Marian Gaborik will be a highly-coveted free agent target if he hits the open market on July 1. He led the NHL in playoff goal scoring with 14 while capturing the first Stanley Cup of his 13-year career.
However, a question about Gaborik is what kind of contract he should get when he signs, whether it’s short or long-term.
A lot is made about the “contract year,” and the risks tied to it. A contract year performance can be a sign of player development, or it could be somebody putting in more effort for a bigger pay day.
What kind of contract should the Slovakian sniper get? Let’s consider the evidence.
Marian Gaborik‘s Positives
When healthy, Gaborik can still be one of the game’s elite snipers, as he proved in the playoffs.
Unless your name is Jonathan Cheechoo, you don’t lose your scoring touch overnight if you’re a three-time 40-goal scorer like Marian Gaborik.
He can draw attention from top defenders because he’ll burn you if left open, and who wouldn’t want that?
One of the big question marks about Gaborik has been his defensive play. While he’ll never be a Selke Trophy nominee like Kings teammate Anze Kopitar, Gaborik succeeded for a time under Jacques Lemaire, who doesn’t like players straying from his defensive system.
With Darryl Sutter, you need to play a 200-foot game to thrive, along with having a strong work ethic. Gaborik did it, and he reaped the rewards on Monday night.
Marian Gaborik’s Negatives
Of course, you take the good with the bad, and Gaborik isn’t without his issues.
For starters, he’s not a young guy anymore, having turned 32 in February, so teams should be wary of a possible drop in skill level.
Also, he’s never been the poster boy for durability. In six of his 13 NHL seasons, Gaborik has missed 15 games or more. Last season, Gaborik was limited to 41 games between Columbus and Los Angeles thanks to a sprained knee and a broken collarbone.
Over his career, Marian Gaborik has had seven separate injuries keep him out for 10 or more games. There’s no pattern to when he gets hurt, and when he returns from an injury, it takes him some time to get back to his regular playing level.
All told, Gaborik has missed 21.5 per cent (222 out of 1,032) of his team’s regular season games in his career, a number that could go up with age. Do teams want that risk?
What I Would Offer Marian Gaborik
Though Gaborik will probably seek (and get) a long-term contract from a team, I would go short-term on him. In fact, I’d do something like a bridge contract.
For younger players, a bridge contract is sometimes used to get from an entry-level contract to unrestricted free agency, or “bridge” the gap. P.K. Subban and Matt Duchene come to mind as recent examples. Both took less money and a shorter term, and both thrived. Duchene cashed in with a five-year, $30 million contract extension, and Subban will get a big raise this summer.
In Marian Gaborik’s case, the “bridge” is the time before he gets to a 35-plus contract, where a retirement under contract still counts against the salary cap.
Right now, Gaborik has three seasons before he hits 35. With his injury history, he probably won’t get the money he’d want out of a 35-plus contract.
The smart play for both sides would be to get him for two years. That kind of contract would motivate Gaborik to perform, and he’d be an attractive option for teams if he hits free agency again.
Any contract signed before age 35 can come off the books if a player retires early. Marian Gaborik will be 34 after the 2015-16 season, and could be primed for one last big pay day if he performs.
But how much should he get now?
It’s a tough one to answer, but there are signs. Gaborik is coming off a five-year contract with a cap hit of $7.5 million per season. He had two great years (2009-10, 2011-12), one not-so-great season (2012-13), and two where injuries limited his ability (2010-11, 2013-14).
When healthy, Marian Gaborik is an elite player, as his two great years put him in the top 15 in NHL scoring. However, you want more consistency out of a player with that cap hit.
Even though NHL economics have changed with the salary cap, Gaborik isn’t the guy you want as your top earner. Looking at recent contract comparables, Alexander Semin is the closest.
Like Gaborik, Semin has great hands and a nose for the net. Since 2006-07, Gaborik and Semin have had similar production, with Gaborik (432 points in 450 games, 0.96 points per game) being slightly more effective than Semin (472 points in 526 games, 0.90 points per game).
In Semin’s case, having Alex Ovechkin as a teammate didn’t hurt. Marian Gaborik, by contrast, had some lean years in Minnesota and New York before Brad Richards tried to take some of the load off on Broadway.
Between those two, Gaborik is more productive, though age could tip the scales in Semin’s favour over time, and he’s at $7 million for the next five seasons at age 30.
In San Jose, Patrick Marleau has a deal starting July 1 with a cap hit of $6,666,667. He’s been more durable and consistent than Gaborik (five straight full seasons of 60 points or more, hasn’t missed a game since 2008-09), but he’s 34, so a drop-off may be coming.
Ultimately, Marian Gaborik’s biggest comparable might be Kopitar, as he’s not in the discussion with Steven Stamkos ($7.5 million), or Hart Trophy nominees Ryan Getzlaf and Claude Giroux ($8.275 million each).
If Gaborik stays in Los Angeles, would Dean Lombardi pay him more than a younger, more complete player? The Slovenian has two years left on a deal with an average cap hit of $6.8 million, and a huge raise coming.
If I’m Dean Lombardi, I’d offer Marian Gaborik no more than a two-year, $13.5 million contract. It’s just under Kopitar’s current cap hit, and structured so Gaborik makes $7.5 million the first season (same as his expiring contract), then $6 million in his contract year.
Los Angeles needs to be careful with the cap if he re-signs, though. Only eight players have contracts next summer, with players like Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Jake Muzzin being restricted free agents, while Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, and Stanley Cup hero Alec Martinez are unrestricted, among others.
Yes, Marian Gaborik was great in the playoffs, but at this stage of his career, it’s probably an outlier for him. While he may well get a long-term, big-money deal, the big picture says Gaborik is no longer a team’s main building block, and he shouldn’t be paid like one.