Jun 13, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings right wing Marian Gaborik (12) leads his teammates to the ice before game five of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Marian Gaborik’s New Contract May Be Risky

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Marian Gaborik just might finish his career as a Los Angeles King.

On Wednesday, the 32-year-old signed a seven-year, $34.125 million contract to stay with the Los Angeles Kings. For those counting, that’s a salary cap hit of $4.875 million per season, much lower than the $7.5 million cap hit from his last contract.

He easily could have gotten more on the open market with his playoff performance, but he decided to stay in Los Angeles to be more than a rental player.

Sportsnet hockey writer Chris Johnston Tweeted out the salary breakdown for Gaborik’s contract, which barely beats the rules about loaded contracts, where no year of salary can have a 50 per cent difference from any other years.

I don’t know how Dean Lombardi did it, but the cap number is great for the Kings since they have a lot of free agents to deal with in the next two years. However, I worry about the length of the contract.

I said before that Marian Gaborik should get a short-term contract, then try to cash in again in two years. Instead, he has chosen the road to retirement route, with Lombardi happy to keep him around.

The Benefits of Marian Gaborik‘s Extension

  •  It’s a team-friendly contract. With his playoff performance, I thought Marian Gaborik would be in the $6 to $6.5 million range. He took less, giving the Kings more salary cap flexibility in the near future. With Gaborik signed, only Dwight King and Willie Mitchell are unsigned, and Los Angeles has just under $6 million in cap space to get them under contract. Next year, the Kings will have decisions to make, with $21.5 million in salary cap space available and just 10 players signed. Alec Martinez, Jake MuzzinTyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson are young guys who will seek raises, while Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll will both be unrestricted. Barring a catastrophic market collapse, the cap will keep rising, and every little bit saved on Marian Gaborik‘s contract helps keep everyone else around.
  • It gives Anze Kopitar another reason to re-sign. With everyone I’ve mentioned above, Kopitar is the biggest fish here. Kopitar and Gaborik were dynamic together in the playoffs, so why wouldn’t Kopitar want to keep playing with him for years to come? I’m not at all saying Kopitar would have left Los Angeles if Gaborik didn’t re-sign, but having the Slovakian sniper back in the fold doesn’t hurt. Kopitar’s current deal, with an average cap hit of $6.8 million, expires after the 2015-16 season, so it would be better to lock him up sooner than later.
  • The Kings remain a more balanced team. One of the knocks on the Kings over the years has been their lack of team offence, ranking 25th in the NHL in goals scored. That changed once Lombardi got Marian Gaborik from Columbus. In the 19 regular season games after acquiring Gaborik, Los Angeles scored 54 goals, good for 2.84 goals per game and the league’s 12th-ranked offence. Over a full season, it would have put them 13th in the league. The offence also produced the biggest jump among playoff teams at the trade deadline, scoring 0.43 more goals per game after the deadline than before, with only Calgary (0.86 goals per game) and Nashville (0.81 goals per game) experiencing a bigger jump overall. They turned it up again once the playoffs hit, scoring at a 3.35 goal-per-game pace. While that kind of pace is unsustainable, the Kings can expect a spike with Marian Gaborik as part of their offence, at least for a few seasons. Plus, young players like Toffoli and Pearson, both of whom will be key cogs in the Kings’ future, can learn a thing or two offensively from Gaborik, a three-time 40-goal scorer.

The Risks of Marian Gaborik’s Extension

  • He’s an injury risk. I love Marian Gaborik as a player, but as I mentioned in my previous piece about him, he’s had seven injuries where he’s missed 10 or more games in his 13-year career. That has to be a concern for the Kings, especially as Gaborik gets older and his body breaks down more. On Marek vs. Wyshynski, Jeff Marek brought up the idea of the Kings managing the number of games Marian Gaborik plays in a season (starts around the 17:00 mark), but if you do that, would Los Angeles then expect the kind of production of, say, a $7 million player whenever he’s in the lineup?
  • Will his production be worth the money? I just mentioned it, but what kind of production should be expected from an aging commodity at the $4.875 million salary cap number? Using current age, cap hit, and recency of contract as the metrics, Marian Gaborik’s contract comparables are Valtteri Filppula (30 years old, five-year deal at $5 million cap hit to 2018), Stephen Weiss (31 years old, five-year deal at $4.9 million to 2018), Ryane Clowe (31 years old, five-year deal at $4.85 million to 2018), and Scott Hartnell (32 years old, six-year deal at $4.75 million to 2019.) Over the last three seasons, Gaborik has been more productive per-game than all of them collectively and individually. The gap has gotten smaller, though, and Filppula was (barely) the more productive player this season. Eventually, his play could drop to the point where he can’t keep up with the game, at which point the contract could become suspect.
  • How long can he sustain his play? Marian Gaborik is getting older, so he can’t play forever. The Kings recognized that and front-loaded the contract almost as much as the CBA allowed them to. Based on the contract details, Los Angeles probably believes Gaborik will play until he’s 37, then retire. Though front-loaded contracts in this CBA aren’t subject to salary cap recapture penalties for early retirement, it could present a tricky situation if he declines faster than expected. If Marian Gaborik gets to 35 and is awful or constantly injured, you’re not going to get much in a trade for him, while a buyout that summer (2017) would cost $10.6 million over eight seasons. While not as bad as Vincent Lecavalier ($32 million over 14 years) or Alexei Yashin ($17,632,000 over eight years, the highest non-compliance buyout ever), it would still be the seventh-highest in NHL history. While $1.325 million per season isn’t horrible, it still hurts in an environment where every dollar counts.

It will be interesting to see how Marian Gaborik’s contract shakes out in the long run. The dollar figure is nothing short of magical, but it’s a question of whether he’ll be worth it for seven years.

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Tags: Free Agency Los Angeles Kings Marian Gaborik