Under Pressure: Marian Gaborik

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“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.