NHL organizations waste no time overhauling their rosters.
The Stanley Cup has only had beer guzzled out of it by a handful of Pittsburgh Penguins, yet almost every major free agent is off the board and many other top names have been traded to new teams.
The New York Rangers had more trouble scoring goals last year than the New York Mets have scoring runs this year.
The Rangers were punchless.
Goalie/team backbone Henrik Lundqvist had to play like an acrobat from Cirque du Soleil to give the Blueshirts any chance of winning, and on the nights where he was not playing like another Patrick Roy, the Rangers would lose low-scoring affairs.
So Rangers general manager Glen Sather went out and coughed up some dough and salary cap room on longtime Minnesota Wild sniper Marian Gaborik.
Will Gaborik finally turn into the full-time fantasy force hockey poolers have been waiting for over the past eight years, or will he be another high-priced disappointment like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, and Wade Redden have been for the Rangers in recent seasons?
Here are three things to consider:
Gaborik’s Injury History
The most injury-prone player in the NHL better start checking out all the stores near Madison Square Garden that sell vitamins, milk, and health food. Gaborik has never been known for his Marcel Dionne-like durability or his Mark Messier-like toughness, and a couple 40-game seasons will make New Yorkers despise him as much as the Boston Red Sox.
The slick, shifty sniper has averaged over a point-per game in each of the past four seasons.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is Gaborik only played in 207 games during that span, meaning he missed 37 percent of his scheduled contests.
Can someone send this guy some tapes of Cal Ripken Jr.?
Gaborik stayed relatively injury-free in his first three NHL campaigns, but no other top-flight forward has had more injury problems than he has since 2003.
Will playing in New York instead of Minnesota somehow keep him healthier?
Gaborik was not always getting hurt in Minnesota because of the colder climate or because the doctors were not as intelligent. The only thing fantasy owners can hope for is that Gaborik tries to toughen up as he attempts to live up to his costly contract and to appease the boisterous Rangers fans.
A Big Change in Systems
It is remarkable and a testament to Gaborik’s talents that he was able to average over a point per game with Minnesota considering the Wild never really tried to score goals.
Minnesota was content to win games 2-1 and 1-0 and play with a defense-first attitude that always rubbed wrongly against Gaborik’s offense-first mentality.
Now Gaborik is going to be playing in Rangers' head coach John Tortorella’s up-tempo system, and it should be like a greyhound being unleashed on a rack track.
Gabby has always been restrained.
Now he will be given the freedom to create scoring chances for himself and his linemates without being given an evil eye by the coaching staff for having the nerve to take a shot on a goal.
If Gaborik was able to average over a point per game in Minnesota, there is no reason he could not score 1.5 points per game with New York. He will be used on the first line and the first power play unit and will probably get 18-20 minutes of ice time as long as he keeps himself off the injured reserve.
And, if the stars align and he actually survives long enough to appear in 70 games, he could have a 100-point season.
Gaborik’s New Linemates
Gaborik’s New Linemates
It never mattered who Gabby played alongside of in Minnesota, because only the truest hockey fans and most knowledgeable fantasy poolers knew who these unknowns were.
The best center Gaborik probably played within eight seasons was a past-his-prime Pavol Demitra. Otherwise he played with second and third-line two-way grinders who had about half as much ability as he did.
Luckily Gaborik has enough skills to set up his own shots, but imagine what he could do with a decent center passing him the puck?
Unfortunately, the perfect center for Gaborik would have been Gomez, a playmaker more interested in passing than shooting. But New York had to trade Gomez to Montreal to free up cap space to sign Gaborik.
Funny how these things work.
So now Gaborik will likely be slotted on a line with either the workmanlike Drury, or the up-and-coming Brandon Dubinsky. Both centers have their pluses and minuses.
Drury is a second-line center who has never been an above-average setter-upper (seven straight seasons without 40 assists). But he can do the little things, like dig for loose pucks and backcheck that would free Gaborik up to be more adventurous in the offensive zone.
Dubinsky has loads of talent, and every team in the league seemingly wants him. His sky has no limit. But Dubinsky is still greener than Al Gore’s house and has a ways to go before he can be considered a No. 1 center.
Scoring 81 points over two seasons does not make him the next Gretzky.
Drury is the better fit for Gaborik now, while Dubinsky will ultimately become Gaborik’s setup man in the future, possibly the near, near future. But skating with either player should help Gaborik average well over a point per game, not to mention that his opposite wing on his line will be better than most of the wings he was within Minnesota.
Newly-signed Ales Kotalik, newly-acquired Chris Higgins, and the similarly-skilled Nikolai Zherdev could all compliment Gaborik well.
Prediction—Gaborik will average 60-65 games and 85-90 points per season during his three-year tour of "the Big Apple."
There is no reason to think he will suddenly become an iron man in his new surroundings, but those new surroundings should help him achieve new career-highs in goals and points as long as he remains on the ice for three-quarters of the Rangers’ games.
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