There is nothing in sports that we as fans root for more than a good redemption story. A comeback. An athlete, once down on his luck and seemingly cast aside, getting back on his feet and getting one more shot at glory. A redemption story even Hollywood writers would be embarrassed to tell. But it just so happens that the team from Hollywood is playing the backdrop for such drama these playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings found themselves in a familiar predicament at the trade deadline this year: Stanley Cup hopeful with the need for more offensive punch. So, general manager Dean Lombardi picked up the phone and dialled the Columbus Blue Jackets. Hey, it worked two years ago when the Kings acquired Jeff Carter to help win a Cup, so why not again? The prize on the other side of the line this time? Sniper Marian Gaborik.
The 32-year old winger was acquired at the trade deadline for Matt Frattin and a couple of draft picks. The reaction to the move was mostly lukewarm as fans and media were focused on names like Thomas Vanek, Martin St. Louis, and Ryan Callahan. Gaborik was underwhelming in his time in Columbus, playing only a total of 34 games over two injury-filled seasons for the Blue Jackets, racking up a paltry 22 points. It was a far cry from his days as one of the most feared scorers in the league.While his move at this year’s deadline was somewhat predictable considering he never quite fit in with the upstart Blue Jackets, his trade to Columbus at last year’s trade deadline was the shock of the day, with Gaborik being traded by the New York Rangers for forwards Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett, and defenseman John Moore. After three-and-a-half roller coaster seasons in Manhattan, Gaborik was shipped out in part because of the Rangers’ desire to acquire more depth, in part because Gaborik just didn’t fit the style of then-coach John Tortorella.
The funny thing was that everyone screamed that Tortorella was stifling the team’s offensive ability. While there is truth to that, Gaborik did manage to score more than 40 goals twice with the Rangers. Unfortunately for Gaborik, many Ranger fans’ lasting impressions of him are his lackadaisical play in his own end or his turnover in front of Henrik Lundqvist that led to a Washington Capitals’ goal in overtime in game 4 of the 2011 playoffs.
Ask Kings’ fans what their impressions have been so far of Gaborik and you’ll hear the difference…clutch…playoff performer…someone who you want to have the puck with the game on the line. He’s already tallied 12 goals and 19 points in 21 games this postseason. His totals with the Rangers? Six goals and 13 points in 25 games, which are still better on average than Rick Nash’s with the club.
He was asked to be the savior in New York, a role he just couldn’t deliver come playoff time. Whether it was a rotating cast of linemates or mounting pressure of being the only game-breaker on the team, Gaborik saw his production drop significantly when the games counted most. However on a line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, Gaborik finally has space to do what he does best…dart in and out of areas looking to get that quick shot of his off. And it has paid dividends so far.
And it hasn’t just been the volume of goals Gaborik has scored so far. Whether it’s scoring the tying goal with seven seconds left in regulation and winning goal in overtime against Anaheim in Game 1 of the conference semi-finals or scoring the tying goal late in Game 7 against the Blackhawks, Gaborik has shed the reputation that dogged him throughout his career with the Rangers: “sure, he could score a hat trick against the Oilers or the Islanders, but what about in big games?” Well, Marian is silencing those critics so far.
We also can’t forget to mention the good timing of this playoff surge for Gaborik. His five-year contract originally signed with the Rangers is set to expire after the season. Do you think there will be a few teams in the market for a goal-scorer with a penchant for big goals? Yeah, me too, although I’m sure the Kings will do everything in their power to retain his services. After a hellacious two-year period for Gaborik, things are looking up again.
The capper on it could very well come over the next two weeks as Gaborik’s Kings skate against his former team, the Rangers. The Kings are currently favored to hoist the Stanley Cup, and if Gaborik continues scoring at this torrid pace, he very well may also add a Conn Smythe to his trophy collection as well. You don’t think he knows what’s at stake and who is on the other side of the rink from him?
His redemption story is almost complete.