Gaborik to Return Sunday?
Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying that having Marian Gaborik on the ice makes the Minnesota Wild a better team. The problem is that this has only occurred in six games this season.
According to Brian Stensaas of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, however, it will happen at least once more this season.
Barring any setbacks, Marian Gaborik said he feels he will return to the lineup Sunday afternoon against Edmonton.
Gaborik will travel with the team to New Jersey this afternoon. But he said playing tomorrow night against the Devils is unlikely. Instead, he’ll wait for the Oilers.
“We’ll probably shoot for Sunday’s game,” Gaborik said after an hourlong practice this morning. “Hopefully everything will progress. Hopefully I’ll be more pain free each day and go from there.”
Coach Jacques Lemaire has said all along that the decision to return is the player’s. So this means it is a good bet Sunday will be the day.
This is fantastic news for a team that has been struggling of late. The initial timetable for Gaborik’s return was set with approximately 5 or 6 games left in the season; not necessarily much time for the team to make much noise if they were not close to the playoff hunt. Gaborik’s return with 11 games remaining in the season would be a huge shot in the arm for a team vying for a playoff spot. A fresh Marian Gaborik could spell the difference between missing the playoffs and a potential deep playoff run for this team, as they have remained in the playoff hunt all season long without their top player. A fresh Marian Gaborik for the Wild essentially equates to the same as a fresh Martin Brodeur does for the New Jersey Devils; that is exactly how important Gaborik can be to this team when healthy.
Now my thoughts on this are quite bittersweet. I am, first and foremost, a Wild fan and this news brings great hope to our postseason possibilities. Even injured, Gaborik is one of the better offensive talents that the Wild have and there are many games that his presence could have been the difference between a win or a loss or a loss and an extra point. At the same time, however, I have never really been a fan of Gaborik’s (though I do concede that he brings a lot to the table that helps the Wild) and his (or his agent’s) seeming lack of cooperation in trying to work out a deal that would keep him in Minnesota has left a bad taste in my mouth.
Quite frankly, it was my hope that we had a team that could do it without him and allow us to be able to say, “See, we don’t need you,” upon his return. It has been quite apparent, however, that this is not the case. This team has been mired with inconsistency, both on a whole and offensively. They have been competitive, but not dominant by any means and the hope that is prevalent from most Wild fans is that Gaborik will help turn a competitive team into a dominant one.
The Wild will also likely hope that this return gives Gaborik a spark to sign a short-term deal with the team, likely at a reduced rate, to try to build up his value and his reputation once more. The value shouldn’t be hard to re-build. Let’s face it, this kid can score. When healthy and willing to work, he can be as dynamic an offensive player as anyone in the league. Just as the New York Rangers. His largest problem, however, is inconsistency which stems from a lack of work ethic. Don’t misread this…He’s in fantastic shape and he certainly works very hard off the ice and outside of games. Where this lack of work ethic manifests itself is in games where things are not going his way or where he gets shuffled onto a line he does not like. A great example of this would be the season opening game against the Boston Bruins. While the Wild won this game, their “superstar” was near invisible for most of the game as he was placed on a line that he considered to be the “checking line” with James Sheppard and Stephane Veilleux. (It should be noted that Lemaire saw this as another scoring line and not the checking line that it turned into without Gaborik on it.)
His reputation, however, may be a bit harder to repair. There’s no question about it that, when the Wild’s contract offers got leaked, Gaborik immediately lost the PR battle. Originally, everyone was under the impression that the Wild were lowballing the Slovakian Sensation. When the contract offers got leaked (ranging between $8.5M and $9.5M), public perception immediately turned against Gaborik and many questioned his dedication as a team player.
My personal opinion is that the Wild should attempt to re-sign Gaborik to a short-term contract (at most three years) at the same average cap hit that he currently sits at. While I don’t like Gaborik, I cannot deny that he brings a certain dynamic to our line up that we otherwise would not have and I question both other teams’ willingness to sign an injury prone player to a lucrative, long-term contract with the assumed drop in the salary cap next season and the Wild’s ability to land the “big fish” that would replace Gaborik in terms of productivity.
Regardless of what happens, Wild fans will be able to see Number 10 flying up and down the ice in a Wild sweater for at least a little bit longer. Like him or not, he’s still with the team and he’s going to be able to help us. From the reports, it appears as if he’s been practicing on a line with Peter Olvecky and Dan Fritsche, which has the potential to be a pretty fun line to watch. It will be interesting to see on Sunday how he fares on this line, as well as how the fans react to his return.
Either way, I still can’t escape the feeling of wanting to be able to say, “We can do it without you,” though.