Say it ain’t so, Gaborik

April 13, 2009

by Matt Kane

Friday night may have been the final time hockey fans will have seen superstar Marian Gaborik in a Minnesota Wild uniform.

Let’s hope not.

We’ve seen greats like Kevin Garnett, Johan Santana and Torii Hunter grow into good players in Minnesota only to leave for greener (and by greener I mean richer) pastures, but let’s hope the same scenario doesn’t play out with Gaborik.

The old-school fan in me thinks there is something unique about having an original member of the Wild roster still skating at the Xcel Energy Center for the home team.

Gaborik was the Wild’s first draft choice, third overall, in the 2000 entry draft, and was a rookie on the inaugural team during the 2000-01 season. He scored 18 goals that first season, and has gone on to score 30-or-more goals in five of his eight seasons, with his career high being 42 in the 2007-08 season.

I know, like the rest of you, that Gaborik seems to get injured every season, and that is the biggest frustration about the 27-year-old, but, in seeing him play in these final 11 games, since he returned to the ice March 22, I have been reminded about how good he is. Through Thursday, Gaborik had 11 goals and seven assists in 15 games this year. Those 18 points over 15 games translate to 1.2 points per game.

We say it every year, if Gaborik could stay healthy for an entire year, he could be up there with today’s greats, like Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

The big word in that last statement is “if,” when it comes to Gaborik, but I think the prospect of what Gaborik could do if he did play a full season’s worth of games is worth a nice contract.

If Gaborik leaves Minnesota after this season, which I’m afraid he might do, the road to signing proven goal-scorers gets a whole lot bumpier for the Wild.

It’s already been tough luring free agents to Minnesota, and Gaborik, as of now, is the Wild’s best bait.

If the Wild let Gaborik get away on the free agent market, it will be like fishing with nothing on the hook. From my ice fishing days this past winter, I found out that does not work.

The other question that comes up with the Wild is whether original coach Jacques Lemaire will retire after the season. He questioned whether he wanted to come back after last season, so it’s difficult to believe this current season made him feel any more positive about a return.

Fans have been criticizing Lemaire’s defense-first system, and blaming it for the Wild’s mediocre play this season.

Funny though, those same fans didn’t seem to mind the same system back in the 2002-03 season, when the Wild skated to the Wester Conference Finals.

We also need to remember what Lemaire did as a coach before he arrived in Minnesota. In 1995, using his defensive system, Lemaire led the New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup title.

OK, so the Wild don’t have Scott Stevens on the blue line or Martin Brodeur in goal, but they do have Marian Gaborik, and Niklas Backstrom is a pretty good goaltender.

The most goals scored by any of Lemaire’s ‘95 Devils was 26, scored by Steve Thomas. Thomas’ 61 points also led New Jersey that year.

Twenty-six goals and 61 points? Gaborik can do that in his sleep.

That’s why we need to wake him and the Wild up, and keep Gaborik in Minnesota.