Actually, we knew Marian Gaborik, but we never got to see the player we thought we knew (sorry, Dennis Green). Blue Jackets Nation was understandably invigorated when Gaborik was acquired in that blockbuster deal at last year’s deadline. After all, this was a three-time, 40-goal scorer, and his most recent 40-goal season was 2011-12.
But the Gaborik acquisition never evolved the way the Columbus Blue Jackets and their fans hoped. He never showed sustained evidence of the explosive goal scorer he had been for most of his career. There were some flashes, yes, but the "wow factor" seemed missing most of the time. In his brief time with the Blue Jackets, Gaborik — who endured a rash of injuries here — scored nine goals and added 13 assists in 34 games over two seasons.
Those totals, projected over an 82-game season, would have made Gaborik a 22-31-53 player. Those aren’t superstar numbers, and they’re not the numbers expected from a player of his pay grade. But maybe even more important than the relative lack of production was the fit. He never seemed to meld with the identity of a team whose professed playing style is speed, energy, and hard work.
From the day he arrived in Columbus, Gaborik left you wanting a little more. The breakaway speed and the game-breaking goals were simply not part of his game with the Blue Jackets, at least not in any sustained way. Maybe the myriad injuries — to his abdomen, knee, and collarbone — took too much of a toll on the 32-year-old native of Slovakia.
Whatever happened, it wasn’t a good sign that his GM Jarmo Kekalainen went on record early in the season saying he needed to see more from his right winger. In Gaborik’s defense, he wasn’t really able to answer the challenge. Almost immediately after the comments, he went down with a knee injury and missed 17 games. In his first game back, he broke his collarbone in the first period against Philadelphia and was forced out of the lineup for another 22 games.
When he returned after the Olympic break, Gaborik was visible in the loss to New Jersey, scoring his 6th goal of the season. He was just so-so in the wins over Florida and Toronto, registering no points, then added an assist in the victory over Dallas Tuesday. By then, though, his fate with the team was sealed. The winger with 342 career goals scored in the NHL is off to Los Angeles, and the Gaborik experiment — so promising at first — is over very quickly.
Given the circumstances, the return from the Kings (two draft picks and winger Matt Frattin) is reasonable. Gaborik had missed 40 games this season (one when he was ill), and his production in 22 games (6-8-14) wasn’t up to his usual standards. So the market couldn’t have been much more than tepid for his services.
The bigger issue is what actually unfolded here and why. Gaborik seemed to enjoy his time with the Blue Jackets, and he said all the right things about enjoying his teammates and the city and about needing to produce more on the ice. It had to be exasperating for the player, his coaches, and management that there seemed to be so much disconnect between the expressed intent and the actual results.
Maybe, in the end, Marian Gaborik was just too banged up to regain the world-class talent he played at for so many seasons in his illustrious career. Whatever the reason he underperformed here, it’s discouraging. In today’s NHL, 40-goal scorers are rare, and it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t fit into any team’s system. Gaborik seemed to want to fit here, but it just never happened.
It remains to be seen if the Blue Jackets will be better without Gaborik. It would have been great to see what the team could have done with the genuine article. We’ll never know.