I never expected to be writing this piece, mostly because, historically, players like Marian Gaborik drive me nuts.
I have a short fuse for enigmatic, oft-injured superstars. I never liked Nikolai Zherdev. Alexi Kovalev took at least six years off my life.
So know before you read this that I’m not some shill for Gaborik.
That disclaimer aside, the way people have been criticizing Gaborik this week following the Rangers’ meek first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Washington Capitals has bugged me to no end.
Before I launch into my defense of the Ranger sniper, let me point out two things I know will inevitably come up in the comment section:
1) I am aware that Gaborik had a subpar season, scoring a mere 22 goals in 62 games.
2) I am aware that he was invisible in the playoffs and yes, this does confirm the theory that you can’t build a winner around him.
But I feel for Marian Gaborik. He doesn’t deserve to be on this Rangers’ team. He deserves better.
That’s right: Marian Gaborik deserves better than this team.
I understand that the Rangers, under head coach John Tortorella, have developed a grinding, physical, hard-working style that most fans love. And you know what? I like it too.
Now, I’m not entirely convinced the Rangers will be very successful with this style, as it has left the team a little short on that ever-important “skill” trait. When you have a top-five goalie who leads the NHL in shutouts and you play in the weaker of the two conferences, it’s telling when you struggle to make the playoffs. But, I’ll give them credit for working hard.
What I am convinced of is that putting Marian Gaborik on a team of grinders and asking him to play alongside a past-his-prime Vinny Prospal and a collection of young, unproven centers—who frankly, can’t match his skill level—is a waste of his talent and the Rangers’ money.
The fact that Gaborik doesn’t mesh well on this Rangers’ team is well-documented. But can you blame him?
They’ve put him in a position where the rest of his team plays a completely different style than he does, and none of his linemates can take advantage of his tremendous talent, and somehow it’s Marian Gaborik’s fault that he’s not playing to the best of his ability?
Say what you want about him, but Gaborik is a player with 50-goal potential. He didn’t score 42 goals last season by accident. And he didn’t produce 48 points in 62 games this season because he’s useless.
In any job, sports included, you need to be put into a position to succeed.
If the Rangers want to play a physical, two-way, everyone-dive-in-front-of-the-puck style, that’s fine. But don’t get on Marian Gaborik because he doesn’t play that way. You wouldn’t complain if Brandon Prust wasn’t fitting in on a team filled with great skaters and deadly shots, would you?
It’s not like this is some new revelation. When you sign a guy like Gaborik, you know what you’re getting.
Yeah, yeah, we all love the grinders. “Cally” and “Dubi” and “Gravy” were all awesome. I get it. We’re a fan base that rewards guys who work hard. But those ultra-skilled guys are important too. Stephane Matteau may have been the hero of the 1994 Rangers, and Adam Graves may have rewritten the record books, but Sergei Zubov led the team in scoring, Brian Leetch was playoff MVP and, well, you get my point.
You can’t have success* without those guys.
*Yes, the New Jersey Devils did. The New Jersey Devils played a defense-first system with arguably the best goaltender of this generation and two Hall of Fame defensemen—not to mention Brian Rafalski. Apples and oranges
The Rangers aren’t doing anyone on their team, or their fans, a favor by asking Marian Gaborik to play for a team that doesn’t take advantage of his skills by way of style of play or roster construction.
They’re simply subjecting him to endless criticism that he is going to be hard-pressed to stop. Who benefits in this scenario?
So there’s only one logical solution: The Rangers need to trade him.
The where and the who can be worked out some other time. But it’s useless to have one of your highest-paid players in a salary cap era to be one that is at complete odds with your team identity. It’s pointless to have your top winger and most identifiable skater be a guy the national media is going to ride endlessly.
So Rangers, for everyone involved, I beg you: Free Marian Gaborik