Marian Gaborik: Paying for the Player He Is or the Player He Can Be?

Patrick CwiklinskiCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2009

MONTREAL- OCTOBER 4:  Marian Gaborik #10 of the Minnesota Wild skates during the warm up period prior to facing the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on October 04, 2008 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Wild defeated the Canadiens 3-0.   (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

When healthy, it goes without saying that Marian Gaborik is one of the NHL's most prolific goal-scorers that poses just as much of an offensive threat as players like Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Dany Heatley.

When healthy.

You see, Gaborik's problem has nothing do with his play when he's on the ice but rather the amount of time he spends off it.

A lot.

Upon being drafted third overall by the Minnesota Wild in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Gaborik's first three years in NHL saw him miss a total of only 16 regular season games as he quickly rose to stardom becoming the team's franchise player.

And despite playing under a very defensive-minded head coach in Jacques Lemaire, Gaborik still managed to enjoy back-to-back 30-goal seasons in 2001-02 and 2002-03.

It seemed as though things could only go up for the talented young winger but his career would take a serious turn for the worse when he returned to the NHL after the lockout for the 2005-06 season.

A groin injury would see Gaborik miss 16 games during the season though he would still be able to register a career-high 38 goals. The injury, however, would never fully heal over the next few seasons.

In the 2006-07 season, Gaborik missed a total of 34 games but still delivered another 30 goals and in the following season he would remain almost completely healthy when he reached a personal best of 42 goals and 41 assists for 83 points.

And then there was last season.

With a resume of injuries that makes Peter Forsberg look healthy as a horse, Gaborik struggled with back and groin problems all season as well as having hip surgery done in January that saw the 27-year-old play a mere 17 games for the Wild in the 2008-09 season.

However, Gaborik's more recent injury-plagued seasons did not phase the New York Rangers in their decision to sign the speedy Slovak to a five-year contract worth $37.5 million, averaging at $7.5 million a season.

The Rangers, who are indeed no strangers to expensive contracts with the likes of Chris Drury and Wade Redden, dished out the most money on the first day of the free agent frenzy when signing Gaborik which raises the question as to what exactly New York is paying for.

On one hand, if Gaborik, who claims he is totally healthy, stays in the lineup for more than 70 games, he should prove to be an asset that may very well lead the Rangers in goals and points as well as play a crucial role for the team if they are able to make the playoffs.

On the other hand, if Gaborik succumbs to recurring injuries then he could quite possibly end up missing a chunk of the season because of it, resulting in a situation where the Rangers have a great talent on their roster but are unable to use him for more than 40 games a season.

So the question is, are the Rangers paying for the player that Gaborik is or the player that he can be?

If the Rangers are satisfied with the way Gaborik is regardless of his notorious injuries that have tainted his otherwise impressive career as a hockey player and will not take issue with the fact that he may miss a handful of games in the five years he's there, there fails to be a problem.

Because as is evident through his career with the Wild that he is still an impact player no matter the amount of games he plays and whether he shows up for 17 or 81, he'll still produce points.

But if the Rangers are expecting Gaborik to stay 100% healthy during his tenure in New York then there could be a bit of a conflict. And realistically speaking, someone who has had such major injuries in the past is likely to have those same injuries repeat, perhaps not to the same extent but enough to prove costly.

At the end of the day, the Rangers are in possession of one of the most gifted and sought-after free agents of this year's market but only time will tell if Gaborik will finally shake off the injury bug and live up to his true potential as a consistent elite winger or spend the bulk of his time in New York visiting different hospitals throughout Manhattan.