When you look at everything that has happened, it’s been a long year for New York Rangers winger Marian Gaborik. After leaving some to wonder if GM Glen Sather delivered a rare hit via free agency in 2009-10, Gaborik had a lousy 48-point campaign in 10-11.
If that wasn’t enough to make this an important summer for Gabby, he also found himself impacted by hockey’s tragic summer. Gaborik and the Rangers must attempt to put Derek Boogaard’s death behind them while the winger was so close to Pavol Demitra that Gaborik delivered a eulogy at the fallen player’s funeral on Thursday.
On top of all that, he must work hard in training camp and the preseason to foster chemistry with the Rangers’ next big free agent gamble Brad Richards. Gaborik admitted that moving on from those tragedies won’t be easy, but he believes that receiving Richards’ outstanding passes will simplify things on the ice.
“It’s been a crazy offseason,” said Gaborik, who eulogized Demitra at his funeral Thursday in Slovakia. “To see Boogie go, Pavol and a couple of other guys were lost as well — this summer has been tough, but you have to move on. Obviously I’m never going to forget these guys. I’m always going to have them in my heart, but I have to move on.”
“We skated maybe two or three times together, but you can see how [Richards] handles himself on the ice,” said Gaborik, who struggled last season with injuries and inconsistent play leading to only a 48-point season. “He’s a natural playmaker. The plays he makes, they’re just great. You know you’re going to get it on your tape. I think we’re going to get used to each other pretty quickly.”
As long as they’re both healthy,* it’s easy to imagine the two players complimenting each others’ games. The question is: who will be their common running mate at left wing? The team has plenty of options (though maybe few great ones) from a more physical player like Brandon Dubinsky to another scorer such as Wojtek Wolski. It’s likely that cast of left wingers might change considering head coach John Tortorella’s line changing tendencies.
“I know that’s going to be a hot topic along the way here, but I’m going to try different people there,” said Tortorella, who is notorious for changing up his lines often. “Is it another talented player where they just keep the puck? Is it a player that needs to go get the puck sometimes? That’s something we have to figure out along the way here and see what meshes. We’ll see how it goes.”
Personally, I think it’s ideal to keep a fair share of one-two punches together for long stretches of seasons. The salary cap era isn’t very friendly to keeping entire trios together for extended amounts of time, but two forwards getting familiar with each other seems sensible. Tortorella might be best served keeping Dubinsky with his partner in crime Ryan Callahan while pairing up Richards and Gaborik as much as possible. Maybe a Dubinsky-Richards-Gaborik line would have the highest ceiling, but there’s something to be said for having balance in your top two lines (and in general).
On paper, Richards-Gaborik could be one of the league’s deadliest combinations. Considering the amount of green paper the Rangers are spending on those two, things might get a little ugly if they can’t find chemistry.
* – Richards fought through concussion problems last season while Gaborik is one of the most injury-prone star caliber players in the NHL.