The Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t expected to be contenders this season after trading star forward Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in July. Ironically, it’s the Rangers who have now made Columbus a legitimate playoff contender this season.
New York’s interest in trading Gaborik was fairly obvious. The 31-year-old has recorded just 19 points in 35 games this season, and despite several strong campaigns in recent years, his value has diminished.
Carrying a $7.5 million cap hit next season (with the salary cap declining by $6.43 million) didn’t help matters, either, and the acquisition of Ryane Clowe on Tuesday certainly made Gaborik less of a necessity.
New York’s loss is Columbus’ gain.
Granted, Gaborik hasn’t played up to expectations this season, but the seven-time 30-goal scorer has the potential to rebound with a strong late-season push. Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes to rejuvenate a poor season.
The Jackets have been surprisingly potent in the last month of the season, winning 10 games in the Month of March and picking up four additional points in overtime and shootout losses. Now, just a point out of eighth place in the Western Conference, Columbus isn’t far from sneaking into the playoffs with a strong finish.
The Jackets need another scorer, though. Sergei Bobrovsky has been masterful between the pipes, and he’s the biggest reason for his team’s success in the last month. Columbus is averaging just 2.3 goals per game and has the No. 27 power play percentage (13.3) in the league this season. Bobrovsky can’t be expected to carry the team into the playoffs without some scoring help, though.
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen mirrored that sentiment and expanded on his reasoning for the deal (as quoted by ESPN’s Katie Strang):
Throughout this process our focus was to add a player who could provide a boost to our offense, improve our goal scoring and power play and we identified Marian Gaborik as the player we wanted. He has been an elite goal scorer in this league for many years and we are very excited to have him.
As they should be.
The 6’1”, 204-pound winger is coming off a 41-goal campaign of a year ago—a mark he has eclipsed a total of three times in his career. While he also has the potential to dish out a lot of assists (35 in 2011-12), he’ll be Columbus’ go-to scorer with third-leading scorer Derick Brassard joining New York in the deal.
Should Gaborik return to form—and it’s more a question of when than if—Columbus will have improved in its biggest area of weakness with a playoff berth in its sights. The price will have been well worth the payoff.
It seems Gaborik is receptive to the move, and that may be enough to shake him from his slump this season (as quoted by Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News):
I was surprised. I had heard rumors here and there but I didn’t try to focus on that. I can’t control what the teams are doing. So I was surprised, but this is a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it. I enjoyed my time in New York, of course. But when somebody wants you and somebody’s trying to trade you, it’s good that somebody actually wants you on their team. So I decided this way, and they seem like they’re going to have a good team down the road.
There’s no denying the importance of this deal for the Blue Jackets. Gaborik represents the scoring presence they haven’t had since trading Nash last summer, and he gives Columbus a sense of excitement with the playoffs drawing near.
The Western Conference race is only heating up, but there isn’t a team in the conference that made a bigger improvement at the trade deadline. A little momentum goes a long way in April, and Columbus is in prime position to nail down a top-eight finish to close out the regular season.