Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rangers Will Need 2009-2010 Gaborik Back Next Season

Credit for image: Paul J. Bereswill

There's no doubt that Marian Gaborik's 2010-2011 season on Broadway was a giant disappointment. Gaborik was limited to 62 games due to a combination of a dislocated shoulder, a groin injury and a concussion, and recorded just 22 goals and 26 assists. For the Rangers to go deep into the playoffs, they will need Gabby to return to form next year and be the game-changing sniper that Glen Sather signed him to be.

So what exactly went wrong for Gaborik this past season? Let's take a look.

This past season did nothing to further shed the notion around the league that Marian Gaborik is injury prone, even though two of the injuries he suffered were freak incidents that could happen to anybody in the league. The dislocated shoulder he suffered came from a hit along the boards versus Toronto in October, and Gaborik actually didn't even know he was playing through a concussion for a few games until he began experiencing "vertigo-like symptoms" in a February game against Pittsburgh. The groin injury is the only one that really is something to be concerned about, as any lower-body injury that Gaborik suffers is a concern following his hip surgery during the 2008-2009 season that limited him to just 17 games with the Minnesota Wild. Still, Gaborik has yet to play a full 82-game season in the NHL (his most was 81 games in the 2002-2003 season with Minnesota) thus far and at this point you have to expect that he's going to miss time each year for one reason or another.

But that doesn't change the fact that even when Gabby was healthy this year, he struggled mightily. He recorded 20 less goals than he did in 2009-2010 and also dropped off from 14 Power Play goals to 7, something that the Rangers simply cannot afford considering how inconsistent their Power Play is to begin with. Gabby's shooting percentage was at 11.5% this past season, which was his lowest since he shot at a clip of 8.2% in the 2003-2004 season. In fact, a lot of comparisons can be drawn from Gaborik's 2010-2011 season with his 2003-2004 season. In 2003-2004, Gabby was limited to 65 games and recorded just 18 goals and 22 assists for 40 points. This past season he also had just 192 shots on goal, which was his lowest in a season since his rookie year in 2000-2001 with the Wild (excluding his 17-game season in 2008-2009, of course).

Gaborik's average ice time per game was also down last season. In 2009-2010, Gaborik averaged 21:15 per game, which was the highest total in his career. This past season, however, he was down to 18:05 per game, which was the lowest total since the 2002-2003 season. There's no doubt that Gaborik's play frustrated John Tortorella at times this season. There were several games that Gaborik was benched for long stretches of play when he simply failed to generate any offense and couldn't get anything going. I do want to give Torts the benefit of the doubt, though, because I think Torts wanted to be extra careful with Gabby given the several injuries he played through last season. That being said, when Gaborik's game is right there's no question he's the most lethal offensive threat the Rangers have. There were crucial minutes late in the third period last season when Torts had Gaborik glued to the bench in favor of lesser offensive players like Wojtek Wolski, Brandon Prust, Mats Zuccarello and Ruslan Fedotenko. While there's no doubt those players all contributed to the Rangers at one point or another last year - some more than others - I think you have a way better chance of Marian Gaborik contributing with a goal late in the game versus the other alternatives.

I didn't see Gaborik play very often when he was with the Wild, but from what I've seen of him with the Rangers it seems like he's the type of player who really needs to get into a groove for him to be a big contributor. There were stretches in the 2009-2010 season when he was simply unstoppable and even when his shots were limited in some games, he just seemed to still come up big for the team when they needed him. Gaborik seemed out of sync this past season, which was something Rangers fans rarely saw from him during his first year playing here. Torts tried everything he could to get Gabby going, but nothing seemed to work. Even though his ice time was down and his linemates were often switched around, Gaborik is still a good enough player where he can make his linemates better instead of it being the other way around. Last year, I simply didn't see that from him. I was waiting and waiting for him to go on a tear and it just never happened.

Gaborik's name is sure to be floated around in trade rumors this offseason, but I highly, highly doubt he'll be traded. First of all, his value right now is at an all-time low, and I can't imagine the return for him would be anything that great. Secondly, I really can't think of a scenario where this Rangers team is better without Marian Gaborik. As inconsistent and flat out bad that Gabby was last season he still put up the second most points on the team, trailing only Brandon Dubinsky. Gaborik also ranked second on the team in goals and was tied for third in assists. This Rangers team as is simply does not have any better offensive options than Marian Gaborik. There is nobody who can score like him when his game is on, and as much as Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan continue to improve each season, their hard-nosed, gritty style of play makes them a greater injury risk than other guys on the team.

While I do believe signing Brad Richards is a huge key to this offseason and will make this team so much better in the long run, there is no excuse for Gaborik next season. The Rangers cannot afford another down year and will need him to bring out the best in his teammates the way he did in 2009-2010. Gaborik said after the season ended that he struggled at times to adjust to John Tortorella's new system, and it definitely showed. Torts' system this year featured more of an emphasis on defense and shot blocking than his notorious "run and gun" style of play that he tried to install during his first year here. But Gaborik is talented enough where he should still be able to score goals and be a game-changer no matter what type of system this team plays in. The Rangers don't just need Gaborik to be better, they need him to turn back the clock and be Marian Gaborik.

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