Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Memo to Minnesota: Trade Gaborik. Now.

Word on the street is that the Wild are still far apart in negotiations with semi-star forward Marian Gaborik. According to reports out of training camp, the Wild have offered him a beefy $8.5 million contract, a number matched only by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin. Somehow, Gaborik's agent still feels there is something left to discuss, so the parties remain at an impasse.

(This is where I feel obligated to point out that "salary creep" has hardly even slowed down in the Cap Era. Eric Staal's $8.25m contract set the bar too high for sub-100-point players.)

If I'm running the Wild, or have a vested interest in their success, I'm spending as much time shopping Gaborik right now as I am flying to Slovakia to meet with his people. Here are three good reasons why:

1) The contract negotiations have been very public and are one ill-advised comment away from becoming nasty. We have all seen this happen before and it never turns out well, either for the player or the team. Plus, Gaborik's agent brought up Ovechkin's salary as an indicator of what Gaborik should be looking for. Red flags all over the place on this one.

2) Even if he's signed, Gaborik has never quite bloomed into a true superstar. He's a solid 40-goal scorer, which is fine but not unique. He also doesn't play particularly strong defense, which makes him much less useful. Mike Gartner was also a smooth skater who was good for 40 goals, but we all know what really distinguished him -- playing over 1,400 games and never bringing home any hardware to show for it. Gaborik is on essentially the same career arc.

3) It appears he's at the peak of his career, so his trade value is at its max right now. At age 26, he has perhaps 3-5 more years of incremental improvement before he starts to hit the veteran skids... perhaps fewer considering his injury history. While he's in the "money" phase of his career, it's an ideal time to move him and begin a search for a true franchise player. There's always a sucker team out there desperate to make a dramatic move, so the Wild could get some decent return on Gaborik before it's too late.

In the new, fiscally responsible NHL a guy like Gaborik should be pulling about $7 million per season. That would allow the Wild to go out and find him some linemates more talented than Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette, and everyone would go home happy. But the reality is that Gaborik will hold out for Ovechkin money, and make a PR mess if he doesn't get it. And at the end of the day, the Wild will be a lesser team if they build around a guy who plays a one-dimensional game -- and still scores less than 10 other players in any given season.

Move him now, before it's too late.

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