Hartnett: Marian Gaborik Must Find His Game, Or He’ll Find Himself Out Of Town
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By Sean Hartnett
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A steaming John Tortorella let loose after the New York Rangers’ 3-1 defeat to a dismal Buffalo Sabres team.
“I don’t think the Sabres are the hungrier team; I thought we stunk,” Tortorella declared during his postgame press conference. “I’m not gonna give Buffalo any credit. Well, I will give their third line credit. They outplayed our top players, and that can’t happen. I couldn’t be more disgusted and disappointed with the way our top guys played, the way we handled ourselves through it. We simply did not play the way we’re supposed to play.”
While Tortorella didn’t name any players specifically, it sounded as if he was talking directly about struggling winger Marian Gaborik, who was absent in Buffalo. Tortorella had favorably matched up Gaborik against the Sabres’ third liners in an attempt to shake him out of his funk.
If there was ever a game where the stars were aligned for Gaborik to break out, it was against a shorthanded Sabres team that was without star goaltender Ryan Miller, playmaking center Tyler Ennis and suspended enforcer Patrick Kaleta.
“We sucked,” Tortorella stated. “We sucked at a time that you can’t suck. We have to get it straightened out.”
The Sabres had lost four games in a row going into Tuesday night’s game at the First Niagra Center. As Tortorella put it, Buffalo was “ripe to be beaten.”
Gaborik found himself demoted to the third line while Michael Haley moved up to the Rangers’ second line. To see a star forward like Gaborik lose his place on the second line to an enforcer who hasn’t spent a full season in the NHL speaks volumes about Tortorella’s absence of confidence in Gaborik.
“We fell to their level and played flat,” Gaborik told Pat Leonard of the Daily News.
Well, Gaborik has been flat for the majority of the season and has often found himself either relegated to lower-line duties or benched entirely for long stretches of games. Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan bring the right level of hunger and focus every night. That can’t be said about Gaborik, who is playing like a passenger by comparison.
New York is currently sitting on the edge of falling out of an eighth-place position in the Eastern Conference, and are even on points with the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets, who coincidentally are the Rangers’ opponent on Thursday. Should the Rangers lose to the Jets at the MTS Centre, they’ll be the team “that’s ripe for the picking” when they face the dominant Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center on Saturday.
Gaborik And Rangers Must Get It Together Now, Or He’ll Face The Chopping Block
The Rangers have high expectations for themselves. This team wasn’t built to be an eigth-place team. A second-half slide could have disastrous ramifications for the Blueshirts and particularly Gaborik, who has been besieged by trade rumors over the past two months
If Gaborik isn’t cutting the mustard, it’s up to Glen Sather to explore options that will give the Rangers the push they need as the April 3 trade deadline draws closer.
One option would be exploring the availability of Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who has not discussed an extension with the Flames and is set to become a free agent in the summer.
Like Rick Nash before him in Columbus, Iginla has been stuck doing much of the heavy lifting on a non-contending team. While Iginla has been fiercely loyal to the Flames, news of agent Don Meehan confirming that there hasn’t been talks between the two sides is a clear indication that the 35-year-old Iginla desires to play for a winner.
A Gaborik-Iginla swap would make sense for Flames general manager Jay Feaster, who wouldn’t risk losing Iginla for nothing as Gaborik is under contract to earn $7.5 million in 2013-14. Iginla’s $7 million salary nearly matches up with Gaborik, so the Rangers would actually be saving $500,000 in cap space if the deal was a straight swap.
No-Trade Clause A Hurdle
One holdup could be Gaborik’s no-trade clause, though it should be noted that if Gaborik isn’t getting star minutes and wants a change of scenery, he could consider moving to a team like Calgary that would be willing to build around him, or at the very least allow him to audition for top free agent dollars come the summer of 2014.
If Sather can pull off such a trade, he must make it to keep Iginla away from the Penguins and Boston Bruins, who have both been rumored to be strongly interested in the Calgary captain.
Iginla’s work ethic, determination and leadership are the stuff of legend. Put him on line with Brad Richards and he’ll wake up Richards. He’s that kind of player. Swap Nash over to left wing, and a first line of Nash-Richards-Iginla and a second line of Hagelin-Stepan-Callahan would be a lot for opponents to handle come playoff time.
The Rangers are a win-now team, and acquiring Iginla would give them their best chance of reaching their ultimate goal of returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994.
That is if Sather is willing to pull the trigger on Gaborik. It all really depends on Gaborik’s happiness and willingness to waive his no-trade clause. Perhaps, the package deal floated by Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun that would send Gaborik to the Senators for depth parts could take shape.
Things will certainly get interesting between now and the April 3 trade deadline.
Rangers fans, would you pull the trigger on a Gaborik-for-Iginla swap? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.