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Under Pressure: Marian Gaborik

Sep 24, 2013, 7:58 PM EDT

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 4: Marian Gaborik #10 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates the puck in to the zone against Roman Josi #59 of the Nashville Predators during an NHL game at the Bridgestone Arena on April 4, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) Getty Images

“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Columbus Blue Jackets we picked… forward Marian Gaborik.

The New York Rangers took a big risk when they inked Gaborik to a five-year, $37.5 million deal in the summer of 2009. Gaborik played in just 17 games in his contract season, but he was only 27 years old and had recorded at least 30 goals in five of his previous six campaigns going into 2008-09. He seemed like the type of guy worth taking a big chance on.

He still is, just not to the same extent. The Columbus Blue Jackets clearly still think Gaborik has a lot to offer as they made significant sacrifices to acquire him. But when it comes to inking him to an extension as he once again enters a contract season?

“We want to get more familiar with him, get to know him better,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen explained in July as his justification for not negotiating with Gaborik. As recently as two weeks ago, Kekalainen confirmed that the two sides still haven’t talked about an extension.

The bottom line is that between injury problems and just inconsistent play, Gaborik has had two amazing seasons where he breached the 40-goal mark and two rough campaigns over the course of his deal so far. There’s no question he has the potential to lead the Blue Jackets’ offensively, but will he? Kekalainen wants evidence of that before handing Gaborik another lucrative deal.

The Jackets better hope he steps up though, because they don’t have much of a Plan B, at least in the short-term. They made a big splash by signing Nathan Horton to a seven-year, $37.1 million deal over the summer, but he could be out until December or January with a shoulder injury. If Gaborik struggles out of the gate, then Columbus’ already anemic offensive will be a huge problem.

This is a team that came tantalizingly close to making the playoffs last season and is hungry for just their second postseason berth and first playoff victory. They certainly aren’t a safe bet to accomplish any of that in 2013-14 though.

The Blue Jackets are heavily counting on their defense and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, but they also need a forward capable of being heroic. If Gaborik can prove that he’s still that type of player, then he will be richly rewarded.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

  1. hockeydon10 - Sep 24, 2013 at 8:19 PM

    I always wondered about the NYR experiment concerning Gaborik. Take a great sniper with astounding speed and put him under a coach that pretty much thinks defense first, second and third.

    • stakex - Sep 24, 2013 at 10:47 PM

      Two of Gaborik’s best three seasons happened with the Rangers under Torts, so I would say it worked fairly well.

  2. stakex - Sep 24, 2013 at 11:05 PM

    After watching Gaborik for four years with the Rangers, I think he has to be one of the biggest mysteries in the NHL. He would catch fire and score 10 goals in eight games, but then vanish without a trace for the next 10 games. How a player with such talent could have such large ups and downs always amazed me.

    That leads to the larger problem with Gaborik… he’s not the hero type. He’s not the guy who’s going to run out and will a team to victory, or someone you can count on to score game winning goals. He isn’t a spirited leader and isn’t going to throw a team on his back and carry them. On top of that Gaborik is weaker on the puck, and easier to shut down, then any other top player in the NHL…. which is why he has only 6 goals in his last 31 playoff games.

    He could well have a good year in Columbus, and indeed I hope he does. I always liked Gaborik, but I liked him as a second fiddle who will quietly fill the net under the radar and hopefully score an important goal from time to time. He’s just not the player Columbus really needs him to be this year.

  3. DED - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    That first 40-goal season with the Rangers owed a lot to playing with Prospal. Why no one in the Blue Jackets’ organization realizes this and re-signs Prospal (an inexpensive player who led the team in scoring last year) is beyond me.

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