EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The biggest question going into the offseason is whether or not Marian Gaborik will still remain a Los Angeles King next season.
Gaborik, the right winger acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline helped power the Kings to a Stanley Cup with a remarkable postseason. The sniper scored 14 goals — just one shy of the club’s all-time record held by Wayne Gretzky — and timely ones at that. There’s no question that Gaborik’s contributions to tie up key games were invaluable and had he not been on the team, the Western Conference Finals might have been a different story.
"When you get a player like that, he’s a game-breaker," said Kings captain, and Gabroik linemate, Dustin Brown. "We all knew everything he could bring to the table and everything he brought. He led our team in goals in the postseason which is actually, what we kind of expected from him."
It’s not even a question as to whether the team would want Gaborik back. But at the moment, it might be too early to tell.
"The last few weeks, you’re not really talking about whether he’s going to sign or not in the middle of the playoffs," Brown said. "The only thing that I could say is that, when he came here, he felt very comfortable in our locker room. At the end of the day, there’s no price on winning. There’s nothing quite like it."
Gaborik has never been a free agent. He was traded to Columbus from the New York Rangers after a tumultuous period in New York with former head coach John Tortorella and didn’t quite fit in with the Blue Jackets either. He finally found the perfect fit in L.A., but he could decide to test the free-agent waters.
"At the end of the day, he’s earned the right to be a free agent," Brown said. "I think we would all love to have him stay here but that decision is for him and him only to make."
Brown recalled another trade, the one for center Mike Richards, when talking about the effect that Gaborik had on the ice, bringing forth another question: Will the Kings and general manager Dean Lombardi decide to buy Richards out?
A prime candidate for a buyout, Richards’ numbers have been down this season and for part of last, as well. But he has transformed his role into that of a fourth-line center that does more of the dirty work as opposed to just the goal scoring. The former Philadelphia Flyers captain has received high praise from his teammates and head coach Darryl Sutter for his ability to do the small things not seen on the box score and big things in the dressing room.
On paper, he looks like a buyout candidate. But it’s not always as simple as numbers on a paper. Ultimately, it’s up to General Manager of the Year candidate Lombardi.
"The mad scientist was on the treadmill this morning," Brown said. "I’m sure he’s already scheming."
What to do with the Cup
Brown might have had the most adorable day with the Cup last time around, letting his kids drink chocolate milk out of Lord Stanley’s Mug. As the captain, he is still the unofficial team keeper, or rather presenter, as it’s on his bus for the parade and his job to carry it out during several team functions.
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"I always say I never get sick of carrying it, but I get tired of it," Brown said.
Brown isn’t sure what he will do with the Cup this year, except he knows he wants to take it home to upstate N.Y., and celebrate with his family and his kids again.
The kids on the team, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, also think taking it back to their respective hometowns of Kitchener and Toronto, Ontario.
"When we were in the finals, I thought about it a little bit and then tried to get my mind off of it because I didn’t want to jinx it," Toffoli said. "I’ll probably bring it to my parents’ house and take some pictures at my place where I grew up, but I haven’t really thought about it from there."