Gaborik is getting $6.3 million this year. So the numbers work. The Pens could throw in whatever draft picks needed to get it done.

Now, Shero could only make this deal if Gaborik agrees to a contract extension. This can’t be a rental. Gaborik’s agent Ron Salcer has denied reports his client has turned down lucrative offers from the Wild, including a 10-year, $80-million deal. So there’s hope. And agents never lie.

Crosby and Malkin will make $8.7 apiece next season, marking a $5-million increase in Malkin’s cap number. But remember, Whitney and Staal would be gone, so that would accommodate Malkin’s salary bump.

Meanwhile, Satan, Sykora, Fedotenko, Hal Gill, and Darryl Sydor are all unrestricted after the season, freeing up $12.75 million. Give Gaborik $8 million of that and then use what’s left to sign warm bodies. You’d still have a core of Crosby, Malkin, Gaborik, and Fleury.

One slight problem with the plan. The Wild already have roughly $15.3 million tied up next season between Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson, Nick Schultz, and Marek Zidlicky. That’s a lot of money on the blue line, so taking on Whitney and his $4 million doesn’t make much sense.

But hey, that’s what three-ways are for. Whitney would bring value. Staal is the centerpiece. Is there a more perfect Minnesota-style player? Jacques Lamaire will have Staal’s name tattooed on his ass by Christmas. And rolling with Mikko Koivu, Staal, and James Sheppard in the middle would be swank.

Let’s go, boys. Nothing to it but to do it.





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